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MMA - Welcome to the Exciting Sport of Mixed Martial Arts

By Robert Rousseau,

Boxer vs. Wrestler, Karate vs. Kung Fu, Kickboxer vs. Jeet Kune Do...

The world of fighting has come a long way since June 25, 1976. On that day, professional boxer Muhammad Ali and professional wrestler Antonio Inoki fought, or in reality staged, a 15 round draw at the Budokan in Tokyo, Japan.

Also on the card that night was a match featuring boxer Chuck Wepner versus wrestler Andre "The Giant".

Despite a host of disappointing last minute rule changes (one of these allowed Inoki to kick only if one of his knees were down), the public craving for a bout pitting fighting disciplines against one another was still great enough to net Ali six million and Inoki two million for the rather fixed encounter.

In the end, there was only disappointment; the bout simply didn't offer any answers.

Throughout the years, since there was no proof, everyone thought their fighting style was the best. Karate, Jiu-Jisu, Kung Fu, Judo, boxing, kickboxing, wrestling. . . the list could go on and on.

Further, mostly because of movies and media, an aura of mysticism, particularly in America, surrounded the Asian martial arts.

There was this feeling that if someone knew Karate, Tae Kwon Do, or Kung Fu, for example, then all physical boundaries got thrown out the window. Size, strength, and athleticism were hardly an opponent, or so many thought, to training in the Asian martial arts.

Then came November 12, 1993. On that day, the first ever American mixed martial arts event was seen live on Pay Per View from the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado (it was based on a version of Brazil's Vale Tudo). The organization that put on the event was called Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

The reality, though, was that it was a mixed martial arts event with no mixed martial artists. No one who fought in that bout had any significant cross-training experience. Rather, it was a day where discipline (Karate vs. Wrestling, for example), was pitted against discipline.

Therefore, with this event, the public's need to know which fighting style was best would truly be answered. Unfortunately for some, that answer would not necessarily be the one they hoped for, particularly in America where the stand up arts, boxing for example, was king.

The UFC's Early Years

The first UFC event fielded eight competitors with no weight classes and hardly any rules in a single day, single elimination tournament. The tournament boasted fighters with backgrounds in Brazilian Jiu-Jisu (Royce Gracie), Savate (Gerard Gordeau), Karate (Zane Frazier), shootfighting (Ken Shamrock, who is still a UFC fighter today), Sumo (Telia Tuli), kickboxing (Kevin Rosier and Patrick Smith), and professional boxing (Art Jimmerson).

All fights would take place in a cage- like structure called the Octagon and would continue until there was a knockout, referee stoppage, or tap out. Finally, the world would see which fighting discipline was best. Who would win, the grappler or the striker? Well, 86,592 spectators tuned in to Pay Per View to find out just that.

The answer: the grappler. You may have heard of him and his discipline. Royce Gracie- Brazilian Jiu-Jisu. Gracie, a 170 pound fighter whose father was credited for inventing Brazilian Jiu-Jisu, won three of the first four UFC events (UFC 1, UFC 2, and UFC 4). Further, he never actually lost a match during these early years. After a particularly difficult bout with freestyle fighter Kimo Leopold in UFC 3- a man that outweighed him by more than 60 pounds- Gracie became injured and had to forfeit his next match. Thus, the reason why he was not named the winner of UFC 3.

Royce Gracie's early dominance of the UFC seemed to punctuate two things. First, technique could overcome size. After all, the man was only 170 pounds. Second, Brazilian Jiu-Jisu, a mix of grappling, judo, and submissions (arm locks, choke holds, etc.), was the single most effective one on one fighting discipline in the world.

However, the UFC's lack of rules, which was designed to truly test fighting styles in real life combat situations, nearly did the organization in. The fact that groin strikes, headbutts, and pulling hair (a rule that helped Royce Gracie defeat Kimo in UFC 3), were allowed did not bode well with some, particularly Senator John McCain.

Many felt that these early martial arts events were really human cockfighting, even if proponents of the sport strongly felt otherwise and pointed to the respect fighters gave one another both before and after matches.

Regardless, negative publicity and campaigning by McCain eventually succeeded in getting the UFC dropped from the major cable networks and Pay Per View. The result? The UFC was forced to change their thinking. By UFC 15, rounds and gloves were mandatory. Further, hair pulling, headbutting, groin strikes, small joint manipulations (like purposefully breaking fingers), kicks to a downed opponent, and strikes to the back of the head and neck were banned.

Still, this was almost too little, too late. The organization nearly folded. That is until Zuffa Entertainment, a partnership between Frank and Lorenzo Ferttita and boxing promoter, Dana White, purchased the UFC in 2001. Soon after, the organization finally became sanctioned in Vegas and returned to Pay Per View. The Ferttitas' ties to the Nevada State Athletic Commission no doubt aided this endeavor.

The spectacle that was the UFC was now over; it had been for awhile, in fact. After all, the UFC no longer truly pitted fighters of distinctly different disciplines against one another (no more boxer versus grappler). Why? Simply because anyone competing in the UFC by that time knew a little of everything that was needed. They were all cross training.

This was how mixed martial arts or MMA was really born.

How the Disciplines Fared Initially

It's important to truly consider how certain fighting disciplines fared early on in order to get a sense of why MMA fighters train the way they do in the present day. After all, those early UFC events provided some pretty distinct answers.

As was indicated earlier, Brazilian Jiu-Jisu was clearly the frontrunner as led by Royce Gracie. This style did well for the following reasons. First, it became very obvious rather early on that within all the stand up disciplines- boxing, kickboxing, Kung Fu, Tae Kwondo, Karate, etc.- there was a clear flaw in real fighting. One question would seem to summarize it.

How many boxing matches have you ever seen where one of the first three punches ended the fight?

That question was relevant to the early years of mixed martial arts because fighters who understood grappling knew takedowns. Therefore, stand up fighters who didn't understand takedown defense in any way, only had a very short amount of time to take grapplers out before they were wrapped up and deposited on the mat.

Brazilian Jiu-Jisu and wrestling practitioners (also Judo/ Sambo), had a clear advantage over the striking arts for this reason. Strikers rarely actually got to strike.

Therefore, wrestlers, Brazilian Jiu-Jisu, Sambo/ Judo, and shootfighters (Ken Shamrock, for example) did best in mixed martial arts events early on. However, even though Shamrock was perhaps the second most successful fighter next to Gracie in the early years, wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jisu will be concentrated on here because of the contrast their disciplines provide.

Still, it should be noted that shootfighting, a blend of Sambo, Judo, and submissions, was shown to be quite effective early on.

To understand, however, why Brazilian Jiu-Jisu was more effective than even wrestling, one need only to understand two words. The guard and submissions. Unlike wrestling practitioners, who were clearly the most adept at ground control and takedowns, Brazilian Jiu-Jisu teaches how to fight from one's back.

Gracie's ability to wrap his legs around an opponent from his back, thus controlling or limiting their movement (called a guard), provided him with innumerable advantages that wrestlers did not possess. Further, the guard was not something that shootfighting (Ken Shamrock) emphasized early on.

Beyond that there were submissions. Unlike in wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jisu emphasizes moves that truly end fights (arm locks, chokes, etc.). Further, these moves can be executed from one's back. What wrestlers had practiced all their lives, pinning an opponent, unfortunately did not end fights. This was a wrestler's weakness early on, particularly since there were no decisions or point in those early bouts. Only ending a fight won it for you, and both Shamrock (concentrating on leg locks) and Gracie's (emphasizing upper body submissions) taught this above all else..

A great example of the two disciplines at work against one another could be seen in the Dan Severn (a 250 pound former All American wrestler at Arizona State who once held the U.S. nation record for pins) versus Royce Gracie match in UFC 4. In this bout, Severn had no problem taking Gracie to the mat and pounding on him for what amounted to about 15 minutes. However, he couldn't finish him; thus, Gracie used a move from his guard called a triangle choke to eventually win the match against the much larger competitor.

Initially, the stand up arts did poorly, as was indicated earlier. However, kickboxing tended to reign supreme over the others (Muay Thai Kickboxing is now the stand up art of choice for MMA combatants). The fault of the other striking arts appeared to be that they taught their practitioners to deliver single deadly strikes. The problem with that? It just didn't work that way.

Kickboxing on the other hand taught flurries of kicks and punches which did prove beneficial for some early contestants like Patrick Smith and Gerard Gordeau.

Though most Karate and Kung Fu fighters did not do well, Keith Hackney, a Kung Fu fighter, did represent himself somewhat well with victories over Emmanuel Yarborough (a 600 pound Sumo Wrestler) and Joe Son (with a choke, believe it or not) in 1994. Therefore, it wasn't all about the discipline, necessarily. The person and the way they were taught to deliver their martial art did have meaning.

Today's mixed martial arts fighters have learned from the early years; in fact, today's MMA fighters have evolved far more than perhaps anyone could've surmised. Nearly every MMA fighter today works elements of both grappling and striking, allowing them to survive in a match no matter what the circumstances.

Pride Fighting Championships

The Japanese based Pride Fighting Championships or PRIDE, is currently the other major mixed martial arts organization in the world (there are many others mixed martial arts organizations at present, but there are only two truly major venues). PRIDE took hold with its first event in the Tokyo Dome back on October 11, 1997. The reason that PRIDE has been able to reach prominence has a lot to do with the MMA market in Japan- remember, Karate has been called its national sport- as well as the UFC's inability to get itself on television at the time of PRIDE's formation.

There are many other MMA organizations in the world, but only PRIDE has proven to be a real threat to the UFC and vice versa.

Due to the UFC's near collapse, PRIDE was able to lure several well known UFC fighters to their ranks including, Mark "The Hammer" Coleman, Royce Gracie, Kevin Randleman, and Jens "Little Evil" Pulver, to name only a small handful. At this time, PRIDE events are promoted by Dream Stage Entertainment. Further, PRIDE is widely considered to be the most popular MMA organization in the world (by far more people attend their events than UFC events).

Current Pride and UFC rule differences.

Since it is based in Japan, PRIDE has a different set of rules for their bouts. Whereas current UFC mixed martial arts matches are scored on a round by round basis (one of the changes that was instituted in order to get sanctioned), PRIDE mixed martial arts matches are scored on the entire fight (there is no round scoring system). Further, UFC title bouts run five rounds (five minutes a piece), whereas PRIDE title matches are three rounds (1st round= 10 minutes, the final two, three minutes).

Beyond that, PRIDE does not allow elbows to a downed opponent, whereas the UFC does. However, PRIDE fighters are allowed to kick a downed opponent, whereas UFC fighters are not. The rest of the rules are for the most part, similar.

A major aesthetic difference, of course, is that PRIDE matches are fought in a ring, like boxing, not an Octagon, as is the case in the UFC.

MMA Today

The UFC has been on the rise over the last several years, thanks to some savvy promoting by President Dana White and the success of The Ultimate Fighter Reality Television Show (TUF) on Spike Television. TUF has taken mixed martial arts and put it in front of everyone with a television (not just enough money to purchase a Pay Per View event), and this strategy has worked in a big way for them.

Simply put, the show works in the following manner. Up and coming mixed martial arts fighters are put on a house arrest of sorts. There they're given elite fighters to learn from- TUF 1 trainers were UFC legends Randy "The Natural" Couture and Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell- and teams are picked by these trainers. Eventually, these combatants face one another in single elimination bouts. The winner in each weight class gets a six figure UFC contract.

To show just how well the show has worked, 2.8 million viewers tuned in to the last TUF Finale (TUF 3) .

PRIDE, on the other hand, is hard to figure at this point. In short, they may be having some television woes. On 6/5/06, Fuji Network in Japan announced that they were immediately terminating their relationship with PRIDE due to breach of contract. Basically, this leaves the organization with no regular television revenues at home in Japan. However, PRIDE recently aired a live event on Fox Sports Net in the United States (the Bushido 12 event). Further, on 10/21/06 their first ever event on American soil (PRIDE 32: The Real Deal), will take place in Las Vegas. So, although there are television problems in Japan, they are now invading America.

Who's Has the Best MMA Fighters, UFC or PRIDE?

A constant debate regarding this has taken place for some time now at MMA websites and mixed martial arts forums everywhere. PRIDE or UFC- which one has the best mixed martial arts fighters? Well, the answer is likely more complicated than that and is certainly beyond the scope of this article. Still, one should know the best fighters these organizations currently field in each weight class.

Heavyweight (PRIDE- 205 lbs. and greater, UFC- 206 lbs. and greater)

PRIDE: Fedor Emelianenko (champion), Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Josh Barnett

UFC: Tim Sylvia (champion) and Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski

Comments: Nearly everyone at this time believes that PRIDE's Heavyweight division far exceeds the UFC's. However, the only way to really know is for them to fight.

Middleweight (PRIDE- 183- 204 lbs.) or Light Heavyweight (UFC- 186-205 lbs.)

PRIDE: Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva (champion), Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, and Ricardo Arona

UFC: Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell (champion), Tito Ortiz, and Renato "Babalu" Sobral

Comments: A Liddell/ Silva fight actually got announced not too long ago. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it will ever take place. This would probably be the biggest fight in MMA history, similar to the first Super Bowl in football.

Welterweight (PRIDE- 160-182 lbs.) or Middleweight (UFC- 171-185 lbs.)

PRIDE: Dan "Hollywood" Henderson (champion), Denis Kang, Kazuo Misaki, and Paulo Filho

UFC: Rich "Ace" Franklin, Mike "Quick" Swick, and David "The Crow" Loiseau

Comments: PRIDE is definitely deeper here, but Franklin is still a great one.

Welterweight (UFC- 156-170 lbs.)

UFC: Matt Hughes (champion), B.J. "The Prodigy" Penn, Georges St. Pierre, Diego Sanchez

Comments: There really is no PRIDE weight class here. That's unfortunate, though, because this weight class may be the most exciting in the world.

Lightweight (PRIDE- less than 160 lbs., UFC- 146-155 lbs.)

PRIDE: Takanori Gomi (champion), Mitsuhiro Ishida, Joachim Hansen, Hayato "Mach" Sakurai

UFC: Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, Jens "Little Evil" Pulver, Mark Hominick

Comments: The UFC just started up their lightweight division again, so there is no champion. PRIDE currently has the bigger surplus of elite fighters in this division because of this, but the UFC is beginning to gain on them.

Where is MMA Going?

MMA is one of the fastest growing sports worldwide. Television and gate revenues are beginning to soar, and fighters like Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell and Rich "Ace" Franklin are becoming household names. At some point, likely very soon, mixed martial arts will supplant boxing as North America's preferred sport, and with that will come greater prestige and more money for the fighters.

Sports fans want the truth. For years, many wondered out loud if the Heavyweight Boxing Champion really was, as Mike Tyson once said, "the baddest man on the planet." Now people know that this is in fact not the case. The baddest man on the planet likely competes in MMA, and with the excitement that mixed martial arts brings, expect that someday soon the sport will be regularly shown on networks like ESPN and showcased in magazines such as Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.

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