It is a sport which can be traced back to the Greek Olympic Games in 648BC when it went under the name of the pankration and consisted of primarily wrestling and boxing...
...its modern incarnation, the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), is now the fastest growing sport in the world.
The re-emergence of the sport is primarily down to two key groups; the Gracie family and Zuffa.
The former, the founders of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, were responsible for the famous ‘Gracie challenge’, where people would compete from different martial arts backgrounds against a member of the Gracie clan.
This was the spark from which the early mixed martial arts organisations would eventually form. The latter were two brothers who brought the fledgling MMA organisation the Ultimate Fighting Championship and rebranded it into what it is today; the largest MMA organization in the world.
The sport itself has undergone a rebranding process with numerous rules and regulations added as it seeks the approval of athletic commissions.
Yet the more prominent the sport becomes so too do the voices of its critics who have labelled it ‘barbaric’, ‘morally wrong’ and dubbed it ‘human cockfighting’.
These criticisms almost always stem from a place of ignorance. Admittedly the pre Zuffa UFC events marketed themselves as a no holds barred blood sport hoping to gain an audience that would, most probably, guiltily indulge in this brutal spectacle.
However this is not to be mistaken with the UFC as it is today. Make no mistakes this is a sport and it is perhaps the most testing sport, both physically and mentally, any athlete can commit themselves too.
To an external viewer it may indeed seem overly aggressive, chaotic and lacking the finesse of boxing. There is, however, a method to this apparent madness and beneath the surface the complexities are endless.
Each athlete who enters the octagon is well versed in all areas of martial arts, excelling in some, lacking in others, and trying to impose their will over their opponent. At its purest it is a chess match of brutal beauty.
The sport now is also, surprisingly for some, relatively safe. As mentioned earlier there are numerous rules, many fouls and multiple methods of victory. The introductions of weight classes and time limits have also prevented the early mismatches that plagued the sport.
In the entire history of MMA there has only ever been one fatality (in an unsanctioned event in Russia) and no serious injuries. This is a statistic which places it as a far safer sport than boxing, which relies solely on strikes to the head and body.
In MMA a fight might end without a strike being thrown, in a submission victory for example, and the smaller gloves actually make the striking aspect, paradoxically, safer. Boxing gloves protect a fighters hand and allow for repeated blows to the head or body, in MMA if a fighter is dropped and hurt by a punch and unable to defend himself the fight is over; there is no ten count.
The comparisons with boxing are unavoidable, yet the negative ones unnecessary. Both sports can coexist and fans of one in many cases are fans of the other. In truth they can both learn from one another.
Boxing can take lessons on how to run its numerous organisations from the UFC in which the best consistently fight the best and there is one champion in each division. There is no ducking, no disputes over purses and no politics.
To be the best you have to beat the best; if only this were the case in boxing.
The lesson for MMA? Simple. Do not make the same mistakes boxing has. If boxing doesn’t change its ways than out of its dying embers the pankration can emerge again as the world’s most dominant combat sport.