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Mixed Martial Arts – Modern Fighting Techniques


A Brief History of MMA


Mixed martial arts can be traced back, in some form, to ancient Greece. The Olympics of the Classical Era in Greece featured a combat sport called Pankration, and some martial arts scholars believe this to be the foundation of modern MMA styles. Pankration combined strikes and grapples, much like modern mixed martial arts, and later had its techniques adapted by cultures like Rome. Over time, Greco-Roman wrestling was combined with other fighting styles from Europe and the Far East to form a number of unique styles and techniques.


One of the earlier examples of a truly modern mixed martial arts fighting style would be Bartitsu, created by Edward William Barton-Wright at the end of the nineteenth century. The style combines strikes from karate (Japanese-Chinese) and savate (French) with throws from Jujitsu (Japanese), as well as incorporating aspects of boxing and even French stick fighting. Bartitsu is widely regarded to be the first martial art that combined Eastern and Western fighting styles, and led to early versions of mixed martial arts fighting competitions.


Today, there are a huge variety of mixed martial art fighting styles practiced around the world, with Eastern and Western blends being extremely popular. Mixed martial arts gained a large amount of popularity with the inception of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, in 1993. The sport was an overnight success, and gained worldwide recognition when the first championship was won by Royce Gracie. Gracie put three opponents into submission within five minutes total by using Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which was relatively unknown at the time. His success showed the world how powerful blends of Eastern and Western techniques can be.


Mixed Martial Arts Basic Rules


Because mixed martial arts is a relatively new type of fighting, not to mention the complexity of its systems due to the variety of fighting styles, the rules of competition have been in constant flux for some time. Most of the changes to the rule system for MMA competitions since UFC 1 have been in order to protect fighters from serious long-term injury, as well as to help legitimize MMA fights as a modern sport.


One of the first rules to be implemented in MMA fighting was weight classes, which break up fighters by physical stature. The classes, from lightest to heaviest, are as follows:


  • Flyweight: Less than or equal to 125 pounds
  • Bantamweight: Between 126 and 135 pounds
  • Featherweight: Between 136 and 145 pounds
  • Lightweight: Between 146 and 155 pounds
  • Welterweight: Between 156 and 165 pounds
  • Middleweight: Between 166 and 175 pounds
  • Light Heavyweight: Between 176 and 185 pounds
  • Heavyweight: Between 186 and 195 pounds
  • Super Heavyweight: Above 196 pounds, with no upper limit


Fighters are typically required to wear fingerless gloves, often with hand wraps underneath, which protect the fists of a fighter from being cut so frequently. This in turn allows fighters to focus more on hand strikes and punches, which are considered more interesting to watch by some viewers than matches consisting primarily of takedowns. Gloves can vary by weight, between four and six ounces, depending on the amount of protection the organization wants for the fighters' hands.


Time limits for round are designed to prevent fights from running on too long, and keeps fighters from simply conserving their strength. Having a time limit also helps venues to televise matches more effectively. A typical professional fight consists of three rounds at five minutes each, while a championship fight has five rounds, each five minutes long. MMA also introduced the “stand up” rule, whereby if a referee determine that both fighters are not attempting to advance their position or are resting on the ground, he may stand up both fighters and continue the round.


Matches are decided in a number of ways. The referee may stop a match if one contender is unable to properly defend himself, the fight doctor may call a match due to an injury, or by one contender's corner man, who can throw in the towel to signal a forfeiture. Matches can also be ended by knockout, by submission (tapping out), or by panel decision if the time limit is reached. Submissions are typically delivered either by tapping the opponent or mat with a hand or foot, or via a verbal signal.


Technical submissions occur when a fighter has been pinned or caught in a choke and is in danger of being injured, but may be unable to signal a submission on their own. Similarly, a technical knock out can be called by the referee if a fighter appears to be borderline unconscious or if the referee notices a serious injury. Retirement refers to when one fighter is too dizzy or tired, and cannot continue. Illegal actions (which vary depending on competition rules) typically result in a warning, and if too many warnings (usually three) are accumulated the offending fighter may be disqualified. In rare cases, a “no contest” may be called, which means that either one fighter has been injured by an illegal move from his opponent, or both fighters are disqualified.


Techniques and Styles of MMA Fighting


MMA has a tremendous range of styles, many of which combine very different fighting formats to create something completely new. Most types of mixed martial arts retain a particular area of expertise or focus, which can be broken into three categories: strike, clinch, and ground.


Striking martial arts make heavy use of punches, kicks, and attacks with other areas of the body (knees, elbows, etc.), with a few notable examples being boxing, karate, and savate.


Clinch martial arts are reliant on standing grapples and holds, which can often be translated into throws and takedowns. Examples of clinch arts would be Greco-Roman wrestling, judo, and jujutsu.


Ground martial arts are focused on positioning and submission holds, as well as defending against holds and grapples. Examples of ground arts include shoot wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and sambo.


MMA Fighting Strategies


Because MMA incorporates such a variety of martial arts schools, there are a number of different approaches to fighting. Sprawl and brawl uses stand up fighting techniques consisting primarily of strikes, and attempts to avoid ground fighting through use of sprawls. Fighters who use sprawl and brawl are usually trained in kickboxing or karate styles, but will also study submission techniques in order to avoid submission themselves.


Clinch fighting uses holds in order to keep the opponent within a certain range, and helps prevent them from being able to launch strikes. During a clinch, the clinching fighter will try to either perform a takedown or wear their opponent down with short-range blows from the elbows and knees, as well as stomps and short punches. Clinch fighters often train in boxing, Muay Thai, and jujutsu. Clinching can help make the elbow and knee strikes of Muay Thai fighting style more accurate. Some clinch fighters specialize in operating defensively for the first few rounds to tire their opponent out, then chipping through their defense by using ground and pound tactics.


Clinch fighting also gave rise to the lay and pray style, though that term is more of a colloquialism than a true fighting technique. Lay and pray refers to fighters that take down their opponent, then prevent strikes and attempts to stall out the fight. Although it is the subject of some criticism, it is generally considered to be a valid fighting tactic (if a bit boring to watch).


Ground and pound, which was mentioned previously, is a very aggressive fighting style that combines takedowns and strikes. A ground and pound fighter attempts to mat his opponent in order to allow him a dominant grapple. The grapple is then followed up with powerful strikes using fists, elbows, and hammer fists (striking with the bottom of the fist). Ground and pound is also versatile in that it allows the attacker to switch into a submission hold if the strikes are not connecting. A successful ground and pound fighter will also be able to perform strikes while changing positions in order to keep his opponent off-guard.


Safety and Injuries


Safety is a major concern in MMA fighting, especially since the media has a history of depicting the martial art as barbaric or unneccesarily brutal. The injury rate for MMA fighting is roughly two hundred thirty in one thousand athlete exposures, defined as an athlete being involved in a single fight. This injury rate is significantly higher than other full contact martial arts – compare that number to judo, which has an injury rate of only forty-four in one thousand, or even professional boxing, which tends to sit around two hundred.


Mental and physical long-term health concerns are also notable for MMA fighters, with fighters whose careers have lasted more than six years tending to exhibit some signs of potential long-term damage. However, more recent changes to rules and regulations for MMA fighting has made it safer for fighters to compete overall.