Mixed martial arts

Mixed martial arts
Mixed martial arts
UFC 131 Carwin vs. JDS.jpg
Junior dos Santos (white shorts) and Shane Carwin (black shorts) fight before referee Herb Dean in the main event of UFC 131 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Also known as Vale Tudo, no holds barred (NHB), freefighting
Focus Various
Hardness Full contact
Olympic sport No

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a full contact combat sport that allows the use of both striking and grappling techniques, both standing and on the ground, including boxing, wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, muay Thai, kickboxing, karate, judo and other styles.

The roots of modern mixed martial arts can be traced back to the ancient Olympic combat sport of Pankration. Various mixed style contests also took place throughout Europe, Japan and the Pacific Rim during the early 1900s. The combat sport of Vale Tudo that had developed in Brazil from the 1920s was brought to the United States by the Gracie family in 1993 with the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which is currently the largest MMA promotion company worldwide.[1] Prior to the UFC, professional MMA events had also been held in Japan by Shooto since 1989.

In due course, the more dangerous Vale Tudo style bouts of the early UFC's were made safer with the implementation of additional rules, leading to the popular regulated form of MMA seen today. Originally promoted as a competition with the intention of finding the most effective martial arts for real unarmed combat situations, competitors were pitted against one another with minimal rules.[2] Later, fighters employed multiple martial arts into their style while promoters adopted additional rules aimed at increasing safety for competitors and to promote mainstream acceptance of the sport.[3]

The name mixed martial arts was coined by Rick Blume, president and CEO of Battlecade, in 1995.[4] Following these changes, the sport has seen increased popularity with a pay per view business that rivals boxing and professional wrestling.[5]


Early history

A 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.

During the Greco-Roman era there existed an ancient Olympic combat sport, known as Pankration which featured a combination of grappling and striking skills, similar to modern Mixed Martial Arts. This sport originated in Ancient Greece and was later passed on to the Romans.[6]

No-holds-barred fighting 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.

Another early example of mixed martial arts was Bartitsu, which Edward William Barton-Wright founded in London in 1899. Combining judo, jujutsu, boxing, savate and canne de combat (French stick fighting), Bartitsu was the first martial art known to have combined Asian and European fighting styles,[7] and which saw MMA-style contests throughout England, pitting European and Japanese champions against representatives of various European wrestling styles.[7]

Timeline of major events
Ancient Greece Pankration
Late 19th century Hybrid martial arts
Late 1880s – Early NHB and Mixed Style contests
Early 1900s Merikan contests
1920s – Early Vale Tudo and Gracie Challenge
1960s and 1970s – Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do
1970s Antonio Inoki and Ishu Kakutōgi Sen
1985 Shooto forms
1989 – First professional Shooto event
1991 – First Desafio (BJJ vs. Luta Livre) event
1993 Pancrase forms
1993 UFC forms
Mid/Late 1990s – International Vale Tudo

(WVC, VTJ, IVC, UVF etc.)

1997–2007 PRIDE FC and UFC era
2000 New Jersey SACB develops Unified rules
2001 Zuffa buys UFC
2005 The Ultimate Fighter Debuts
2005 US Army begins sanctioning MMA
2006–Present – UFC dominance and international growth
2006 – Zuffa buys WFA and WEC
2006 UFC 66 generates over a million PPV buys
2007 – Zuffa buys PRIDE FC
2008 – EliteXC: Primetime gains 6.5 million peak viewers on CBS
2009 Strikeforce holds 1st major card with female main event
2011 – WEC merged with UFC
2011 – Zuffa buys Strikeforce
2011 – UFC on Fox gains 8.8 million peak viewers on Fox

The history of modern MMA competition can be traced to mixed style contests throughout Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim during the early 1900s;[8] 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.[9]

As 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.[10]

In 1936, heavyweight boxing contender Kingfish Levinsky and veteran professional wrestler Ray Steele competed in a mixed match, which Steele won in 35 seconds.[10]

In 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 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, 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".[11]

Modern sport

The movement that led to the creation of the American and Japanese mixed martial arts scenes was rooted in two interconnected subcultures and two grappling styles, namely Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and shoot wrestling. First were the vale tudo events in Brazil, followed by the Japanese shoot-style wrestling shows.

Vale tudo began in the 1920s and became renowned with the "Gracie challenge" issued by Carlos Gracie and Hélio Gracie and upheld later on by descendants of the Gracie family. Early mixed martial arts-themed professional wrestling matches in Japan (known as Ishu Kakutōgi Sen (異種格闘技戦), literally "heterogeneous combat sports bouts") became popular with Antonio Inoki in the 1970s. Inoki was a disciple of Rikidōzan, but also of Karl Gotch who trained numerous Japanese wrestlers in catch wrestling.

Mixed martial arts competitions were introduced in the United States with the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 1993.[12] The sport gained international exposure and widespread publicity in United States in 1993, when jiu-jitsu fighter Royce Gracie won the first Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament, subduing three challengers in a total of just five minutes,[13] sparking a revolution in martial arts.[14][15]

Japan had its own form of mixed martial arts discipline Shooto that evolved from shoot wrestling in 1985, as well as the shoot wrestling derivative Pancrase founded as a promotion in 1993. The first Vale Tudo Japan tournaments were held in 1994 and 1995, both were won by Rickson Gracie. Interest in the sport resulted in the creation of the Pride Fighting Championships (Pride) in 1997, where again Rickson participated and won.[16]


In April 2000, the California State Athletic Commission voted unanimously in favor of regulations that later became the foundation for the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. However when the legislation was sent to California's capitol for review, it was determined that the sport fell outside the jurisdiction of the CSAC, rendering the vote superfluous.[17]

In September 2000, the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board began to allow mixed martial arts promoters to conduct events in New Jersey. The intent was to allow the NJSACB to observe actual events and gather information to establish a comprehensive set of rules to effectively regulate the sport.[18]

On April 3, 2001, the NJSACB held a meeting to discuss the regulation of mixed martial arts events. This meeting attempted to unify the myriad of rules and regulations which have been utilized by the different mixed martial arts organizations. At this meeting, the proposed uniform rules were agreed upon by the NJSACB, several other regulatory bodies, numerous promoters of mixed martial arts events and other interested parties in attendance. At the conclusion of the meeting, all parties in attendance were able to agree upon a uniform set of rules to govern the sport of mixed martial arts.[18]

The rules adopted by the NJSACB have become the de facto standard set of rules for professional mixed martial arts across North America. On July 30, 2009, a motion was made at the annual meeting of the Association of Boxing Commissions to adopt these rules as the "Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts". The motion passed unanimously.[19]

In November 2005, recognition of mixed martial arts effectiveness 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.[20]


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,[5] 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[21] and drawing comparisons to the consolidation that occurred in other sports, such as the AFL-NFL Merger in American football.[22]

Since the UFC's explosion into the mainstream media in 2006 along with their 2007 merger with Pride FC and purchase of WEC, few companies have presented significant competition.[23] However numerous organizations have held shows of significance while competing against the UFC.

The most notable competition has included:

On April 30, 2011, UFC 129 set a new North American MMA attendance record, drawing 55,724 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto; the event also set a new MMA world record for the highest paid gate at $12,075,000[24] and is the highest gate in Toronto for any event.[25]

Development of fighters

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 claimed that martial arts evolved more in the ten years following 1993 than in the preceding 700 years combined.[26]

"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[27]

The high profile of modern MMA promotions such as UFC and Pride has fostered an accelerated development of the sport. The early 1990s saw a wide variety of traditional styles competing in the sport.[28] However, early competition saw varying levels of success among disparate styles.

Two fighters grappling in a mixed martial arts event.

In the early 1990s, practitioners of grappling based styles such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling dominated competition in the United States. Practitioners of striking based arts such as boxing, kickboxing, and karate who were unfamiliar with submission grappling proved to be unprepared to deal with its submission techniques.[29][30][31][32][33] Shoot wrestling practitioners offered a balance of amateur wrestling ability and catch wrestling-based submissions, resulting in a more well-rounded skill-set. The shoot wrestlers were especially successful in Japan. As competitions became more and more common, those with a base in striking arts became more competitive as they cross trained in arts based around takedowns and submission holds,[33] leading to notable upsets against the then dominant grapplers. Likewise, those from the varying grappling styles added striking techniques to their arsenal. This increase of cross-training resulted in fighters becoming increasingly multi-dimensional and well-rounded in their skills.

The new hybridization of fighting styles can be seen in the technique of "ground and pound" developed by wrestling based UFC pioneers such as Dan Severn, Don Frye and Mark Coleman. These wrestlers realized the need for the incorporation of strikes on the ground as well as on the feet and incorporated ground striking into their grappling based styles. Mark Coleman stated at UFC 14 his strategy was to "Ground him and pound him" which may be the first televised use of the term ground and pound.

Since the late 1990s both strikers and grapplers have been successful at MMA though it is rare to see any fighter who is not schooled in both striking and grappling arts reach the highest levels of competition.


A fighter wraps 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 of fighting techniques spread among fighters and spectators, it became clear that the original minimalist rule systems needed to be amended.[34] The main motivations for these rule changes were protection of the health of the fighters, the desire to shed the perception of "barbarism & lawlessness", and to be recognized as a legitimate 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 nine different weight classes in the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. These nine weight classes include flyweight (up to 125 lb / 56.7 kg), bantamweight (up to 135 lb / 61.2 kg), featherweight (up to 145 lb / 65.8 kg), lightweight (up to 155 lb / 70.3 kg), welterweight (up to 170 lb / 77.1 kg), middleweight (up to 185 lb / 83.9 kg), light heavyweight (up to 205 lb / 93.0 kg), heavyweight (up to 265 lb / 120.2 kg), and super heavyweight with no upper weight limit.[18]

Small, open-fingered gloves were introduced to protect fists, reduce the occurrence of cuts (and stoppages due to cuts) and encourage fighters to use their hands for striking to allow more captivating matches. Gloves were first made 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, whereas amateurs are required to wear a slightly heavier 6 oz glove for more protection for the hands and wrist.

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.[34]

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 fashion to boxing. In Japan and most of Europe, there is no regulating authority over competitions, so these organizations have greater freedom in rule development and event structure.


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 excessive damage as a result
    • 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".


Mixed martial arts promotions typically require that male fighters wear shorts in addition to being barechested, thus precluding the use of gi or fighting kimono to inhibit or assist submission holds. Male fighters are required by most athletic commissions to wear groin protectors underneath their trunks.[18] Female fighters wear shorts and sports bras or other similarly snug-fitting tops. Both male and female fighters are required to wear a mouth piece.[18]

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.

Common 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:

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 and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, 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 into different sections.

While mixed martial arts was initially practised 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.[35][36]

Amateur wrestling

Amateur Wrestling (including Freestyle, Greco-Roman, and American Folkstyle) gained tremendous respect due to its effectiveness in mixed martial arts competitions. Wrestling is widely studied by mixed martial artists. Wrestling is also credited for conferring an emphasis on conditioning for explosive movement and stamina, both of which are critical in competitive mixed martial arts. It is known for excellent takedowns, particularly against the legs.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu came to international prominence in the martial arts community in the early 1990s, when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert Royce Gracie won the first, second and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championships, which at the time were single elimination martial arts tournaments. Royce fought against often much-larger opponents who were practicing other styles, including boxing, shoot-fighting, karate, judo and tae kwon do. It has since become a staple art for many MMA fighters and is largely credited for bringing widespread attention to the importance of ground fighting. Sport BJJ tournaments continue to grow in popularity worldwide and have given rise to no-gi submission grappling tournaments, such as the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship. It is primarily considered a ground-based fighting style, with emphasis on positioning, chokes and joint locks.

Catch wrestling

Karl Gotch was a catch wrestler and a student of Billy Riley's Snake Pit in Whelley, Wigan. In the film Catch: the hold not taken, some of those who trained with Gotch in Wigan talk of his fascination with the traditional Lancashire style of wrestling and how he was inspired to stay and train at Billy Riley's after experiencing its effects first hand during a professional show in Manchester, England. After leaving Wigan, he later went on to teach catch wrestling to Japanese professional wrestlers in the 1970s to students including Antonio Inoki, Tatsumi Fujinami, Hiro Matsuda, Osamu Kido, Satoru Sayama ( Tiger Mask) and Yoshiaki Fujiwara. Starting from 1976, one of these professional wrestlers, Inoki, hosted a series of mixed martial arts bouts against the champions of other disciplines. This resulted in unprecedented popularity of the clash-of-styles bouts in Japan. His matches showcased catch wrestling moves like the sleeper hold, cross arm breaker, seated armbar, Indian deathlock and keylock.

Karl Gotch's students formed the original Universal Wrestling Federation (Japan) in 1984 which gave rise to shoot-style matches. The UWF movement was led by catch wrestlers and gave rise to the mixed martial arts boom in Japan. Wigan stand-out Billy Robinson soon thereafter began training MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba. Catch wrestling forms the base of Japan's martial art of shoot wrestling. Japanese professional wrestling and a majority of the Japanese fighters from Pancrase, Shooto and the now defunct RINGS bear links to catch wrestling.

The term no holds barred was used originally to describe the wrestling method prevalent in catch wrestling tournaments during the late 19th century wherein no wrestling holds were banned from the competition, regardless of how dangerous they might be. The term was applied to mixed martial arts matches, especially at the advent of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.[37]


Using their knowledge of ne-waza/ground grappling and tachi-waza/standing-grappling, several Judo practitioners have also competed in mixed martial arts matches. Former Russian national Judo champion Fedor Emelianenko, famous UFC fighter Karo Parisyan and Olympic gold medallist Hidehiko Yoshida were some of the most prominent jūdōka in mixed martial arts.

Paulo Filho, a former WEC middleweight champion has even credited judo for his success during an interview.[38]


Karate has proved to be effective in the sport as it is one of the core founders of kickboxing.[39][40] Various styles of karate are practiced by some MMA fighters, notably Chuck Liddell, Lyoto Machida and Georges St-Pierre. Liddell is known to have an extensive striking background in Kenpō and Koei-Kan[41] where as Lyoto Machida practices Shotokan Ryu(Machida Karate variant which focuses on original Shotokan) Karate[42] and St-Pierre practices Kyokushin.[43]

Muay Thai

Muay Thai, like boxing and various forms of kickboxing, is recognised as a foundation for striking in mixed martial arts, and is very widely trained among MMA fighters. Countless mixed martial artists have trained in Muay Thai, and it is often taught at MMA gyms as is BJJ and Wrestling.

Muay Thai is the style which is used predominantly for the stand-up game in MMA. It originated in Thailand, and is known as the "art of eight limbs" which refers to the use of the legs, knees, elbows and fists. It is a very aggressive and straight forward style from which kick boxing is derived.


A very popular Korean martial art, Taekwondo has had mixed success. While many practitioners have a background or have trained in Taekwondo in the past, due to the sparring rules Taekwondo is traditionally sparred in, it often requires cross-training with kickboxing for full contact strikes. Nonetheless, the excessive kicking is recognized as a good way to keep the opponent at a distance, score points and even effectively knock someone out.


The techniques utilized in mixed martial arts competition generally fall into two categories: striking techniques (such as kicks, knees, punches and elbows) and grappling techniques (such as clinch holds, pinning holds, submission holds, sweeps, takedowns and throws).

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.

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


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 Karate fighter who has trained in various styles of Wrestling, Judo, and/or Sambo 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.

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 and Judokas that have added components of the striking game (typically boxing), and Muay Thai fighters.

Wrestlers and Judokas 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 or "plumb" of a Muay Thai fighter is often used to improve the accuracy of knees and elbows by physically controlling the position of the opponent.


Ground-and-pound is a strategy 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. Matt Hughes is also well known for his ground and pound.[44] Today, strikes on the ground are an essential part of a fighter's training.

Submission grappling (sub-seeking)

Apart from being a general martial arts, 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, and shootwrestling. They were popularized in the early UFC events by Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock.

Women's competition

While mixed martial arts is primarily a male dominated sport, it does have female athletes. Female competition is more prominent in Japan, with promotions such as the all-female Valkyrie and JEWELS (formerly known as Smackgirl).[45] However historically there has been only a select few major professional mixed martial arts organizations in the United States that invite women to compete. The main organizations to support female competition include, Strikeforce, Bellator Fighting Championships, and the now defunct EliteXC.

There has been a growing awareness of women in mixed martial arts due to popular female fighters and personalities such as Megumi Fujii, Miesha Tate, Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos, and Gina Carano among others. Carano quickly became known as "the face of women's MMA" after appearing in a number of EliteXC events. This was furthered by her appearances in the remake of the hit TV show American Gladiators.


Women fighting in MMA.

In Japan female competition has been documented since the mid-1990s. With early influences coming from female professional wrestling and kickboxing. Which ultimately lead to the formation of Smackgirl in 2001. Smackgirl quickly became the only major all-female promotion in mixed martial arts. However other early successful Japanese female organizations included, Ladies Legend Pro Wrestling, ReMix (predecessor to Smackgirl), U-Top Tournament, K-Grace, and AX.

Also aside from all-female organizations, most major Japanese male dominated promotions have held select female competitions. Including, DEEP, MARS, Gladiator, HEAT, Cage Force, K-1, Sengoku, Shooto (under the name G-Shooto), and Pancrase (under the name Pancrase Athena).

Meanwhile in the United States, prior to the success of the The Ultimate Fighter reality show that launched mixed martial arts into the mainstream media there was no major coverage of female competitions. Some early organizations who invited women to compete included, International Fighting Championships, SuperBrawl, King of the Cage, Rage in the Cage, Ring of Combat, Bas Rutten Invitational, and HOOKnSHOOT. However starting in the mid-2000s more coverage came when organizations such as, bodogFight, Strikeforce, EliteXC, Bellator Fighting Championships, and Shark Fights invited women to compete.

Outside of Japan and the United States, female competition is almost exclusively held in minor local promotions. However in Europe some major organizations have held select female competitions. Including, It's Showtime, Shooto Europe, Cage Warriors, and M-1 Global.

In recent history, following Zuffa's acquisition of Strikeforce in March 2011. There has been lots of speculation over the future of women's competition. Both in terms of relevancy and popularity.[46][47][48][49]

Rule Differentiation

Since some of the earliest female competitions, organizations have often changed traditional rules for women due to concerns over safety.

In Japan, ReMix prohibited ground-and-pound and featured a 20-second time limitation for ground fighting. Following ReMix's re-branding into Smackgirl this rule remained however the time limit was extended to 30 seconds before being abolished in 2008.[50]

In the United States, EliteXC held women's bouts at three minute rounds instead of the traditional five minutes that is often used for men. In similar fashion Strikeforce originally held women's bouts at only two minute rounds but later changed this rule to allow for five minute rounds.

Another form of rule differentiation includes the changing of weight classes, both in weight limits and classification. This has been seen in a number of organizations including, Strikeforce, Smackgirl, and Valkyrie.


One of the first major female MMA fights was Gina Carano's Strikeforce debut against Elaina Maxwell where Carano won via unanimous decision at Strikeforce: Triple Threat in San Jose on December 8, 2006.

Strikeforce has become the first major promotion in the United States to have held a female fight as the main event on August 15, 2009. The fight between Gina Carano and Cristiane Santos attracted 856,000 viewers.[51] Santos made history with her victory over Carano as she became the first ever Strikeforce Women's 145 lb Champion.[52]


Since its inception the role of women in mixed martial arts has been a subject of debate. With some observers treating women's competition as a spectacle and a taboo topic.[53]

  • In December 2004, lightweight fighter Takumi Yano refused to participate in a Pancrase event in protest of there being female bouts on the same card.


A ring-side doctor attends to a fighter following a loss.

Mixed Martial Arts competitions have changed dramatically since the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993, specifically with the inception of the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. The overall injury rate in MMA competitions is currently similar to other combat sports, including boxing.[12]

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."[12]


While competition in the MMA have been occasionally depicted as brutal by the media,[54] there were no documented cases of deaths after a sanctioned MMA event prior to 2007.[55]

In the period of 2007 to 2010, there were two fatalities in mixed martial arts matches. The first was the death of Sam Vasquez on November 30, 2007.[56] 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.[57] Vasquez had two separate surgeries to remove blood clots from his brain, and shortly after the second operation suffered a devastating stroke and never regained consciousness.[56] While questions have been asked about Vasquez's health before his final bout, no firm indications of pre-existing problems have yet surfaced. The second death stemming from a sanctioned mixed martial arts contest occurred in South Carolina on June 28, 2010, when 30-year old Michael Kirkham was knocked out and never regained consciousness. He was pronounced dead two days after the fight.[58]

Legality of professional competitions

United States

According to the Associations of Boxing Commissions, professional MMA competitions are allowed in most states.[59] However, relevant legislation is pending within the following states where it is currently illegal: Connecticut (except on Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun Indian Reservations[60]), New York, and Vermont. Alaska and Wyoming have no boxing or athletic commissions. West Virginia became the 45th state to regulate mixed martial arts on March 24, 2011.[61]


In Canada, professional MMA competitions are legal in the provinces of Manitoba, Ontario,[62] Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Northwest Territories. The legality of MMA in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and New Brunswick varies depending on the municipality.[59][63] Professional MMA competitions remain illegal in the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Yukon and Nunavut.


MMA competition is legal[64] and under the purview of the Swedish Mixed Martial Arts Federation (SMMAF) which was formed in 2007[65] and began overseeing MMA events in 2008.[66] In 2009 the SMMAF was accepted into the Association of Swedish Budo and Martial Arts Federation,[66] thus granting MMA “national sport” status and making its approved clubs eligible for partial government subsidization.[66] On April 30, 2011, the SMMAF sanctioned the first event under its purview to utilize the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts.[67]

See also


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