The Decade of MMA

As we near the end of the first decade of this millennium, it’s clear that MMA is here to stay. At the start of this decade, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) was considered “human cockfighting”, banned in most US states, it was nothing more than an exhibition sport. It was what boxing was at the turn of the last century, violent and babaric.

Let’s take a short history lesson and learn about the decade of MMA.

At the turn of the century there were 2 major markets for MMA, Japan, and USA.

UFC at the time was the only widely recognized MMA promotion in North America, they had held numerous contests shown on Pay Per View since the groundbreaking UFC 1 in 1993. The promotion was known for being “No rules” and “No holds barred” Combatants regularly won fights by striking in rather inappropriate areas, or gouging their opponents eyes. The UFC at one point was holding open weight class events, and promoting them as “David vs Goliath” contests, facing a 170lb Jui Jitsu fighter against a 350lb Sumo Wrestler.

It was these contests that proved MMA was the sideshow it was thought to be, senseless violence in the tradition of Roman gladiator fighting, but thankfully without the lion feeding.

Japan was also a major breeding ground for MMA, and had been since the early 90’s with the Vale Tudo Japan championships. In 2000 Pride FC came to the forefront with their first Grand Prix championship, where comabatants battled in a number of fights in one night until the eventual winner was crowned. This promotion saw the likes of Don Frye, Mark Coleman and Wanderlei Silva become household names overseas.

In November of 2000, the UFC officially held it’s first sanctioned event under the New Jersey state Athletic Control Board. Having won the battle, but not the war, SEG (the former owner of the UFC) was at the brink of bankruptcy. In January 2001 Zuffa entertainment purchased the UFC, and shortly thereafter hosted another PPV event.

In the 9 years since, MMA has expolded. Even people who don’t know what MMA is at least recognize the term “UFC”.

There is no question however, that the defining event which brought MMA to the forefront was televising the TUF 1 (a reality tv show featuring amateur fighters attempting to enter the UFC) finals on free television in 2005. The 15 minute Bonner/Griffin toe to toe brawl was one of the most exciting fights to date. Their professionalism, heart, and sportsmanlike conduct changed the viewers perception that Martial arts fighters are thugs, and in the sport only for the money, and the violence.

Following the behemouth that is the UFC, there are numerous smaller promotions that are now gaining significant ground, some of which such as Strikeforce have lucrative primetime tv contracts on stations such as NBC.

Companies such as Affliction and Elite FC have come and gone, but the UFC is still strong. The current tidal wave of media coverage in print, on radio, and television has also brought along with it an entire industry of feeder companies, such as fight gear companies, training gyms, and promotional companies which are now becoming major business moguls.

MMA is at this point getting the same media coverage in North America as some major sports, it is becoming a household name, and there are now kids who are putting down their hockey sticks and baseball bats, and putting on a Gii (a martial arts outfit used by most traditional fighters to practice in) and going down to the local dojo to learn Brazilian Ju Jitsu.

It’s those young children learning Ju Jitsu today, who have grown up watching the likes of Chuck Lidell and Randy Couture, who will be the atheletes we watch on television 10 years from now.

Welcome to the new era of MMA.

Nicole Thomas

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