Mixed martial arts has a long and storied history. Centuries ago in ancient Greece, MMA was an Olympic sport with just two simple rules: no biting, and no eye gouging. Alexander the Great began recruiting these MMA athletes as soldiers of war, thanks to their strength, dexterity, and poise. Because of this, MMA teachings spread all the way to India, where a Buddhist monk brought this newfound knowledge to China. Here, MMA took on a rebirth of sorts, and new branches of the technique were born, like Kung Fu.
Today, modern MMA carries much of its old-world gusto, with updated techniques and styles of execution. MMA fighter Hai Nguyen has a strong community presence in the central Texas region, and teaches BJJ and mixed martial arts at Elite MMA—an MMA school with four branches across Houston, Baytown, Greenway, and Kingwood. Born in Vietnam, Nguyen started training when he was just 14 years old.
“Today, due to the proliferation of UFC, MMA has become much more mainstream,” says Nguyen. “With more attention on the skills that one acquires through MMA, there has been greater room for the evolution of various types of training. Many fighters start with a core skill, like Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and move on to add various other disciplines to their repertoire for a more well-rounded profile.”
As Nguyen noted, MMA as a singular discipline appears to be a thing of the past. As MMA spread throughout different lands, several new disciplines were born. This made it possible for people around the world to train using various styles unique to their homeland—and created a sense of spontaneity in an otherwise clear-cut profession. Modern fighters who become adept at different disciplines are less predictable in a professional match, ultimately adding to the core art that MMA was founded upon. With any given match, fans of the sport would likely see a new combination of moves or tactics that they’ve never seen before.
The sport has also come a long way in terms of rules. When UFC first started in 1993, it was referred to as “human cockfighting,” and like ancient, pre-recorded times, rules were few and far in between. For this reason, during its inception, many PPV providers refused to air fights. In order to strengthen its legitimacy, theUFCenforced new rules that helped demonstrate the foundation of finesse capable in MMA. For example, head shots, groin shots, and strikes towards down opponents were banned.
The UFC also worked with state commissioners to help put MMA on the map as a sport with its own classification and distinction, like wrestling or boxing. During this time, “submission holds” were enforced, which helped shed a more positive light—unlike boxing, athletes weren’t forced to face a certain amount of rounds before they could retire the match.
“Mixed martial arts has a much better reputation than it did three decades ago,” says Nguyen, who opened his first MMA business just six years after the first official UFC fight. “Because it encompasses such a wide variety of skills, many professionals naturally gravitate towards it after a professional career in another path, like kickboxing or wrestling.”
Like most sports, with a rise in popularity, MMA “celebs” also became faces for the sport. Household names like Chuck Liddell only contributed to the worldwide attention on MMA. Moving forward, we can expect more hybrid fighters to dominate the scene. While in the past, athletes perfected one discipline and then learned new ones, we can expect more athletes to cross-train out the gate, ultimately allowing them to be more comfortable early on. Trainees will likely start training at younger ages, too. As MMA continues to explore its evolutionary growth, we can expect this new level of ultra-trained competitors to further flesh out this ancient sport.