A sport similar to modern MMA can be found in Greek mythology. Known as pankration, it is said to have been invented by the Greek heroes Heracles and Theseus. Pankration combined wrestling and boxing and was included in the Olympic Games in 648 BC. Legend has it that pankration was also part of the training for the famous Spartans.
A more recent example is the martial art known as bartitsu, which was founded in London in 1899 and combined Asian and European fighting styles.
However, modern MMA traces its roots back to Brazil and the Gracie family’s Vale Tudo tournaments, which started in the 192os. The ‘Gracie Challenge’ became famous for its limited rules; Vale Tudo, when translated, literally means `anything goes’.
There was also the ‘shoot-style’ movement in Japanese professional wrestling, which led to the formation of the first MMA organisation in 1985. Interest continued to grow in Japan and the first PRIDE Fighting Championship took place in 1997 with a similar ethos to Vale Tudo.
In 1993 the sport’s popularity increased again following Royce Gracie’s win in the first-ever Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) held in the United States. UFC was born from the concept of matching fighters from different styles with minimal rules to determine the most effective in a real-life combat situation. However, current MMA rules have been adapted to minimise potential injury.
Today the UFC is recognised globally as the largest promoter of MMA and is shown on TV in over 30 countries worldwide.
MMA, as one of the fastest-growing combat sports in the world, has also been debated for future inclusion in the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee has notified the world governing bodies of seven sports that they will be considered for inclusion at the 2016 Summer Olympics. The sports are baseball, softball, golf, rugby, karate, roller sports and squash, but there is only room for two new sports, so competition is fierce. In October 2009, the IOC will decide the final schedule for 2016 during its Copenhagen session.
The pressure on the International Olympic Committee to include MMA is gaining momentum, not least from the athletes themselves. The Japanese Judo Olympic gold medallist of the 2008 Beijing Games, Satoshi Ishii has announced a move into the cash-rich world of mixed martial arts and Ben Askren, a 2008 Olympic wrestler has also stated that he will either compete again as a wrestler in the 2012 Olympics, or make his move into the world of MMA. Such high profile names entering the sport will surely add weight to the argument for Olympic inclusion in the future.