Origins of MMA go back thousands of Years

Mixed Martial Arts or MMA continues to grow in popularity but it is a sport that is very divisive.   You rarely find someone who is neutral on the sport.  People either love it or hate it.

It is not the new creation of media moguls aimed at finding the most brash spectacle to allure crowds – although it certainly does that. MMA dates back to the Olympics of ancient Greece. They originated as hand-to-hand combat performed as a sport called pankration, from the Greek words pan and kratos, meaning “all powers.”  The only thing that wasn’t allowed was eye gouging or biting – other than that, everything was fair game.

I haven’t been a fan that long (I’m old – not that old.) I have been a fan since waaay back in high school though.  This was a time when DirecTV and Dish satellite TV didn’t exist… it was a time when the world was just starting to get stations outside of the three networks (ABC, CBS & NBC.) ESPN was a brand new company.  Heck, HBO was a young company that was only showing movies.  This was more than a decade before the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC 1)

My dad had one of those huge satellites dishes that you had to manually move to acquire feeds.  It literally got the raw feeds that the networks were using – no commercials, just raw feeds of programming.  I stumbled upon what appeared to be the most brutal fighting matches I had ever seen.

It was a mix between boxing, kickboxing and wrestling and I had never seen anything like it.  It was all taking place overseas and I could only watch it on feeds in languages I couldn’t understand, but I was hooked.

El Guapo, The Handsome One, Bas Rutten, Chris Doelle

Bas Rutten and Me!

Fast forward to the early 90’s and it got to be a little easier to find.  It was then that I started following an up-and-coming fighter named Bas Rutten or El Guapo “The Handsome One” from the Netherlands.  He has been the Godfather of MMA in my opinion ever since.  Yes, the Gracie clan of jiu-jitsu fighters is more famous but I really loved Rutten’s fun attitude and personality.  You can imagine how cool it was when I got to interview and visit with him back in 2007 when I lived in Houston.

The UFC kicked off in 1993 and even though I thought it was awesome, it was still very much a fringe sport in the United States.  Hardcore fans learned terms like ground and pound, sprawl, submission, clutch, front guard, muay thai and more. Names like “The Ice Man” Chuck Liddell, Randy “The Natural” Couture, Frank “The Legend” Shamrock, his brother “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” Ken Shamrock, Pat Miletich, Mark Coleman, Don Frye, Tito Ortiz and many more started becoming known in sports bars and living rooms all over the country.

The release of the David Fincher’s movie Fight Club wasn’t true fighting – it was Hollywood fighting, but I think it had an effect on growth of MMA.  It really put fighting into the mindspace of the audience that watched it.  It took what seemed brutal and uncivilized and gave it meaning and worth.  UFC too was in trouble because it was too brutal and there were no real rules.

Once the Fertita brothers bought the UFC and implemented safety rules, the old school traditionalists thought it was a travesty.  This “civilized” version of MMA though was much more palatable to the TV audience and in effect, saved a sport that was in danger of being banned.

In 2011, when the UFC cut a deal with FOX after they saw how much the pay-per-views were pulling in, the public started paying even more attention.  I really think that the success of Ronda Rousey though did more to attract fans than  just about anything.  Here was a confident, pretty fighter with a serious set of skills and a businesslike approach to winning matches.  She opened up so many doors for the sport by becoming a champion and media darling.

Rousey’s run is over (she never should have moved away from submission to stand-up) but the MMA audience is bigger and better than ever.

It seems there were a lot more MMA fans in Houston.  I just haven’t seen as many around Central Texas since moving here in 2008.  That is until recently.  I appears that the sport is growing so much in popularity that MMA fans are springing up all around me.

What is your take on mixed martial arts? Do you watch it? Do you love it? Do you hate it?

And hey, if you’re in the Central Texas area and want company on the next PPV – give me a call!

by Chris Doelle