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How MMA Became Popular

Updated on September 4, 2012

In the beginning of the twentieth century few people were aware of who the Gracie family were, what they did for a living, or where in the world they hailed from. Today, ask any Mixed Martial Arts enthusiast who almost any member of the Gracie family is, and you will be given not only a brief history of modern MMA, but an inkling into one of the sparks that ignited the greatest up-and-coming sports trend of the twenty-first century. 

Forrest Griffin and Tito Ortiz trade shots
Forrest Griffin and Tito Ortiz trade shots

Helio Grace founder of the "Gracie Challenge"

Humble Beginnings - Brazil and Japan

In a world dominated by Boxing (and arguably by professional wrestling) two global hotspots began to delineate the birth of a new form of exciting combat sports. In the 1920’s the Gracie family in Brazil began to host Vale Tudo events which drew crowds and contenders with their “Gracie Challenge”. Subsequent generations of Gracie members upheld the tradition of fighting, so much so that even today, the Gracie family is indistinguishable from the realm of MMA.

In the 1970’s a huge MMA movement was ignited in Japan by the introduction of Mixed Martial Arts events by Antonio Inoki (a former star wrestler). This new movement gave birth to the Shooto fighting style, and eventually led to the creation of the homonymous fighting organization in 1985.

With Vale Tudo flourishing in Brazil, and Shooto raging in Japan, the stage was set for MMA’s first sanctioning body, known as the The International Sport Combat Federation (ISCF) in 1999, and MMA became a legitimate sport, and a worthy contender to other popular combat events and sports worldwide.

The Birth Of Pride and The UFC

The birth of the UFC, today's most notorious MMA organization, was inspired by the events held by the Gracie family. In 1993, the UFC began to showcase fighters of every martial arts style in an effort to show the effectiveness of each. However, their progress in the U.S was hampered by widespread banning and censorship due claims of excessive violence. Presidential candidate McCain, whose ties with boxing made him the personification of a legal and competitive battle between boxing and MMA, succeeded in banning MMA from all but three states. For the moment, the UFC's hopes seemed futile.

In 1997, the Pride Fighting Championships organization was born in Japan, on the heels of Shooto and Vale Tudo event popularity. Pride FC was held by no such restrictions, and the world came to know and respect a variety of MMA fighters, some of whom would become heroes to many across the world. 


The Power Of Heroes

During Pride FC's sixty fights, the world became accustomed to the sight of their favorite fights. One such face was that of Russia's Fedor Emelianenko, whose apparent indestructibility helped gain the sport one of its first modern heroes (obviously there are many others). Fedo's reliance on a relatively obscure martial art known as Combat Sambo (outside of Russia) also helped create a sense of mystique and intrigue.

Cross-platform celebrities such as Brock Lesnar also ensured that not only did the UFC gather more heroes and followers, but it also took a share of their competitions viewership away in doing so. It is clear that the progressive demise of the WWE is linked to the rise of MMA, which is seen as the "real thing".

The Stunning Rise of The UFC

Meanwhile in the U.S the UFC introduced a set of guidelines for its fighting, and began the labrious approval process that would eventually allow it to become popular. The birth of its own UFC events created its own set of heros such as Randy Couture and Chuck Lidell who fought under the "There are no rules!" UFC motto and gave the global public a raw and fierce spectacle.

The UFC later began to market its own reality television series called "TUF - The Ultimate Fighter" and developed a huge following amongst casual viewers with its mix of reality entertainment and grudge fights. 

Following the collapse and acquisition of Pride, the UFC cemented its popularity by bringing in many Pride FC champions such as Rodrigo "Big Nog" Nogueira, Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva and Quinton "Rampage" jackson.

Mixed martial arts are here to stay. The establishment of a line of heroes, coupled with the upcoming trend in all parts of the world ( recent international version of TUF was very popular, a sign of the global increase in popularity) will ensure its survival. The introduction of the internet also allows fans to track their idols and get involved in the world of Mixed Martial Arts from almost anywhere. 

I hoped you enjoyed this hub!


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    • MikeNV profile image


      7 years ago from Henderson, NV

      I actually miss the Pride Fights, and especially the tournaments. I have a friend who would go to Japan for these events to work as a body guard. The Pride events were monumental and exciting. I do love UFC, but there are so many now that it's not quite the same. Nothing like hearing all those Japanese Fans cheer so loudly.

      Fedor is one of my Favorites I've seen his last two fights but they have not been pretty. I couldn't believe it when Henderson took him out. It's interesting that he is at an age now where he is on the decline but it is that same Age where Randy Couture was just beginning his climb up the UFC Ranks.

      I wish that UFC would create a Super Heavy weight class. I miss the beasts like Bob Sapp.

      I don't see anyone beating Jon Jones for a long time.

    • TheMMAZone profile image


      7 years ago from Kansas

      I marked this as an awesome hub! You are exactly right on Helio Grace. If he hadn't been there MMA would be a totally different animal.

    • thooghun profile imageAUTHOR

      James D. Preston 

      8 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Hey newell! The Fedor info is a little outdated. While I still believe he is a monster, it may be time, as you rightly say, to look to the UFC for the top heavyweights.

    • newell12345 profile image


      8 years ago

      no way man, if Fedor was the best , he would sing with the ufc and fight the best fighters like lesnar, or frank mirr,or even shane carwin,

      nice hub man you got some great info here bro

    • profile image

      Fedor Emelianenko 

      8 years ago

      Fedor is still the best - it seems that it will be that way for a long time :)


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