What is MMA

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a full contact combat sport that allows a wide variety of fighting techniques and skills, from a mixture of martial arts traditions and non-traditions, to be used in competitions. The rules allow the use of striking and grappling techniques, both while standing and on the ground. Such competitions allow martial artists of different backgrounds to compete.

The roots of mixed martial arts can be traced back to various mixed style contests that took place throughout Europe, Japan and the Pacific Rim during the early 1900s. Modern MMA competition emerged in 1993 with the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championships, although professional MMA events had been held in Japan by Shooto starting back in 1989. Originally organized with the intention of finding the most effective martial arts for real unarmed combat situations, competitors were pitted against one another with minimal rules for safety. Later promoters adopted many additional rules aimed at increasing safety for competitors and to promote mainstream acceptance of the sport.

The name mixed martial arts was coined by Rick Blume, president and CEO of Battlecade, in 1995. Following these changes, the sport has seen increased popularity with pay per view reach rivaling boxing and professional wrestling.

History

Pre-modern

Pankration was an ancient form of unarmed hand to hand combat resembling modern MMA.

While different forms of unorganized, no-rules, unarmed combat predate history, civilization, and the human species itself (apes have been observed engaging in hand-to-hand combats), the earliest documented, organized, minimal-rules fighting event was the ancient Greek pankration, which was introduced into the Olympic Games in 648 B.C. Greek pankration later inspired the more violent Etruscan and Roman pancratium, an event showcased at the Roman Colosseum. Even as late as the Early Middle Ages, statues were put up in Rome and other cities to honour remarkable pankratiasts of Rome.

No-holds-barred reportedly took place in the late 1880s when wrestlers representing a huge range of fighting styles, including various catch wrestling styles, Greco-Roman 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, Greco-Roman 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 Greco-Roman wrestling champion Ernest Roeber. Reportedly, Roeber suffered a fractured cheekbone in this bout, but was able to get Fitzsimmons down on the mat, where he applied an armlock and made the boxer submit. In Europe, around the 19th century, the Italian Giovanni Raicevich, skilled in Greco-Roman wrestling was defeated by Akitaro Ono, a Japanese heavyweight fighter skilled in Jujutsu, Judo, and Sumo, throwing him on the mat by one-arm shoulder throw. In 1936, heavyweight boxing contender Kingfish Levinsky and veteran professional wrestler Ray Steele competed in a mixed match, which Steele won in 35 seconds. Another early example of mixed martial arts combat was the martial art of Bartitsu, founded in London in 1899, which was the first martial art known to have combined Asian and European fighting styles, and which saw MMA-style contests throughout England, pitting European and Japanese champions against representatives of various European wrestling styles.

Mixed style contests such as boxing vs. jujutsu were popular entertainment 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.

After the popularity of professional wrestling waned after World War I it split into two genres: “shoot”, in which the fighters actually competed, and “show,” which evolved into modern professional wrestling.

In the late 1960s to early 1970s the concept of combining the elements of multiple martial arts was popularized in America by Bruce Lee via his system and philosophy 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.” In 2004 UFC President Dana White would call Lee the “father of mixed martial arts.”

Modern

The history of modern MMA competition can be traced to mixed style contests throughout Europe, Japan and the Pacific Rim during the early 1900s; the Gracie family’s vale tudo martial arts tournaments in Brazil starting in the 1920s; and early mixed martial arts-themed professional wrestling matches (known as Ishu Kakutougi Sen in Japan) hosted by Antonio Inoki in Japan in the 1970s.

The sport gained international exposure and widespread publicity in the United States in 1993, when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter Royce Gracie handily won the first Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament, subduing three challengers in a total of just five minutes, sparking a revolution in the martial arts. Meanwhile Japan had its Shooto also called Vale Tudo in 1985 where fighter Rickson Gracie won the tournaments in 1994 and 1995, which continued interest in the sport resulting in the creation of the Pride Fighting Championships in 1997, where again Rickson participated and won.

The movement that led to the creation of the UFC, and Pride was rooted in two interconnected subcultures. First were the vale tudo events in Brazil, followed by the Japanese shoot wrestling shows. Vale tudo began in the 1920s with the “Gracie challenge” issued by Carlos Gracie and Hélio Gracie and upheld later on by descendants of the Gracie family. In Japan in the 1970s, a series of mixed martial arts matches were hosted by Antonio Inoki, a former star of New Japan Pro Wrestling; this inspired the shoot-style movement in Japanese professional wrestling, which eventually led to the formation of the first mixed martial arts organizations, such as Shooto, which was formed in 1985. The International Sport Combat Federation (ISCF) was created in May of 1999 as the worlds first “MMA” Sanctioning body. This ushered in a new era of Mixed Martial Arts where it is once again recognized as a true sport worldwide. This was aided by certified officials and well developed rules that were built up from the ISCF’s sister organization for kickboxing, the International Kickboxing Federation’s (IKF) long developed system.

In November 2005 recognition of its effectiveness as a test came as the United States Army began to sanction mixed martial arts with the first annual Army Combatives Championships held by the US Army Combatives School.

The sport reached a new peak of popularity in North America in the December 2006 rematch between then UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell and former champion Tito Ortiz, rivaling the PPV sales of some of the biggest boxing events of all time, and helping the UFC’s 2006 PPV gross surpass that of any promotion in PPV history. In 2007, Zuffa LLC, the owners of the UFC MMA promotion, bought Japanese rival MMA brand Pride FC, merging the contracted fighters under one promotion and drawing comparisons to the consolidation that occurred in other sports, such as the AFL-NFL Merger in American football.

Evolution of fighters

Ground fighting is an intrinsic part of the sport.

As a result of an increased number of competitors, organized training camps, information sharing, and modern kinesiology, the understanding of the combat-effectiveness of various strategies has been greatly improved. UFC commentator Joe Rogan has claimed that martial arts have evolved more in the ten years following 1993 than in the preceding 700 years.

“During his reign atop the sport in the late 1990s he was the prototype — he could strike with the best strikers; he could grapple with the best grapplers; his endurance was second to none. “
— describing UFC champion Frank Shamrock’s early dominance

The early years of the sport saw a wide variety of traditional styles – everything from sumo to kickboxing – but the continual evolution of the sport saw many styles prove ineffective, while others proved successful on their own.

In the early 1990s, three styles stood out for their effectiveness in competition: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, amateur wrestling and submission wrestling. This may be attributable in part to the grappling emphasis of the aforementioned styles, which were, perhaps due to the scarcity of mixed martial arts competitions prior to the early 90s, unknown to most practitioners of striking-based arts. Fighters who combined amateur wrestling with striking techniques found success in the standing portion of a fight, whilst Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stylists had a distinct advantage on the ground: those unfamiliar with submission grappling proved to be unprepared to deal with its submission techniques. Shoot wrestling practitioners offered a balance of amateur wrestling ability and catch wrestling-based submissions, resulting in a well-rounded skillset. The shoot wrestlers were especially successful in Japan. As competitions became more and more common, those with a base in striking became more competitive as they acquainted themselves with takedowns and submission holds, leading to notable upsets against the then dominant grapplers. Subsequently, those from the varying grappling styles added striking techniques to their arsenal. This overall development of increased cross-training resulted in the fighters becoming increasingly multi-dimensional and well-rounded in their skills. The changes were demonstrated when the original UFC champion Royce Gracie who had defeated many opponents using Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fought the then UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes at UFC 60 and was defeated by a TKO from ‘ground-and-pound’.

Rules

Main article: Mixed martial arts rules

A fighter tapes his hands prior to putting gloves on.

The rules for modern mixed martial arts competitions have changed significantly since the early days of vale tudo, Japanese shoot wrestling, and UFC 1, and even more from the historic style of pankration. As the knowledge about fighting techniques spread among fighters and spectators, it became clear that the original minimalist rule systems needed to be amended. The main motivations for these rule changes were protection of the health of the fighters, the desire to shed the image of “barbaric, no rules, fighting-to-the-death” matches, and being recognised as a sport.

The new rules included the introduction of weight classes; as knowledge about submissions spread, differences in weight had become a significant factor. There are 9 different weight classes. These 9 weight classes include flyweight (up to 125 lb / 57 kg), bantamweight (126–135 lb / 61 kg), featherweight (136–145 lb / 66 kg), lightweight (146–155 lb / 70 kg), welterweight (156–170 lb / 77 kg), middleweight (171–185 lb / 84 kg), light heavyweight (186–205 lb / 93 kg), heavyweight (206–265 lb / 120 kg), and some organizations even go on to have a super heavyweight which is anything heavier than 265 pounds (120 kg).

Small, open-fingered gloves were introduced to protect fists in punches, reduce the occurrence of cuts (and stoppages due to cuts) and encourage fighters to use their hands for striking to allow more captivating matches. Time limits were established to avoid long fights with little action where competitors conserved their strength. Matches without time limits also complicated the airing of live events. The time limits in most professional fights are three 5 minute rounds, and championship fights are normally five 5 minute rounds. Similar motivations produced the “stand up” rule, where the referee can stand fighters up if it is perceived that both are resting on the ground or not advancing toward a dominant position.

Gloves were first mandatory in Japan’s Shooto promotion and were later adopted by the UFC as it developed into a regulated sport. Most professional fights have the fighters wear 4 oz gloves with little protection, whereas amateurs are required to wear a slightly heavier 6 oz glove for somewhat little more protection for the hands and wrist. In the U.S., state athletic and boxing commissions have played a crucial role in the introduction of additional rules because they oversee MMA in a similar way to boxing. Smaller shows may use more restrictive rules because they have less experienced fighters. In Japan and Europe, there is no regulating authority over competitions, so these organizations have greater freedom in rule development and event structure.

Many U.S. states have a “no elbow policy” for amateurs to help protect the young fighters from serious injury by cuts or concussions. The use of a “12-6” elbow has been banned by several organizations along with restrictions on the use of knees to a downed opponent, dictated by one person having a hand, arm, or knee on the ground. Knees to the head of a grounded opponent is allowed in Japanese MMA. Headbutts are also widely prohibited because they require little effort and can quickly open cuts that might cause a fight to be stopped due to injury rather than because there is a winner.

Victory

Victory in a match is normally gained either by the judges’ decision after an allotted amount of time has elapsed, a stoppage by the referee (for example if a competitor can not defend himself intelligently) or the fight doctor (due to an injury), a submission, by a competitor’s cornerman throwing in the towel, or by knockout.

Knockout (KO): as soon as a fighter becomes unconscious due to strikes, his opponent is declared the winner. As MMA rules allow ground fighting, the fight is stopped to prevent further injury to an unconscious fighter.

Submission: a fighter may admit defeat during a match by:

  • a tap on the opponent’s body or mat/floor
  • a verbal announcement/verbal tap

Technical Knockout (TKO)

  • Referee stoppage: The ref may stop a match in progress if:
    • a fighter becomes dominant to the point where the opponent can not intelligently defend himself and is taking a lot of damage
    • a fighter appears to be unconscious from a submission hold or due to a strike
    • a fighter appears to have a significant injury such as a cut or a broken bone

Doctor Stoppage: the referee will call for a time out if a fighter’s ability to continue is in question as a result of apparent injuries, such as a large cut. The ring doctor will inspect the fighter and stop the match if the fighter is deemed unable to continue safely, rendering the opponent the winner. However, if the match is stopped as a result of an injury from illegal actions by the opponent, either a disqualification or no contest will be issued instead.

Corner stoppage: a fighter’s corner men may announce defeat on the fighter’s behalf by throwing in the towel during the match in progress or between rounds.

Decision: if the match goes the distance, then the outcome of the bout is determined by three judges. The judging criteria are organization-specific.

Forfeit: a fighter or his representative may forfeit a match prior to the beginning of the match, thereby losing the match.

Disqualification: a “warning” will be given when a fighter commits a foul or illegal action or does not follow the referee’s instruction. Three warnings will result in a disqualification. Moreover, if a fighter is injured and unable to continue due to a deliberate illegal technique from his opponent, the opponent will be disqualified.

No Contest: in the event that both fighters commit a violation of the rules, or a fighter is unable to continue due to an injury from an accidental illegal technique, the match will be declared a “No Contest”.

Clothing

Mixed martial arts promotions typically require that male fighters wear shorts as the only permissible attire, thus precluding the use of gi or fighting kimono to inhibit submission holds. Female fighters wear shorts and sports bras.

The need for flexibility in the legs combined with durability prompted the creation of various fighting shorts brands, which then spawned a range of mixed martial arts clothing and casual wear available to the public.

Strategies

Mixed martial arts competition requires training in striking, wrestling, and submission fighting.

The techniques utilized in mixed martial arts competition generally fall into two categories: striking techniques (such as kicks, knees and punches) and grappling techniques (such as clinch holds, pinning holds, submission holds, sweeps, takedowns and throws). Although sanctioning bodies such as the IFFCF have rules and regulations for MMA, rules may vary between promotions. In many promotions they have adopted the unified rule system that the most popular promotion UFC has established. While the legality of some techniques (such as elbow strikes, headbutts and spinal locks) may vary, there is a near universal ban on techniques such as biting, strikes to the groin, eye-gouging, fish-hooking and small joint manipulation.

Today, mixed martial artists must cross-train in a variety of styles to counter their opponent’s strengths and remain effective in all the phases of combat. For instance, a stand-up fighter will have little opportunity to use their skills against a submission artist who has also trained in take downs. Many traditional disciplines remain popular as ways for a fighter to improve aspects of their game.

Popular disciplines

Most ‘traditional’ martial arts have a specific focus and these arts may be trained to improve in that area. Popular disciplines of each type include:

  • Stand-up: Various forms of boxing, kickboxing/Muay Thai and forms of full contact karate are trained to improve footwork, elbowing, kicking, kneeing and punching.
  • Clinch: Freestyle, Greco-Roman wrestling, Sambo and Judo are trained to improve clinching, takedowns and throws, while Muay Thai is trained to improve the striking aspect of the clinch.
  • Ground: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, shoot wrestling, catch wrestling, Judo and Sambo are trained to improve ground control and position, as well as to achieve submission holds, and defend against them.

Some styles have been adapted from their traditional form, such as boxing stances which lack effective counters to leg kicks and the muay thai stance which is poor for defending against takedowns due to the static nature, or Judo techniques which must be adapted for No Gi competition. It is common for a fighter to train with multiple coaches of different styles or an organized fight team to improve various aspects of their game at once. Cardiovascular conditioning, speed drills, strength training and flexibility are also important aspects of a fighter’s training. Some schools advertise their styles as simply “mixed martial arts”, which has become a genre in itself; but the training will still often be split in to different sections.

While mixed martial arts was initially practiced almost exclusively by competitive fighters, this is no longer the case. As the sport has become more mainstream and more widely taught, it has become accessible to wider range of practitioners of all ages. Proponents of this sort of training argue that it is safe for anyone, of any age, with varying levels of competitiveness.

Hybrid styles

The standing fighter is attempting to escape defeat via armbar by slamming his opponent to the ground so that he will release his grip.

The following terms describe hybrid styles a fighter may use, over the course of a fight, to achieve victory. While some fighters have tallied notable victories by striking, ground-and-pound as well as submission throughout their careers, most fighters will rely on a smaller number of techniques while adopting a style that plays to their strengths.

Stand-up fighting is the core of sprawl-and-brawl.

Sprawl-and-brawl

Sprawl-and-brawl is a stand-up fighting tactic that consists of effective stand-up striking, while avoiding ground fighting, typically by using sprawls to defend against takedowns.

A sprawl-and-brawler is usually a boxer, kickboxer, Thai boxer or full contact karate fighter who has trained in wrestling to avoid takedowns to keep the fight standing. Often, these fighters will study submission wrestling to avoid being forced into submission, should they find themselves on the ground. This style can be deceptively different from traditional kickboxing styles, since sprawl-and-brawlers must adapt their techniques to incorporate takedown and ground fighting defense.

Former UFC champions Tim Sylvia and Chuck Liddell have been successful using sprawl-and brawl techniques.

Clinch fighting

Clinch fighting and dirty boxing are tactics consisting of using a clinch hold to prevent the opponent from moving away into more distant striking range, while also attempting takedowns and striking the opponent using knees, stomps, elbows, and punches. The clinch is often utilized by wrestlers that have added components of the striking game (typically boxing), and Muay Thai fighters.

Wrestlers may use clinch fighting as a way to neutralize the superior striking skills of a stand-up fighter or to prevent takedowns by a superior ground fighter. The clinch of a Muay Thai fighter is often used to improve the accuracy of knees and elbows by physically controlling the position of the opponent.

Former UFC champion Randy Couture is one of the most notable practitioners of clinch fighting. Also, current UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva commonly uses knee strikes from a Muay Thai clinch.

Ground-and-pound in action

Ground-and-pound

Ground-and-pound is a ground fighting tactic consisting of taking an opponent to the ground using a takedown or throw, obtaining a top, or dominant position, and then striking the opponent, primarily with fists and elbows. Ground-and-pound is also used as a precursor to attempting submission holds.

This style is used by wrestlers or other fighters well-versed in submission defense and skilled at takedowns. They take the fight to the ground, maintain a grappling position, and strike until their opponent submits or is knocked out. Although not a traditional style of striking, the effectiveness and reliability of ground-and-pound has made it a popular tactic as it was first demonstrated as an effective technique by UFC and Pride grand prix champion, Mark Coleman. Today, strikes on the ground are an essential part of a fighter’s training.

[edit] Submission grappling

Apart from being a general martial arts term, submission grappling is also a reference to the ground fighting tactic consisting of taking an opponent to the ground using a takedown or throw and then applying a submission hold, forcing the opponent to submit. While grapplers will often work to attain dominant position, some may be more comfortable fighting from other positions. If a grappler finds themselves unable to force a takedown, they may resort to pulling guard, whereby they physically pull their opponent into a dominant position on the ground.

Submissions are an essential part of many disciplines, most notably Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, catch wrestling, judo, Sambo, shootwrestling, pankration, Army Combatives, and MCMAP. They were popularized in the early UFC events by Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock.

MMA teams

There are numerous MMA teams based throughout the World that provide team camps and training for professional fighters.

Women’s competition

The sport of mixed martial arts has female athletes. Female fights are more prominent in Japan in promotions such as the all-female Valkyrie and Smackgirl (now known as JEWELS) since their first event in 2000. However, there are few professional mixed martial arts organizations in the United States that invite women to compete. Although people have the perception that women are not as prominent as men in mixed martial arts, there has been a growing awareness of women in the sport due to popular female fighters and personalities such as Megumi Fujii and Gina Carano. Carano quickly became the face of women’s MMA after appearing in the now defunct EliteXC MMA promotion; this was furthered by her appearances in the remake of the hit (US version) TV show American Gladiators. Other popular female fighters include Strikeforce’s Female 145 lb. Champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, Tara LaRosa, Megumi Fujii and Rosi Sexton.

Strikeforce became the first major promotion in the U.S to have a female fight act as the main event on August 15, 2009. The fight between Carano and Santos attracted 856,000 viewers. Santos made history with her victory over Carano as she became the first ever Strikeforce Women’s 145 lb Champion.  Santos now trains at The Arena in San Diego for her upcoming Strikeforce fights.

Safety

While competition in the sport is occasionally depicted as brutal by the media, there had never been a death or crippling injury in a sanctioned event in North America until the death of Sam Vasquez on November 30, 2007. Vasquez collapsed shortly after being knocked out by Vince Libardi in the third round of an October 20, 2007 fight at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. Vasquez had two separate surgeries to remove blood clots from his brain, and shortly after the second operation suffered a major stroke and never regained consciousness. While questions have been asked about Vasquez’s health before his final bout, no firm indications of pre-existing problems have yet surfaced. Since he was age 35, he would have had to undergo extensive pre-fight medical screening in order to obtain a license to compete in Texas.

This was the third verified fatality in MMA. The first was the 1998 death of Douglas Dedge in an unsanctioned fight in Ukraine. There are unconfirmed reports that Dedge had a medical pre-existing condition. The second was the 2005 death of a 35-year old man only identified as Lee in South Korea. This took place in an unsanctioned event in a restaurant called Gimme Five.

A study by Johns Hopkins University concluded, “the overall injury rate [excluding injury to the brain] in MMA competitions is now similar to other combat sports [involving striking], including boxing. Knockout rates are lower in MMA competitions than in boxing. This suggests a reduced risk of traumatic brain injury in MMA competitions when compared to other events involving striking.”

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1 Comment

  1. Great artical


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