The popularity of the UFC has made mixed martial arts a widely accepted and beloved sport around the world for the last few decades.
However, the origins of mixed martial arts are quite ancient and understandably violent.
It is believed that mixed martial arts dates back to the ancient Olympic Games when the Greeks came up with a form of combat sports named 'Pankration' that combined the skills of boxing, wrestling, grappling, and even kicking.
A brief history of Pankration - the earliest form of mixed martial arts
Pankration used to be one of the most popular sports of the old Olympic Games that were held in Ancient Greece. It was added to the sporting extravaganza that the civilization held in honor of their mythological King of Gods, Zeus, in around 648 BC. There used to be separate tournaments for Pankration as well.
The term 'Pankration' comes from the combination of two Greek words - 'pan' meaning 'all' and 'kratos' meaning 'strength, might, and power'.
The rules of Pankration mostly involved boxing and wrestling techniques, but other moves such as kicking, joint-locking, arm-bending, and choking on the ground were also allowed, making the sport very similar to modern-day mixed martial arts. No eye gouging or biting was allowed.
The contest went on until one of the combatants submitted or was unconscious, or the judges deemed it right to stop the contest under certain circumstances and award the victory to one of the fighters - once again, like we see in modern-day mixed martial arts.
Pankration has historical significance as well in the Greek pantheon. Mythological heroes Heracles and Theseus are credited with the invention of this form of MMA combat in their respective battles against the Minotaur of the Labyrinth and the Nemean lion.
However, when Roman Emperor Theodosius I banned the Olympic Games in 393 CE, Pankration gradually got wiped out and forgotten as a sport.
'Vale Tudo' - the resurgence of mixed martial arts
Mixed martial arts resurfaced in the modern era when brothers Carlos and Helio Gracie popularized Brazilian combat sport form 'Vale Tudo' in the early 20th century. They started a Brazilian jiu-jitsu school in Rio de Janeiro in 1925 and started hosting tournaments.
Helio's son, Royce Gracie, went on to participate and win at UFC 1, held in November 1993 at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado.
The promotion, as we all know, was brought to life by Art Davie, John Milius, and Rorion Gracie, inspired by the action video series of the Gracie family on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.