A Streamlined History of Competitive Mixed Martial Arts

Richard Maize
3 min readJun 4, 2021

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Mixed martial arts (MMA), a hybrid fighting style that combines techniques from martial arts disciplines across a diverse international background, ranks among the most-watched combat sports worldwide. Matches involve two people vying for dominance over one another via striking, control, and finishing-hold tactics; victory is achieved through point score, submission, knockout, or stoppage by an official third party. Although its mainstream competitive development began in the late 1990s, MMA’s roots trace back centuries and span multiple continents.

Pankration events during ancient Greece’s Olympic Games in 648 BCE offer the earliest-recorded use of combat trials featuring hybridized fighting approaches. A brutal contest that sometimes ended in death for participants, pankration blended together Hellenic wresting and boxing and permitted all manner of physical assaults, save biting and eye gouging. It remained popular until 393 CE, when Roman emperor Theodosius I’s banishment of the Olympic Games put an end to it. However, scholars believe aspects of pankration survived due to the conquests of Alexander the Great, whose armies introduced the sport’s fundamentals to other parts of the world.

The beginnings of mainstream MMA occurred in the 20th century, arising from the convergence of different cultures, as well as the emergence of no-holds-barred combat sports. For instance, Vale Tudo matches in Brazil marked the resurfacing of pankration-like MMA events and helped lay the foundation for conceiving ground-fighting-focused judo adaptations. These include Brazilian jiujitsu, which went on to become a primary influencer and component of mainstream MMA.

Moreover, with the cross-cultural spread of Eastern and Western martial arts schools came the concept of mixed-style competitions wherein practitioners of one discipline challenged those of another for bragging rights. Participants in these matches took to learning from their competitors and incorporating elements and techniques of other martial arts disciplines into their own style. Such contests also facilitated the evolution of MMA into a distinct sport.

In 1979, Pittsburgh entrepreneurs Frank Caliguri and Bill Viola laid the groundwork for modern MMA events by founding CV Productions, the first MMA league in the United States. The company devised rules, safety precautions, and weight classes for regulated open MMA tournaments, and some MMA experts believe its inaugural “Battle of the Tough Guys” in 1980 represents the birth of MMA as a sport due to the championship’s commercial success. However, scrutiny from politicians resulted in a ban on MMA sporting functions in Pennsylvania by the state legislature in 1983.

CV Productions subsequently fell into obscurity, and MMA remained on the fringes of the sports world in the United States until the formation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the early 1990s. Brazilian jiujitsu practitioner Rorion Gracie founded the organization in 1993 alongside MMA promoter Art Davies as part of an effort to showcase his family’s trademark style. Some sources indicate that they took inspiration from a choreographed MMA-fight show presented by MMA practitioner Greg “Kazja” Patschull and entrepreneur Richard Maize.

UFC’s original contests utilized Vale Tudo’s no-holds-barred format under Gracie’s insistence, and although they attracted a widespread audience, the lack of regulation drew criticism and earned MMA a reputation as a blood sport. UFC management introduced rules in the early 2000s as a response and collaborated with state athletic commissions and other MMA organizations to establish the Unified Rules of MMA, which are similar to those developed by CV Productions. Moreover, state athletic commissions began serving as the governing bodies of the sport in their respective states. These changes helped MMA improve its public image and fostered its evolution into the competitions enjoyed today.

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Richard Maize
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Building his career on making business investments, real estate professional Richard Maize owned 1,000 apartment units before age 30.