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History of Mixed Martial Arts
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a full contact combat sport that allows a wide variety of fighting styles to be brought together like Boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai.
Over 6,000 years ago the earliest form of a mixed martial art was invented in ancient China by Han Chinese military generals and soldiers called Shuai jiao. It is an ancient style of Wrestling and Kung-Fu that incorporated grappling techniques that are the earliest ancient precursors of modern jujitsu and judo combined with kicking, punching, throwing, joint locks, finger locks, leg sweeps, leg locks and close range trapping techniques used by elite ancient Han Chinese military forces to kill enemy soldiers on the battlefield.
In Ancient Greece there was a sport called Pankration, which featured a combination of grappling and striking skills similar to those found in modern MMA. Pankration was formed by a combination of the already established wrestling and boxing traditions and, in Olympic terms, first featured in the 33rd Olympiad in 648 BC. All strikes and holds were allowed with the exception of biting and gouging, which were banned. The fighters, called Pankratiasts, fought until someone could not continue or signalled submission by raising their index finger; there were no rounds. According to E. Norman Gardiner, ‘No branch of athletics was more popular than the Pankration. From its origins in Ancient Greece, Pankration was later passed on to the Romans.
The mid-19th century saw the prominence of the new sport savage in the combat sports circle. French savage fighters wanted to test their techniques against the traditional combat styles of its time. In 1852, a contest was held in France between French savateurs and English bare-knuckle boxers in which French fighter Rambaud alias la Resistance fought English fighter Dickinson and won using his kicks. However, the English team still won the four other match-ups during the contest. Since then other similar contest also occurred by the late 19th to mid-20th century between French Secateurs and other combat styles. Examples include a 1905 fight between a French savateur George Dubois and a judo practitioner Re-nierand which resulted in the latter winning by submission, as well as the highly publicized 1957 fight between French savateur and professional boxer Jacques Cayron and a young Japanese karateka named Mochizuki Hiroo which ended when Cayron knocked Hiroo out with a hook.
No-holds-barred fighting reportedly took place in the late 1880s when wrestlers representing style of Catch wrestling and many others met in tournaments and music-hall challenge matches throughout Europe. In the USA, the first major encounter between a boxer and a wrestler in modern times took place in 1887 when John L. Sullivan, then heavyweight world boxing champion, entered the ring with his trainer, wrestling champion William Muldoon, and was slammed to the mat in two minutes. The next publicized encounter occurred in the late 1890s when future heavyweight boxing champion Bob Fitzsimmons took on European wrestling champion Ernest Roeber. In September 1901, Frank “Paddy” Slavin, who had been a contender for Sullivan’s boxing title, knocked out future world wrestling champion Frank Gotch in Dawson City, Canada.The judo-practitioner Ren-nierand who gained fame after defeating George Dubois, would fight again in another similar contest against Ukrainian Catch wrestler Ivan Poddubny and lost.
Another early example of mixed martial arts was Bartitsu, which Edward William Barton-Wright founded in London in 1899. Combining catch wrestling, judo, boxing, savate, jujutsu and canne de combat (French stick fighting), Bartitsu was the first martial art known to have combined Asian and European fighting styles, and which saw MMA-style contests throughout England, pitting European Catch wrestlers and Japanese Judoka champions against representatives of various European wrestling styles.
The history of modern MMA competition can be traced to mixed style contests throughout Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim during the early 1900s; In Japan these contests were known as merikan, from the Japanese slang for “American [fighting]”. Merikan contests were fought under a variety of rules, including points decision, best of three throws or knockdowns, and victory via knockout or submission.
As the popularity of professional wrestling, which were contested under various catch wrestling rules at the time, waned after World War I when the sport split into two genres: “shoot”, in which the fighters actually competed, and “show”, which evolved into modern professional wrestling. In 1936, heavyweight boxing contender Kingfish Levinsky and veteran Catch wrestler Ray Steele competed in a mixed match, which Steele won in 35 seconds. In 1963, a catch wrestler and judoka “Judo” Gene Lebellfought professional boxer Milo Savage in a no-holds-barred match. Lebell won by Harai Goshi to rear naked choke, leaving Savage unconscious. This was the first televised bout of mixed-style fighting in North America. The hometown crowd was so enraged that they began to boo and throw chairs at Lebell.
In February 12, 1963, three karatekas from Oyama dojo (kyokushin later) went to the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Thailand and fought against three Muay Thai fighters. The three kyokushin karate fighters’ were Tadashi Nakamura, Kenji Kurosaki and Akio Fujihira (also known as Noboru Osawa), while the Muay Thai team were composed of only one authentic Thai fighter. Japan won by 2–1: Tadashi Nakamura and Akio Fujihira both KOed opponents by punch while Kenji Kurosaki, who fought the Thai, was KOed by elbow. This should be noted that the only Japanese loser Kenji Kurosaki was then a kyokushin instructor rather than a contender and temporarily designated as a substitute for the absent chosen fighter. On June of the same year, karateka and future kickboxer Tadashi Sawamura faced against top Thai fighter Samarn Sor Adisorn, in which Sawamura was knocked down 16 times and defeated. Sawamura would use what he learned in that fight to incorporate in the evolving kickboxing tournaments.
During the late 1960s to early 1970s, the concept of combining the elements of multiple martial arts was popularized in the west by Bruce Lee via his system of Jeet Kune Do. Lee believed that “the best fighter is not a Boxer, Karate or Judo man. The best fighter is someone who can adapt to any style, to be formless, to adopt an individual’s own style and not following the system of styles.” In 2004, UFC President Dana White would call Lee the “father of mixed martial arts” stating: “If you look at the way Bruce Lee trained, the way he fought, and many of the things he wrote, he said the perfect style was no style. You take a little something from everything. You take the good things from every different discipline, use what works, and you throw the rest away”. A contemporary of Bruce Lee, Wing Chun practitioner Wong Shun Leung, gained prominence fighting in over 60-100 illegal beimo fights against other Chinese martial artist of various styles. In his career, Wong also fought and won against Western fighters and other combat styles such as his match against a Russian boxer named Giko, his televised fight against a fencer, and his well-documented fight against Taiwanese Kung-Fu master Wu Ming Jeet. Like Bruce Lee, Wong also combined boxing and kickboxing into his kung fu.
Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki took place in Japan in 1976. The classic match-up between professional boxer vs. professional wrestler turned sour as both fighters refused to engage in the other’s style, and after a 15-round stalemate, it was declared a draw. However Ali had sustained a substantial amount of damage to his legs, as Inoki slide-kicked him continuously for the duration of the bout, causing him to be hospitalized for the next three days.
In 1988 Rick Roufus challenged Changpuek Kiatsongrit to a non-title Muay Thai vs. kickboxing super fight. Rick Roufus was at the time an undefeated Kickboxer and held both the KICK Super Middleweight World title and the PKC Middleweight U.S title. Changpuek Kiatsongrit was finding it increasingly difficult to get fights in Thailand as his weight (70 kg) was not typical for Thailand, where competitive bouts at tend to be at the lower weights. Roufus knocked Changpuek down twice with punches in the first round, breaking Changpuek’s jaw, but lost by technical knockout in the fourth round due to the culmination of low kicks to the legs that he was unprepared for. This match was the first popular fight, which showcased the power of such low kicks to a predominantly Western audience.
Sambo, a martial art and combat sport developed in Russia in the early 1920s, merged various forms of combat styles such as wrestling, judo and striking into one unique martial art. Russia also saw a number of unsanctioned matches held in gyms in the late 20th century that pitted karatekas against Western-style boxers. The matches resulted mostly with the boxers taking down and knocking out most karate fighters.