Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has come a long way. We’ll take you on a tour of its vast history…

Pankration (648 BCE): The earliest form of MMA, Pankration, combined striking and grappling techniques originated at the ancient Greek olympics. The “no holds barred” approach embodied few rules, enabling competitors to use arm bars and full on chokes. Eventually, Spartans were banned from competing after killing other warriors in Pankration matches.

Gladiator Games (264 BCE): Many consider MMA to be barbaric because of its similarities with ancient gladiatorial games. However, while gladiators were armed combatants, modern MMA incorporates specific rules and unarmed takedown techniques to distance themselves from the ancient games.

Bartitsu (1899): Practiced in London, Bartitsu incorporated boxing, wrestling, fencing and a form of French stick fighting. As a means of last resort in close combat, it also utilized jiu-jitsu and judo techniques. The sport placed a heavy emphasis on boxing and understanding footwork, an essential aspect of MMA today.

Vale Tudo (1920): Vale Tudo originated in Brazilian circuses and was a popular exhibition of martial arts in the early 1900s. Following some incidents of brutality, the sport was forced into the underground circuit. This combat sport gave birth to numerous Brazilian stars such as the Gracie family who eventually helped bring MMA to the US.

Jeet Kune Do (1964): Bruce Lee, the “father of mixed martial arts,” created Jeet Kune Do in 1964. He believed that the best fighting style was “no style” and thus broke away from the norms of traditional MMA. Lee’s famous words “be like water” continue to be an inspiration to many martial artists today.

Shoot Wrestling (1985): Shoot wrestling matches, where submission or knockout were the goal, took place at Shooto and Pancrase, two of Japan’s early MMA organizations. Pancrase followed professional wrestling rules as closed-fist punches to the head were illegal, while Shooto focused on having competitions with less structure.

Modern MMA (1993): With the formation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the US and Pride Fighting Championship (PFC) in Japan, modern MMA finally took form. The legendary rivalry between the two organizations had fans on each side claiming to have the best fighters. At times, UFC fighters ignored their contracts and ventured into the Pride Grand Prix events to fight. Each organization had different rules, allowing for varying levels of brutality. When the UFC acquired Pride in 2007, the American organization became the undisputed number one promotion in the world. Once the Unified Rules organization was established, MMA was finally able to grow immensely from the bare knuckle brawls of the past.

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Source
http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1101813-mma-tracing-the-evolution-of-the-sport#page/1