Mixed Martial Arts, also known as MMA, has become one of the most popular sports in history. The sport involves two fighters pitted against each other. Despite the popularity, many fans do not know where the sport initially originate from and why.
Where did MMA Originate From?
MMA can be traced back to the sport known as pankration in the ancient Olympic Games, which involves wrestling and striking. However, many would argue that MMA was officially found in 1993, where the first United Fighting Championship (UFC) event was held.
We will cover the brief history of MMA, both in ancient history as well as MMA’s history in modern popular culture. Additionally, the article will discuss the modern growth of MMA throughout the world, including the US, Brazil, Russia, and China.
Why was MMA Invented?
If you were to ask why MMA was first invented, many would refer to the first UFC event that occurred in Denver, Colorado, USA. This event was mainly held because people wanted to know who was the best fighter and what martial art discipline they came from.
However, if we talk about tracing MMA back throughout history, you can link the sport to the ancient Olympic Games right around 648 BCE. During the ancient Olympic Games, pankration, which is the primary martial art form used by the Greek army, was considered the official combat sport of ancient Greece.
Pankration itself was a combination of several movements and disciplines. These varieties of disciplines including:
In addition to the disciplines above, striking your opponent with kicks and punches while they are on the ground was also allowed, which is one of the unique aspects of MMA. Furthermore, just like modern MMA events, biting and eye-gouging were forbidden.
During pankration matches in the ancient Olympic Games, the bout would end when one of the fighters acknowledged defeat (basically tapping out) or unconscious (Also known as KO or Knocked Out). Pankration was considered one of the most popular sports out of the rest during the ancient Olympics Games. In addition to the knockouts, some competitors even died during Pankration matches.
Despite the combat sport’s popularity in the ancient Olympic Games, Roman emperor Theodosius I effectively banned the whole event.
When did MMA start in America?
As part of modern popular culture, MMA officially originated in Denver, Colorado, United States, on November 12, 1993. The event was held because the original United Fighting Championship (currently known as UFC) founders wanted to know which martial art was best. The original UFC founders were:
- Art Davie
- Robert Meyrowitz
- Rorion Gracie (Son of Helio Gracie)
The three promoters and many fighting sports fans back in the day were keen to find out who was the most formidable individual as well as which martial art style was most deadly or effective. The event showcased eight fighters pitted against each other, with Royce Gracie from Gracie Jiu-Jitsu defeating three other fighters via submission in less than five minutes combined.
The first UFC event pitted eight fighters of different styles against one another. Below are the fighters and their backgrounds:
- Ken Shamrock, Shootfighting, USA
- Patrick Smith, Tae Kwon Do, USA
- Art Jimmerson, Boxing, USA
- Zane Frazier, American Kenpo, USA
- Kevin Rosier, Kickboxing, USA
- Teila Tuli, Sumo, USA
- Gerard Gordeau, Savate, Netherlands
- Royce Gracie, Brazilian Jiujitsu, Brazil
The event was held for one day based on a single elimination and no-holds-barred rule, which means that anything could happen. Additionally, audiences watched the event on pay per view or live in the McNichols Sports Arena located in Denver, Colorado, USA.
However, due to the no-holds-barred rule, some considered the tournament to be too brutal and violent. Hence, politicians, such as US Senator John McCain, criticized the event, stating it as “human cockfighting,” and aimed to have the sport banned.
Which Country is Best for MMA?
MMA has become an international sensation where you will find both fans and fighters all around the world. As the sport grows, so are the individuals in places where combat sports have previously had no presence in the past. The world’s largest MMA organizations, such as the UFC and ONE Championship, have been producing events and fighters from several different countries.
With the rise of MMA across the world, it is worth taking a look at which countries have produced the most talented fighters. The US, Brazil, and Russia are considered the top countries that have produced elite, world-class fighters. These fighters come from a variety of fighting experiences as well as martial arts backgrounds.
Below is a list of one of the best fighters from the three countries mentioned above:
- Jon Jones: Jon “The Bone” Jones is considered one of the all-time greats and a phenom. He became the youngest UFC champion in history, dominating the most experienced fighters and climbing the ranks. Although he had suffered several controversies, including drugs, “hit-and-runs”, and battery-related issues, he is still considered to be one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
- Demetrious Johnson: Demetrious “The Mighty Mouse” Johnson is a 12-time Flyweight World Champion and considered as one of the greatest pound-for-pound in mixed martial artists in combat sport history.
He is known for his explosive strikes, agile movements, and wrestling technique, as he holds the most takedowns in UFC Flyweight history. After completely dominating the North American MMA scene, Johnson decided to compete in ONE Championship.
- Anderson Silva: Anderson “The Spider” Silva is considered one of the best fighters Brazil has ever produced and in the history of the sport. He held the longest undefeated run in UFC history. Many consider Anderson Silva to have impeccable striking-based experience as well as Brazilian Jiujitsu capabilities.
- Jose Aldo: Jose “Junior” Aldo is the former three-time featherweight champion of the UFC. After his defeat in 2005, Jose Aldo went on an 18-winning streak in the UFC until losing to Connor McGregor in 2015. He is known to have explosive and knockout power.
- Fedor Emelianenko: Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko is a Russian heavyweight MMA fighter and considered by many to be a true legend in MMA history. Emelianenko was able to tally numerous wins, including a 28-win streak until 2010.
He was a two-time Olympic medalist and competed in MMA promotions such as UFC, One Pride FC, and K-1 Championship.
- Khabib Nurmaghendov: Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov comes from Dagestan, Russia, and was the longest-reigning UFC Lightweight Champion, where he was able to hold a 29-win streak with no losses.
He was considered the most dominant grappler in the UFC. In addition to wrestling, he was also very accomplished in sambo and Judo.
Is MMA popular in China?
MMA is rapidly becoming one of China’s most popular sports thanks to the many Chinese MMA fighters that began competing in the UFC and ONE Championships.
These fighters include Li Jingliang, Xiong Jing Nan, and, most notably, Zhang Weili, who was able to achieve the Women’s Strawweight World Champion title against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the UFC.
The participation of Chinese MMA fighters in international fighting promotions can be traced back to a UFC bout featuring the first Chinese fighter in 2011. The Chinese MMA fighter Zhang Tiequan defeated an American featherweight MMA fighter, Jason Reinhardt, in Australia.
Today, China has 12 fighters competing in the UFC as well as several more in ONE Championship.
Many MMA athletes from China’s growing MMA community see Zhang Weili as one of the role models. Additionally, Zhang Weili is known to encourage all of her fans who train in MMA to follow their path that she has paved so that future Chinese fighters can fight for international promotions such as the UFC and ONE Championship.
After Zhang Weili’s win, MMA’s popularity as a sport and the UFC’s followers through China significantly increased. Followers for the UFC’s Weibo page, a Chinese social media app, grew nearly 40%, totaling approximately 2.2 million followers. Additionally, followers for the UFC’s Douyin page, China’s version of TikTok, increased over 150%, which is 7.1 million followers.
Conclusion – MMA will Continue to Grow!
MMA has a short history but has gained a significant number of followers and practitioners globally. The idea of martial arts alone has evolved ever since the UFC debuted their first event in 1993. MMA as a combat sport will most likely continue to grow around the world, setting a new standard on what combat sport should be and what it will become.