How Old Is MMA?

Mixed martial arts (MMA), often referred to as cage fighting, is a full-contact combat sport based on striking, clinching and grappling techniques. The sport incorporates techniques from various martial arts around the world.

During the development of MMA, the sport was criticised for being violent and brutal. These days, MMA is a thriving sport that generates billions of dollars of revenue per year.

In recent years, several global superstars have emerged from the world of MMA, including the likes of Connor McGregor, Jon Jones and Khabib Nurmagomedov.

In this article we answer the question”how old is MMA?” and discuss the evolution of the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.


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How Old Is MMA?

Mixed Martial Arts can be traced back over 2000 years, to a sport called pankration from the Olympics in ancient greek times. There were only two rules in pankration; no biting and no eye-gouging. In ancient times, pankration champions were celebrated like heroes, similar to modern-day MMA superstars.

The birth of modern MMA can be traced back to vale tudo and the Gracie challenge in the 1920s. Fights would take place on the beaches of Rio or in the circus and had hardly any rules compared to today’s MMA.

During the 1990s, modern MMA exploded. The decade featured the first UFC event in 1993, and PRIDE FC was selling out stadiums in Japan.

In 2016, the UFC was sold for US$4 billion in what was widely reported as the single largest transaction in professional sports history.

MMA is now the fastest growing sport in the world. The sport is on track to take over Boxing in terms of popularity within the next ten years.

Ancient MMA History

The roots of mixed martial arts can be traced back as a combat sport to ancient Greece and China.

Below are two examples of ancient combat sports.

Leitai – Ancient China

Dating back over 2000 years to China, leitai is a no-holds-barred combat sport that combined Chinese martial arts, wrestling and boxing. Fighters would lose if they surrendered, were knocked out, or were thrown from the stage. The winner would remain on the stage fighting unless they were defeated by a stronger opponent.

Pankration – Ancient Greece

Pankration was a sport that took place in the ancient Greek Olympics. In pankration, athletes used a variety of techniques including boxing, wrestling, and kickboxing.

Fighters also used submission holds, chokes and joint-locks on the ground, making it similar to modern MMA. The only official rules were no biting and no eye-gouging! The fighters fought until someone could not continue or submitted.


The sport of mixed martial arts can be traced back to vale tudo and the Gracie challenge in the 1920s in Brazil. Fights would take place on the beaches of Rio, behind closed doors or in a boxing ring.

The Gracie Challenge

The Gracie challenge was an open challenge match issued by members of the infamous Gracie family. The challenge was issued to test their self-defense jiu-jitsu system against other martial arts from around the world in a vale tudo match.

Since Carlos Gracie made the first challenge in the 1920s, the Gracie have family have defended their martial arts system hundreds of times. Gracie challenge fights would take place in the ring, on the beach or behind closed doors. The Gracie family proved the effectiveness of Gracie BJJ against different martial arts before the development of modern mixed martial arts.


Vale tudo is an unarmed, full-contact combat sport that utilises techniques from several martial arts. The sport became popular during the 20th century in Brazilian circuses.

The term vale tudo was used around 1960 to describe the style-versus-style fights featured in a Rio de Janeiro. After 1960, the vale tudo scene in Rio focused mainly on the rivalry between Gracie jiu-jitsu and luta livre.


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The Foundation OF MODERN MMA

Since the foundation of the UFC in 1993, the popularity of MMA has exploded globally. This year is widely regarded as the birth of the sport of mixed martial arts.

UFC – Ultimate Fighting Championship

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the largest MMA promotion in the world. The organisation features the best MMA fighters globally and holds MMA events worldwide.

UFC 1 was held to answer the question “what is the best martial art in the world?”

The event featured eight fighters from different martial arts, with the winner of the tournament receiving a $50,000 prize.

After UFC 1, fighters began adopting techniques from different martial arts, which helped create a hybrid style of fighting known as mixed martial arts. Since UFC 1, the organisation has held over 500 martial arts events and generated billions of dollars of revenue.

It’s widely regarded by journalists and fans that UFC 1 was the birth of modern MMA.

The UFC was sold in 2016 for approximately US$4 billion. This is reported as the single largest transaction in professional sports history.

To this day, the UFC continues to grow and remains the worlds premier MMA organisation, putting on the biggest martial arts events in the globe. The UFC successfully transformed MMA from “brutal cage fighting” to the mainstream sport of today.


Pride FC was a Japanese mixed martial arts promotion. The organisation was home to some of the best fighters in the world including, Fedor Emelianenko, Wanderlei Silva and Dan Henderson. Over a period of 10 years, Pride FC held over sixty MMA events worldwide.

In 2007, Pride FC was sold to the owners of the UFC, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta. The organisation stopped promoting fights, with several members of the Pride staff moving on to form a new martial arts promotion called Dream.

Future of MMA

After answering the question “how old is MMA?” it’s important to look at the future of the sport.

Mixed Martial Arts is on track to overtake boxing in terms of popularity. After the sale of the UFC for over US$4 billion in 2016, the sport continues to grow and gains more positive publicity in mainstream media.

There are tons of benefits to training MMA including weight loss, improved mental health and learning self-defence. MMA gyms welcome people from all walks of life, from dads training to stay fit to professional fighters.

One thing is for sure, the next 10 years will be exciting for the development of mixed martial arts.

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How Old Is MMA?

So, how old is MMA?

The history of MMA dates back over 2000 years to the sport of pankration in ancient greek times. During the early 20th century, various MMA contests took place throughout the world including, vale tudo in Brazil. The sport of modern MMA exploded in the 1990s due to the birth of the UFC & Pride.

The key events in the evolution of MMA:

  • 2000 BC – Fighters competed in the sports of pankration and leitai
  • 1920 – Vale tudo & the Gracie challenge
  • 1992 – The UFC was formed
  • 1997 – Pride FC was founded in Japan
  • 2016 – The UFC was sold for US$4 billion

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Gareth Davies

I'm a martial arts competitor and enthusiast. Over the last 15 years, I have trained and competed in several martial arts. I live in Manchester U.K working as a strength & conditioning coach when I'm not travelling and exploring martial arts around the world.
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