Mixed martial arts
Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a combat sport in which two competitors attempt to achieve dominance over one another by utilizing a wide variety of permitted martial arts techniques, including striking and grappling. Well-known MMA organizations include the Ultimate Fighting Championship and PRIDE Fighting Championships.
MMA has also been referred to as No Holds Barred (NHB), but this term is no longer considered an accurate description of the modern sport, with its formalized rules and banned techniques that have been developed for the fighters' safety. It is also (but rarely) referred to as Comprehensive Case Competition.
Ground fighting is an intrinsic part of MMA.
Mixed martial arts was originally based around the concept of pitting different martial arts and fighting styles against each other in competition with minimal rules, in an attempt to determine which system would be more effective in a real combat situation. Modern MMA competition is an evolution of such events, but rules have been implemented to promote acceptance of the sport, while at the same time maintaining as much of the original no-holds-barred concept as possible. There is however no general sanctioning body for the sport, and the sets of rules vary according to the laws of individual organizations and localities (although there were attempts to make the sport pankration an olympic sanctioned sport for the 2004 games in Athens).
The techniques utilized in MMA competition generally fall into two categories: striking techniques (such as kicks, knees and punches) and grappling techniques (such as clinch holds, pinning holds, submission holds, sweeps, takedowns and throws). Some unarmed hand to hand combat techniques are considered illegal in arguably all modern MMA competition, such as biting, eye-gouging, fish-hooking and small joint manipulation. Over the last ten years strikes to the groin have become illegal in all legally sanctioned MMA organizations. The legality of other techniques such as elbows, headbutts and spinal locks vary according to competition or organization.
Victory is normally gained by judges' decision after an allotted amount of time has elapsed, a stoppage by the referee or the fight doctor (in the event that the competitor is injured or can no longer defend himself intelligently), a submission, by a competitor's cornerman (throwing in the towel), or knockout.
History of MMA
One of the earliest forms of widespread unarmed combat sports with minimal rules was Greek pankration, which was introduced into the Olympic games in 648 B.C. Some no-holds-barred events reportedly took place in the late 1800s 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. The first major encounter between a boxer and a wrestler in modern times took place in 1887 when John L. Sullivan, then heavyweight boxing champion of the world, entered the ring with his trainer, the 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. Reportedly, Roeber suffered a fractured cheekbone in this bout, but was able to get Fitzsimmons down on the mat, where he applied an arm lock and made the boxer submit. In 1936, heavyweight boxing contender Kingfish Levinsky and the veteran professional wrestler Ray Steele competed in a mixed match, which Steele won in 35 seconds. In all three of these 'mixed-matches', the wrestler won.
Pankration was an ancient form of unarmed hand to hand combat resembling the mixed martial arts of today.
The vogue for professional wrestling died out after the First World War, only to be reborn in two major streams: "shoot", in which the fighters actually competed, and "show" which became increasingly dependent on staged combat and evolved into modern professional wrestling. Some authorities credit an ex-football player turned wrestler, Gus Sonnenberg, by using flying tackles and billy-goat butting, with ushering in the new style of sports entertainment wrestling.
Modern mixed martial arts are rooted in two interconnected movements. First were the vale tudo events in Brazil, followed by the Japanese shoot wrestling shows. Vale tudo (meaning 'anything goes') began in the 1920s with the famous "Gracie challenge" issued by Carlos Gracie and Hélio Gracie and upheld later on by descendants of the Gracie family. In Japan in the 1970s, a series of mixed martial arts matches were hosted by Antonio Inoki, inspiring the shoot-style movement in Japanese professional wrestling, which eventually led to the formation of the first mixed martial arts organizations, such as Shooto, which was formed in 1985.
Moreover, the emergence of Bruce Lee in the late 1960's and early 1970's paved the way for further studies of hybrid fighting through his theories on Jeet Kune Do. Lee believed that traditional martial arts were limited to fixed positions from which to strike; a "fancy mess" that strongly inhibited many fighters/practitioners. Lee borrowed facets of Wing Chun, western boxing, fencing, Muay Thai, karate, Jiu Jitsu, Filipino Martial Arts, and even wrestling in order to come up with a fighting style that allowed relaxed movement and effective blows.
Mixed martial arts gained real international exposure and widespread publicity in the U.S in 1993, when Royce Gracie won the first Ultimate Fighting Championship, sparking a revolution in the martial arts. In 1994, Frederico Lapenda became the first non-Japanese to promote a mixed martial arts event in Japan, the Vale Tudo Championship. In Japan in 1997, the continued interest in the sport eventually resulted in the creation of the PRIDE Fighting Championships.
Evolution of MMA fighters
In the early 1990s, three styles stood out for their effectiveness in MMA competition: Amateur wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Shoot wrestling. This may be attributable in part to the grappling emphasis of the aforementioned styles, which, perhaps due to the scarcity of mixed martial arts competitions prior to the early 90s, had been neglected by most practitioners of striking-based arts.
Even though fighters combining amateur wrestling and striking dominated the standing portion of an MMA fight, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stylists had a distinct advantage on the ground. Those unfamiliar with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu proved to be unprepared to deal with its submission techniques. Shoot wrestling practitioners offered a balance of amateur wrestling ability and catch wrestling based submissions resulting in a generally well rounded set of skills. The shoot wrestlers were especially successful in Japan, where the martial art initially dominated other arts.
As MMA competitions became more and more commonplace, those with a base in striking became more competitive as they began to acquaint themselves with takedowns and submission holds, leading to some notable upsets against the dominant grapplers. Subsequently those from the various grappling styles learned from each other's strengths and shortcomings and added striking techniques to their arsenal. This overall development of increased cross-training resulted in the MMA fighters becoming increasingly multi-dimensional in their skills.
Phases of combat
A fighter attempts to escape from an armbar by slamming the opponent to the ground.
As a result of the MMA sporting events, martial arts training and the understanding of the combat effectiveness of various strategies have changed dramatically over the last ten years. MMA competition has indicated that there are three distinct phases in unarmed fighting:
- Stand-up fighting
- Clinch fighting
- Ground fighting
While the early years included the widest possible variety of traditional styles (everything from sumo to boxing), the continual evolution of the sport has practically eliminated less effective and "pure" styles, usually because fighters who specialized in one particular style were lacking in skills to defend from other techniques.
Today, mixed martial artists train in a variety of styles that have been proven effective in the ring, so that they can be effective in all the phases of combat. Although MMA fighters will try to play to their particular specialties, they will inevitably encounter all kinds of situations; a stand-up fighting specialist will probably get taken down at some point and a submission artist might need to fight standing-up for a while before he can complete a takedown. A mixed martial artist might train in a particular style to enhance his or her skills in the phase of combat that the style encompasses. Typical styles, known for their effectiveness, that have been trained prior to the MMA career, and that are trained individually to enhance a particular phase of combat, are:
MMA competition requires training in striking, wrestling, and submission fighting.
- Stand-up: Boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai are trained to improve footwork, elbowing, kicking, kneeing and punching.
- Clinch: Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, Sambo, and Judo are trained to improve clinching, takedowns and throws, while Muay Thai is trained to improve the striking aspect of the clinch.
- Ground: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, shoot wrestling, catch wrestling, Judo, and Sambo are trained to improve submission holds, and defense against them. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and styles of amateur wrestling are trained to improve positioning.
Many styles have to be adapted slightly for use in the sport. For example, several boxing stances are ineffective because they leave fighters vulnerable to leg kicks or takedowns. Similarly, Judo techniques have to be adapted to an opponent not wearing a kimono. Commonly, modern day MMA fighters do not train in any particular style, but either train in multiple styles with multiple coaches, or train in teams with other MMA athletes focusing specifically on MMA fighting. Energy system training, speed drills, strength training and flexibility are also important aspects of an MMA fighters training. Mixed martial arts competition is very demanding physically, and the athletes need to be in top shape to be successful.
Modern fighting strategies
The following is a breakdown of the different fighting styles of modern MMA. Most successful fighters are known to train in multiple fighting styles under the guidance of experts. Professional fighters generally concentrate on mastering one particular style and eventually become associated with it.
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, Muay Thai and/or full contact karate fighter who has trained in wrestling to avoid takedowns and tries to keep the fight standing. Usually these fighters will study enough submission wrestling so that in the unfortunate event that they are taken down to the ground, they can tie their opponents up and survive long enough to either get back to standing or until the referee restarts the fight. This style is deceptively different from regular kickboxing styles, since sprawl-and-brawlers must adapt their techniques to incorporate takedown and ground fighting defense.
Examples: Maurice Smith, Forrest Griffin, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović, Chuck Liddell, Pedro Rizzo and Phil Baroni.
Clinch-and-pound is a clinch fighting tactic that consists using a clinch hold to prevent the opponent from moving away into more distant striking range, while at the same time striking the opponent using knees, stomps and dirty boxing techniques.
Clinch-and-pounders are usually wrestlers that have added in components of the striking game (typically boxing). Often, wrestlers that have added the striking game are partial to strikes from within the clinch (particularly wrestlers who have developed a strong clinch game already). In the case that an exchange on the feet does not go in their favor, they can bring the fight to the ground quickly as their true expertise lies in wrestling, so they are ultimately less timid about trading blows. Through the use of Greco-Roman clinching techniques, a third phase, clinch fighting, was not well understood and could be used to devastate ill-prepared opponents.
Examples: Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Don Frye.
Ryan Purwick (top) works the guard of Joaquin Velasco.
Ground-and-pound is a ground fighting tactic consisting of taking an opponent to the ground using a takedown or throw, obtaining a dominant position, and then striking the opponent. 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 defending submission holds and skilled at takedowns. They take every fight to the ground, maintain a grappling position, and strike until their opponent submits, is knocked out or is cut so badly that the fight can not continue. Although not traditionally considered a conventional method of striking, the effectiveness and reliability (as well as recently-developing science) of this style is proven. Originally, most fighters who relied on striking on the ground were wrestlers, but considering how many fights end up on the ground and how increasingly competitive today's MMA is, strikes on the ground are becoming more essential to a fighter's training.
Examples: Mark Coleman, Fedor Emelianenko, Randy Couture, Matt Hughes and Tito Ortiz.
Apart from being a general martial arts term, submission wrestling is also a reference to the ground fighting tactic consisting of taking an opponent to the ground using a takedown or throw, obtaining a dominant position, and then applying a submission hold to defeat the opponent.
Submissions are an essential part of many disciplines, most notably Catch wrestling, Judo, Sambo, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Fighters with a strong background in these sports often use submission wrestling as a tactic to win their fights.
Examples: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Josh Barnett, Royce Gracie, Frank Shamrock, Kazushi Sakuraba and BJ Penn.
The rules for most mixed martial arts competitions have evolved since the early days of vale tudo. As the knowledge about fighting techniques spread among fighters and spectators, it became clear that the original minimalist rule systems needed to be amended. Some main motivations for these rule changes included:
- Protection of the health of the fighters: This goal was partially motivated to clear the stigma of "barbaric, no rules, fighting-to-the-death" matches that MMA obtained because of its vale tudo and no holds barred roots. It also helps athletes avoid injuries which would otherwise hamper the training regimens that improve skill and ability and lead to better fights in the future.
- Providing spectacle for spectators: The rules promote good fighters involved in action-packed fights rather than no-skill "street brawls."
Weight classes emerged when knowledge about submissions spread. When more fighters became well-versed in submission techniques and avoiding submissions, differences in weight became a substantial factor.
Headbutts were prohibited because it was a technique that required little effort and could quickly turn the match into a bloody mess. Headbutting was common among wrestlers because their skill in takedowns allowed them to quickly transfer bouts to the ground where they could assault opponents with headbutts while not be required to alter their position.
Gloves were first mandatory in Japan's Shooto league and were later adopted by the UFC as their brand of mixed martial arts developed from a brawl to a regulated sport.
Small, open-finger gloves were introduced to protect fists in punches. Although some fighters may have well conditioned fists, others may not. The small bones in an unprotected and unconditioned fist are prone to break when it hits a torso or forehead with power. Gloves also reduce the occurrence of cuts (and stoppages due to cuts) and encourage fighters to use their hands for striking, both of which enable more captivating matches.
Time limits were established to avoid long fights on the ground with little perceivable action. No time limit matches also complicated the airing of live events. Similar motivations produced the "stand up" rule, where the referee can stand fighters up if it is perceived both are resting on the ground or are not advancing toward a dominant position.
In the U.S., state athletic and boxing commissions have played a crucial role in the introduction of safety rules because they oversee MMA in similar ways as they do for boxing. Small shows usually use more restrictive rules because they have less experienced fighters who are looking to acquire experience and exposure that could ultimately lead them to getting recruited into one of the larger, better paying promotions.
In Japan and Europe, there is no regulating authority over MMA competitions, so these organizations have greater freedom in rules development and event structure.
In general, a balanced set of rules with some organization-specific variances has been established and is widely used, and major rule changes are unlikely, allowing for fighters in one organization to transition to others easily.
The following describes some rules commonly found in MMA competition today.
- Ways to victory
- Knockout (KO): as soon as a fighter becomes unconscious due to strikes, his opponent is declared the winner (because 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:
- tapping three times on his opponent's body;
- tapping three times on the mat or floor;
- verbal announcement.
- Technical Knockout (TKO)
- Referee Stoppage: the referee may stop a match in progress if:
- a fighter becomes dominant to the point where the opponent is unable to intelligently defend himself from attacks (this may occur as quickly as a few seconds);
- a fighter appears to be unconscious from a grappling hold.
- a fighter appears to have developed significant injuries (such as a broken bone) in the referee's view.
- 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. In order to avoid doctor stoppages, fighters employ cutmen, whose job is to treat cuts and hematomas between rounds to prevent them from becoming significant enough to cause a doctor stoppage.
- Corner stoppage: a fighter's cornermen 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".
- Weight categories
- Although each organization divides its fighters into weight classes, the details are organization-specific.
- No head-butting, eye gouging, hair pulling, biting or fish-hooking.
- No attacking the groin
- No strikes to the back of the head, spinal area and kidneys. (see Rabbit punch)
- No strikes to, or grabs of the trachea
- No small joint manipulation (control of four or more fingers/toes is necessary).
- No intentionally throwing your opponent out of the ring/cage.
- No running out of the ring/cage.
- No purposely holding the ring ropes or octagon fence.
Each organization determines its own rules. Below are some of the significant differences in the rules of the popular MMA organizations.
Ultimate Fighting Championship
- Allows elbow strikes except ones starting from the twelve o’clock position and striking down to the six o’clock position.
- Prohibits spiking a fighter on the head during a takedown or slam.
- Prohibits stomps, soccer kicks and knees to the head of a grounded opponent (more than feet touching ground). A fighter on the ground can kick upwards at their opponent's head only if their opponent is standing.
- Prohibits grabbing the fence with your fingers to control either your body position or your opponent’s. You can put your hands on the fence, as well as push off of the fence, but you are not allowed to use your fingers to grasp the fencing. The first offense is a verbal warning to let go. If the fence is still held then the referee will tap the hand to physically remind the fighter to release. If that doesn’t work, a foul is issued.
- Prohibits shoes, shirts and pants. Only boxing-styled shorts and padded MMA gloves are allowed.
- Uses three 5-minute rounds. Championship bouts are five 5-minute rounds.
- Matches scored through the 10-point must system
- NSAC does not allow the earlier single-event tournament format.
- Consists of five weight classes: Heavyweight (<265 lb), Light Heavyweight (<205 lb), Middleweight (<185 lb), Welterweight (<170 lb) and Lightweight (<155 lb).
- Tests fighters for steroids and other illegal substances in championship bouts.
PRIDE Fighting Championships
- Uses a 10-minute first round with 5-minute second and third rounds.
- Prohibits elbow strikes to the head.
- Allows stomps, soccer kicks and knees to the head of a grounded opponent.
- No purposely holding the ropes. Fighters cannot purposely hang an arm or leg on the ropes. Hanging on the ropes will result in an immediate warning.
- If fighters commit the following actions, they shall be given a yellow card by officials: Stalling or failure to initiate any offensive attack, making no attempt to finalize the match or damage the opponent, and holding the opponent's body with the arms and legs to produce a stalemate. A yellow card results in a 10% deduction/fine of the fighter's fight purse. A major difference in the penalty card system between PRIDE FC and BUSHIDO is that in PRIDE FC a total of three yellow cards results in a red card (disqualification), while in BUSHIDO yellow cards can be given out in an unlimited number without disqualification
- Uses tournament format to award Grand Prix champions.
- Has two weight classes: Heavyweight (no limit), and Middleweight (<93 kg).
- "BUSHIDO" event series consists of Lightweight (<73 kg) and Welterweight (<83 kg) fighters.
- Uses two 5-minute rounds, with an extra round option should the judges be unable to determine a clear winner of the fight.
- Prohibits elbow strikes to the head, kicking by a fighter in the standing position to the face and head of a fighter in the ground position (When both fighters are in the ground position, kicking to the face and head of the opponent fighter is allowed). Knee kicking to the face and head of a fighter in the state of any ground position including 4-point position etc. is also illegal.
- Weight classes are currently being established. Lightweight is under 75 kg, others to be announced shortly.
- Has moved to a tournament format similar to that seen in K-1, with an eight man tournament. However, the final matches are not decided on the same evening, but at later events. It is unsure if this format will become the standard at this time.
- Uses two 5-minute rounds.
- Does not use judges. The fight is declared a draw if there is no KO, TKO, Submission.
- Allows elbow and knee strikes only if they are covered by padding.
- Does not allow attacking head with strikes when one fighter is in downed position.
- Uses A, B, and C levels. The C level is considered for amateurs only.
- Every level has its own rules and restrictions.
- The C level rules require headgear to be worn and prohibit striking on the ground.
- In case of a knockdown (when any part of a competitor's body touches the mat solely as the result of a strike) the referee will perform a 10-count. The competitor has until the count of 10 to return to a standing position. Three knock downs in a single round will end the bout. There is also a mandatory standing 8-count.
International Fight League
- Uses three 4-minute rounds.
- Fighters use different gloves ( Compared to other organizations) that have more padding.
- Fighters are divided into teams. Each team consists of five fighters, one representing each weight division of the International Fight League (lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light-heavyweight and heavyweight), and one head coach.
- Prohibits elbow strikes to the head, as well as stomps, soccer kicks and knees to the head of a grounded opponent.
Cage or ring
MMA is often referred to as "cagefighting" in the US as it is associated with the UFC's octagonal caged fighting area. Most major MMA promotions in the US, Canada and Britain use the "cage" as a result of directly evolving from the first UFC events. There are variations on the cage such as replacing the metal fencing with a net, or using a different shape for the area other than an octagon, which has been trademarked by UFC. In Japan, Brazil and some European countries such as Netherlands an area similar to a standard boxing ring is used, but with tighter ropes and sometimes a barrier underneath the lowest rope to keep grappling athletes from rolling out of the ring. The usage of the ring in these countries is derived from the history of Vale Tudo, Japanese pro-wrestling and other MMA related sports such as kickboxing.
The choice of cage or ring is more than aesthetic however, as it impacts the type of strategies that a fighter can implement. For example, a popular and effective strategy in a cage is to pin an opponent into the area where the fence meets the mat, and then pummel him with strikes. This is not possible in a roped ring. On the other hand, the roped ring can result in entangled limbs and fighters falling through the ropes, requiring the referee to sometimes stop the fight and reposition the fighters in the center. Some critics feel that the appearance of fighting in a cage contributes to a negative image of MMA in popular media.