MMA 101: An Introduction to Mixed Martial Arts

Cage used at Fightcross MMA Albion

When people think of MMA, they often picture a recent phenomenon born out of the early ’90s. The truth is though, that MMA has been around in one form or another since the Ancient Olympics. 

In this series, we’ll be looking at everything you need to know to get started in MMA. From the history of the sport to the benefits of training and competition, all the way to what you can expect in your first class, we’ll be covering it all in this beginners guide to MMA.

So why don’t we begin by looking at what MMA actually is?

What is MMA?

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a combat sport based on striking, grappling and ground fighting. It incorporates techniques from a variety of Olympic sports and martial arts from around the world.

A Brief History of MMA

Antiquity

Combat sports are far from new.

In fact, in ancient China, people competed in a sport known as Leitai. This was a combat sport that combined a variety of Chinese martial arts.

Meanwhile, in the ancient Olympic Games in 648 BCE, athletes competed in a similar sport called pankration This was actually the combat training of Greek armies, and it combined wrestling and striking. Pankration eventually became one of the most popular events of the ancient Olympics.

There is also evidence of similar sports being held in ancient Egypt, India and Japan.

Modern-Precursors

19th Century

Throughout the 19th century, a number of interesting fighting styles emerged, and each of these could be considered to be modern-precursors to what we know as MMA in 2021.

The mid-19th century saw the rise of savate, which was a French style of kickboxing. The fighters in this martial art often tested themselves against other styles like bare-knuckle boxing and even karate.

Later that century catch wrestling gained popularity, combining several different styles of wrestling. Like in savate, catch wrestlers also liked to test themselves against other forms of fighting such as boxing and judo.

Finally, at the end of the century, Edward William Barton-Wright founded Bartitsu in London. He combined techniques from boxing, catch wrestling, judo, jujutsu and savate, as well as weapons techniques such as French stick fighting. This was revolutionary as it was the first known martial art to combine techniques from both Eastern and Western styles of combat.

20th Century

At the beginning of the 20th century, martial artists in Russia combined a variety of styles such as wrestling, judo as well as striking, to create a hybrid art known as Sambo.

Around this time, other hybrid combat sports were evolving around the world. One of the most noteworthy being Vale Tudo in Brazil, which was influenced by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and the Gracie family.

The Beginning of Modern MMA

In the late 20th century, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu came to the United States. It rose in popularity and eventually lead to the creation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 1993. The early days of the UFC saw the promotion impose a lot fewer rules in their matches, and because of this MMA was often subject to criticism.

However, MMA has since evolved into a more controlled sport with increased safety. Mixed Martial Arts is now a full-contact combat sport that allows a wide variety of fighting techniques taken from traditional martial arts, with rules in place that prohibit techniques such as groin strikes and eye gouges, for the safety of the athletes.

Which Sports are Part of MMA?

The majority of techniques used in MMA come from martial arts that have a rich history and are well respected as sports in their own right. Many of these styles are also Olympic sports and include the likes of boxing, judo, karate, taekwondo, and wrestling. Other sports like Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, while not Olympic sports at the moment, have been making progress in that direction.

Striking

Boxing

The earliest evidence of boxing dates back to Egypt around 3000 BC. The sport was later introduced to the ancient Olympic Games by the Greeks in the 7th century BC and made its debut in the modern Olympics in the 1904 Games.

Karate

Originating on the island of Okinawa, Karate is an ancient Japanese martial art with an emphasis on striking. 

It was part of the programme at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires in 2018, and will make it’s full Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020.

Taekwondo

Taekwondo is a traditional Korean martial art that uses punches and kicks to overcome an opponent, with the sport placing a keen emphasis on its kicks. 

It debuted as a demonstration Olympic sport at the 1988 Seoul Games and became an official sport at the 2000 Sydney Games

Muay Thai

Muay Thai is a martial art from Thailand that uses stand-up striking and clinching techniques.It’s known as the art of eight limbs as it is characterized by the use of punches, kicks, elbows, and knees.

While it is not yet an Olympic sport, in 2016 Muay Thai received provisional recognition as Olympic sports by the International Olympic Committee.

Then, in 2018 the Prime Minister of Thailand asked the International Olympic Committee to consider including Muay Thai in the 2024 Olympics.

Grappling

Wrestling

Wrestling is recognised as the world’s oldest competitive sport (along with athletics). In fact, cave drawings of wrestlers have been discovered going back as far back as 3000 BC. The sport was introduced into the ancient Olympics in 708 BC, soon after the Games’ recorded history began.

When the modern Olympic Games resumed in 1896, a big emphasis was placed in Greco-Roman wrestling. Then in 1904, freestyle wrestling was added to the programme.

Judo

Judo is a traditional Japanese grappling art developed in the 1880s. Dr Jigoro Kano combined the features of the various schools of the sport and codified the rules. The sport debuted at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

BJJ is a martial art and combat sport based on grappling and submission holds. Its strategy involves taking an opponent to the ground, controlling the opponent, gaining a dominant position and force them into submission. This is done through joint locks and chokeholds.

While Jiu-jitsu missed the cut for the 2024 Olympics, chances of the sport making a first appearance at the 2022 Youth Olympics are high, according to the president of the Jiu-Jitsu International Federation (JJIF) .

MMA Promotions Around the World

UFC

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is an American MMA promotion company. It is the largest one in the world and is home to some of the highest-level fighters in the sport.

One Championship

ONE Championship is a Singapore-based MMA, Muay Thai, and kickboxing promotion. Founded in 2011, it’s the largest MMA promotion in Asia.

Aftershock

Aftershock is an MMA series based in Brisbane, Australian. The series hosts bouts for both amateurs and professional and has a strong fan-base and community.

Conclusion

While many people think of MMA as a recent phenomenon, it’s a form of combat sports that has been around since the Ancient Olympics. It utilises a variety of techniques from some of the best Olympic sports and martial arts in the world, and with its rising popularity, more people than ever before are both watching and participating in one of the fastest-growing sports on the planet.