Mixed Martial Arts
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Mixed Martial Arts

The how to's and Where from's of Mixed Martial Arts

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a full contact combat sport that allows a wide variety of fighting techniques and skills, from a mixture of martial arts and non-martial arts traditions, to be used in competitions. The rules allow the use of both striking as well as grappling techniques, both while standing and on the ground. Such competitions allow martial artists of different backgrounds to compete.

The roots of modern mixed martial arts can be traced back to various mixed style contests that took place throughout Europe, Japan and the Pacific Rim during the early 1900s. The combat sport of Vale Tudo that had developed in Brazil from the 1920s was brought to the United states by the Gracie family in 1993 with the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Professional MMA events had also been held in Japan by Shooto starting back in 1989. In due course the more dangerous Vale Tudo style bouts of the early UFCs were made safer with the implementation of additional rules, leading to the popular regulated form of MMA seen today. Originally promoted as a competition with the intention of finding the most effective martial arts for real unarmed combat situations, competitors were pitted against one another with minimal rules. Later promoters adopted many additional rules aimed at increasing safety for competitors and to promote mainstream acceptance of the sport.

The name mixed martial arts was coined by Rick Blume, president and CEO of Battlecade, in 1995. Following these changes, the sport has seen increased popularity with pay per view reach rivalling boxing and professional wrestling.

                                 THE RULES

The rules for modern mixed martial arts competitions have changed significantly since the early days of vale tudo, Japanese shoot wrestling, and UFC 1, and even more from the historic style of pankration. As the knowledge about fighting techniques spread among fighters and spectators, it became clear that the original minimalist rule systems needed to be amended.[25] The main motivations for these rule changes were protection of the health of the fighters, the desire to shed the image of "barbaric, no rules, fighting-to-the-death,savage bar brawling" matches, and being recognised as a sport.

The new rules included the introduction of weight classes; as knowledge about submissions spread, differences in weight had become a significant factor. There are 9 different weight classes. These 9 weight classes include flyweight (up to 125 lb / 57 kg), bantamweight (126–135 lb / 61 kg), featherweight (136–145 lb / 66 kg), lightweight (146–155 lb / 70 kg), welterweight (156–170 lb / 77 kg), middleweight (171–185 lb / 84 kg), light heavyweight (186–205 lb / 93 kg), heavyweight (206–265 lb / 120 kg), and some organizations even go on to have a super heavyweight which is anything heavier than 265 pounds (120 kg).

Small, open-fingered gloves were introduced to protect fists in punches, reduce the occurrence of cuts (and stoppages due to cuts) and encourage fighters to use their hands for striking to allow more captivating matches. Time limits were established to avoid long fights with little action where competitors conserved their strength. Matches without time limits also complicated the airing of live events. The time limits in most professional fights are three 5 minute rounds, and championship fights are normally five 5 minute rounds. Similar motivations produced the "stand up" rule, where the referee can stand fighters up if it is perceived that both are resting on the ground or not advancing toward a dominant position.[25]

Gloves were first mandatory in Japan's Shooto promotion and were later adopted by the UFC as it developed into a regulated sport. Most professional fights have the fighters wear 4 oz gloves with little protection, whereas amateurs are required to wear a slightly heavier 6 oz glove for somewhat little more protection for the hands and wrist. In the U.S., state athletic and boxing commissions have played a crucial role in the introduction of additional rules because they oversee MMA in a similar way to boxing. Smaller shows may use more restrictive rules because they have less experienced fighters. In Japan and Europe, there is no regulating authority over competitions, so these organizations have greater freedom in rule development and event structure.

Official sporting associations in traditional martial arts have been working to reduce injuries by emulating amateur boxing, requiring protective equipment such as headgear. However, newer forms of competitive fighting have emerged to recreate the original spirit of the traditional events by minimizing or even eliminating protective gear. MMA is growing in popularity, and creates more scoring opportunities by allowing the use of both the hands and the feet. Some forms also allow for elbow and knee strikes. The more recently developed mixed martial arts fighting allows any maneuver except eye gouging, hair pulling, groin strikes, and finger bending.[26]

Many U.S. states have a "no elbow policy" for amateurs to help protect the young fighters from serious injury by cuts or concussions. The use of a "12-6" elbow has been banned by several organizations along with restrictions on the use of knees to a downed opponent, dictated by one person having a hand, arm, or knee on the ground. Knees to the head of a grounded opponent is allowed in Japanese MMA. Headbutts are also widely prohibited because they require little effort and can quickly open cuts that might cause a fight to be stopped due to injury rather than because there is a winner.

[edit] Victory

Victory in a match is normally gained either by the judges' decision after an allotted amount of time has elapsed, a stoppage by the referee (for example if a competitor can not defend himself intelligently) or the fight doctor (due to an injury), a submission, by a competitor's cornerman throwing in the towel, or by knockout.

Knockout (KO): as soon as a fighter becomes unconscious due to strikes, his opponent is declared the winner. As MMA rules allow ground fighting, the fight is stopped to prevent further injury to an unconscious fighter.

Submission: a fighter may admit defeat during a match by:

a tap on the opponent's body or mat/floor

a verbal announcement/verbal tap

Technical Knockout (TKO)

Referee stoppage: The ref may stop a match in progress if:

a fighter becomes dominant to the point where the opponent can not intelligently defend himself and is taking a lot of damage

a fighter appears to be unconscious from a submission hold or due to a strike

a fighter appears to have a significant injury such as a cut or a broken bone

Doctor Stoppage: the referee will call for a time out if a fighter's ability to continue is in question as a result of apparent injuries, such as a large cut. The ring doctor will inspect the fighter and stop the match if the fighter is deemed unable to continue safely, rendering the opponent the winner. However, if the match is stopped as a result of an injury from illegal actions by the opponent, either a disqualification or no contest will be issued instead.

Corner stoppage: a fighter's corner men may announce defeat on the fighter's behalf by throwing in the towel during the match in progress or between rounds.

Decision: if the match goes the distance, then the outcome of the bout is determined by three judges. The judging criteria are organization-specific.

Forfeit: a fighter or his representative may forfeit a match prior to the beginning of the match, thereby losing the match.

Disqualification: a "warning" will be given when a fighter commits a foul or illegal action or does not follow the referee's instruction. Three warnings will result in a disqualification. Moreover, if a fighter is injured and unable to continue due to a deliberate illegal technique from his opponent, the opponent will be disqualified.

No Contest: in the event that both fighters commit a violation of the rules, or a fighter is unable to continue due to an injury from an accidental illegal technique, the match will be declared a "No Contest".

Most fighters found that the best combination was to train in a few grappling styles such as Western Freestyle and Greco-Roman Wrestling, Brazilian Jiujitsu, judo, Sambo, or Submission Wrestling and a couple of striking arts such as Western boxing, Kick Boxing and Muay Thai.[27]

[edit] Clothing

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Mixed martial arts promotions typically require that male fighters wear shorts in addition to being barechested, thus precluding the use of gi or fighting kimono to inhibit submission holds. Male fighters are required by most boxing commissions to wear groin protectors underneath their trunks. Female fighters wear shorts and sports bras or other similarly snug-fitting tops. Both male and female fighters are required to wear a mouth piece.

The need for flexibility in the legs combined with durability prompted the creation of various fighting shorts brands, which then spawned a range of mixed martial arts clothing and casual wear available to the public.

[edit] Common disciplines

Most 'traditional' martial arts have a specific focus and these arts may be trained to improve in that area. Popular disciplines of each type include:

Stand-up: Various forms of Boxing, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, and Karate are trained to improve footwork, elbowing, kicking, kneeing and punching.

Clinch: Freestyle, Greco-Roman wrestling, Sambo and Judo are trained to improve clinching, takedowns and throws, while Muay Thai is trained to improve the striking aspect of the clinch.

Ground: Submission Grappling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Luta Livre, shoot wrestling, catch wrestling, Judo and Sambo are trained to improve ground control and position, as well as to achieve submission holds, and defend against them.

Some styles have been adapted from their traditional form, such as boxing stances which lack effective counters to leg kicks and the muay thai stance which is poor for defending against takedowns due to the static nature, or Judo techniques which must be adapted for No Gi competition. It is common for a fighter to train with multiple coaches of different styles or an organized fight team to improve various aspects of their game at once. Cardiovascular conditioning, speed drills, strength training and flexibility are also important aspects of a fighter's training. Some schools advertise their styles as simply "mixed martial arts", which has become a genre in itself; but the training will still often be split in to different sections.

While mixed martial arts was initially practiced almost exclusively by competitive fighters, this is no longer the case. As the sport has become more mainstream and more widely taught, it has become accessible to wider range of practitioners of all ages. Proponents of this sort of training argue that it is safe for anyone, of any age, with varying levels of competitiveness.[28][29]

[edit] Popular diciplines

Main article: Karate

Karate, although not widely used in mixed martial arts, has proved to be effective in the sport.[30][31] Various styles of karate are practiced by some MMA fighters, notably Chuck Liddell, Lyoto Machida and Georges St-Pierre. Liddell is known to have an extensive striking background in Kenp? and Koei-Kan[32] where as Lyoto Machida practices Shotokan[33] and St-Pierre Kyokushin.[34]

Other famous black belt karateka in MMA include:

Antonio Carvalho (Shotokan)

Nick Denis (Kyokushin)

Maciej Górski (Shotokan)

Neil Grove (G?j?-ry?)

Mark Holst (Shotokan)

Katsunori Kikuno (Kyokushin)

Yuki Kondo (Shorinji Kempo)

Shinzo Machida (Shotokan)

Frank Mir (Kenp?)[35]

Andrews Nakahara (Kyokushin)

Jadamba Narantungalag (Kyokushin)

Gunnar Nelson (G?j?-ry?)

Seth Petruzelli (Shit?-ry?)[36]

Bas Rutten (Kyokushin)[37]

Tarec Saffiedine (Shihaishinkai)

Semmy Schilt (Ashihara)[38]

Assuerio Silva (Shotokan)

Main article: Muay Thai

Muay Thai, like boxing and various forms of kickboxing, is recognised as a very effective striking base within mixed martial arts, and is very widely trained among MMA fighters. Fighters (some of whom have won titles) such as Anderson Silva, Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio Rua, Thiago Silva, Alistair Overeem, Jose Aldo, Paul Daley, Gina Carano, among others are well known for their Thaiboxing backgrounds. Countless other mixed martial artists have trained in Muay Thai, and it is often taught at MMA gyms as is BJJ and Wrestling.

Many techniques associated with Muay Thai are often seen in MMA, such as punch, elbows, clinch fighting, leg kicks and knees.

Main article: Judo

Using their knowledge of ne-waza/ground grappling and tachi-waza/standing-grappling, several Judo practitioners have also competed in mixed martial arts matches. Former Russian national Judo champion Fedor Emelianenko, famous UFC fighter Karo Parisyan and Olympic gold medallist Hidehiko Yoshida were some of the most prominent j?d?ka in mixed martial arts.

Many MMA fighters trained in Judo such as Ferrid Kheder, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Hector Lombard, Shinya Aoki, Michihiro Omigawa, Satoshi Ishii, Kazuhiro Nakamura and Don Frye had found success in their endeavor for mixed martial arts.

Paulo Filho, a former WEC middleweight champion has even credited judo for his success during an interview.[39]

Other notable MMA fighters holding black belts in Judo include:

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

Fabricio Werdum

Anderson Silva

Ronaldo Souza

Renzo Gracie

Manvel Gamburyan

Vitor Belfort

Kim Dong-hyun

Main article: Catch Wrestling

Karl Gotch was a catch wrestler and a student of Billy Riley's Snake Pit in Whelley, Wigan. In the film Catch: the hold not taken, some of those who trained with Gotch in Wigan talk of his fascination with the traditional Lancashire style of wrestling and how he was inspired to stay and train at Billy Riley's after experiencing its effects first hand during a professional show in Manchester, England. After leaving Wigan, he later went on to teach catch wrestling to Japanese professional wrestlers in the 1970s to students including Antonio Inoki, Tatsumi Fujinami, Hiro Matsuda, Osamu Kido, Satoru Sayama ( Tiger Mask) and Yoshiaki Fujiwara. Starting from 1976, one of these professional wrestlers, Inoki, hosted a series of mixed martial arts bouts against the champions of other disciplines. This resulted in unprecedented popularity of the clash-of-styles bouts in Japan. His matches showcased catch wrestling moves like the sleeper hold, cross arm breaker, seated armbar, Indian deathlock and keylock.

Karl Gotch's students formed the original Universal Wrestling Federation (Japan) in 1984 which gave rise to shoot-style matches. The UWF movement was led by catch wrestlers and gave rise to the mixed martial arts boom in Japan. Wigan stand-out Billy Robinson soon thereafter began training MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba. Catch wrestling forms the base of Japan's martial art of shoot wrestling. Japanese professional wrestling and a majority of the Japanese fighters from Pancrase, Shooto and the now defunct RINGS bear links to catch wrestling. Randy Couture, Kazushi Sakuraba, Kamal Shalorus,Takanori Gomi, and Josh Barnett, among other mixed martial artists, study catch wrestling as their primary submission style.[40]

The term no holds barred was used originally to describe the wrestling method prevalent in catch wrestling tournaments during the late 19th century wherein no wrestling holds were banned from the competition, regardless of how dangerous they might be. The term was applied to mixed martial arts matches, especially at the advent of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.


Main article: Amateur wrestling

Amateur Wrestling (like Freestyle or Greco-Roman) gained a tremendous respect among martial arts practitioners due to its effectiveness in Mixed Martial Arts competitions. Starting from successes of amateur wrestlers in earlier UFC events and till the present time, amateur wrestling has produced a great number of MMA champions. Wrestling takedowns, takedown offense and defense are widely studied by various Mixed Martial artists, as well as amateur wrestling is credited for good conditioning, athleticism and stamina, necessary in Mixed Martial Arts competitions. Fighters and prominent champions with amateur wrestling background include Dan Severn, Marc Coleman, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Matt Hughes, Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez to name a few.

Main article: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu came to international prominence in the martial arts community in the early 1990s, when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert Royce Gracie won the first, second and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championships, which at the time were single elimination martial arts tournaments. Royce fought against often much-larger opponents who were practicing other styles, including boxing, shoot-fighting, karate, judo and tae kwon do. It has since become a staple art for many MMA fighters and is largely credited for bringing widespread attention to the importance of ground fighting. Sport BJJ tournaments continue to grow in popularity worldwide and have given rise to no-gi submission grappling tournaments, such as the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship.

[edit] Strategies

The techniques utilized in mixed martial arts competition generally fall into two categories: striking techniques (such as kicks, knees and punches) and grappling techniques (such as clinch holds, pinning holds, submission holds, sweeps, takedowns and throws). Although sanctioning bodies such as the IFFCF have rules and regulations for MMA, rules may vary between promotions. In many promotions they have adopted the unified rule system that the most popular promotion UFC has established. While the legality of some techniques (such as elbow strikes, headbutts and spinal locks) may vary, there is a near universal ban on techniques such as biting, strikes to the groin, eye-gouging, fish-hooking and small joint manipulation.[42][43][44]

Today, mixed martial artists must cross-train in a variety of styles to counter their opponent's strengths and remain effective in all the phases of combat. For instance, a stand-up fighter will have little opportunity to use their skills against a submission artist who has also trained in take downs. Many traditional disciplines remain popular as ways for a fighter to improve aspects of their game.


Sprawl-and-brawl is a stand-up fighting tactic that consists of effective stand-up striking, while avoiding ground fighting, typically by using sprawls to defend against takedowns.

A sprawl-and-brawler is usually a boxer, kickboxer, Thai boxer or Karate fighter who has trained in various styles of Wrestling, Judo, and/or Sambo to avoid takedowns to keep the fight standing. Often, these fighters will study submission wrestling to avoid being forced into submission, should they find themselves on the ground. This style can be deceptively different from traditional kickboxing styles, since sprawl-and-brawlers must adapt their techniques to incorporate takedown and ground fighting defense.

Strikeforce fighter, Cung Le, former Pride Fighting Championship fighters Mirko Filipovi?, Igor Vovchanchyn, Wanderlei Silva and also Former UFC champions Tim Sylvia and Chuck Liddell have been successful using sprawl-and brawl techniques.

[edit] Clinch fighting

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Clinch fighting and dirty boxing are tactics consisting of using a clinch hold to prevent the opponent from moving away into more distant striking range, while also attempting takedowns and striking the opponent using knees, stomps, elbows, and punches. The clinch is often utilized by wrestlers and Judokas that have added components of the striking game (typically boxing), and Muay Thai fighters.

Wrestlers and Judokas may use clinch fighting as a way to neutralize the superior striking skills of a stand-up fighter or to prevent takedowns by a superior ground fighter. The clinch of a Muay Thai fighter is often used to improve the accuracy of knees and elbows by physically controlling the position of the opponent.

Former UFC champion Randy Couture is one of the most notable practitioners of clinch fighting. Also, current UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva commonly uses knee strikes from a Muay Thai clinch.

[edit] Ground-and-pound

Ground-and-pound is a ground fighting tactic consisting of taking an opponent to the ground using a takedown or throw, obtaining a top, or dominant position, and then striking the opponent, primarily with fists and elbows. Ground-and-pound is also used as a precursor to attempting submission holds.

This style is used by wrestlers or other fighters well-versed in submission defense and skilled at takedowns. They take the fight to the ground, maintain a grappling position, and strike until their opponent submits or is knocked out. Although not a traditional style of striking, the effectiveness and reliability of ground-and-pound has made it a popular tactic as it was first demonstrated as an effective technique by UFC and Pride grand prix champion, Mark Coleman.[47] It was then adopted as the signature style of former UFC welterweight champ Matt Hughes. UFC champions/former champions Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez, Randy Couture and Georges St-Pierre are well known for their ground-and-pound. Today, strikes on the ground are an essential part of a fighter's training.

[edit] Submission grappling

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Apart from being a general martial arts, submission grappling is also a reference to the ground fighting tactic consisting of taking an opponent to the ground using a takedown or throw and then applying a submission hold, forcing the opponent to submit. While grapplers will often work to attain dominant position, some may be more comfortable fighting from other positions. If a grappler finds themselves unable to force a takedown, they may resort to pulling guard, whereby they physically pull their opponent into a dominant position on the ground.

Submissions are an essential part of many disciplines, most notably Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, catch wrestling, judo, Sambo, and shootwrestling. They were popularized in the early UFC events by Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock.

[edit] Women's competition

"Female fighting has been slow to start and finding our place amongst the male warriors has sometimes been a struggle. In 2001, when there was little interest in women's MMA. Thanks to many people, female fighters have come a long way and you will now find most MMA shows in America and Japan feature women's MMA matches."[48]

The sport of mixed martial arts has female athletes. Female fights are more prominent in Japan, with promotions such as the all-female Valkyrie and JEWELS (formerly known as Smackgirl).[49] However as 2010, there are only a few professional mixed martial arts organizations in the United States that invite women to compete. The main organizations to have support female MMA include Strikeforce, Bellator Fighting Championships, and the now defunct EliteXC.

Historically people have had a perception that women are not as prominent as men in mixed martial arts, there has been a growing awareness of women in the sport due to popular female fighters and personalities such as Megumi Fujii and Gina Carano. Carano quickly became the face of women's MMA after appearing in the now defunct EliteXC MMA promotion; this was furthered by her appearances in the remake of the hit TV show American Gladiators.

One of the first major female MMA fights was Gina Carano's Strikeforce debut against Elaina Maxwell where Carano won via unanimous decision at Strikeforce: Triple Threat in San Jose on December 8, 2006.

Strikeforce has become the first major promotion in the United States to have held a female fight as the main event on August 15, 2009. The fight between Gina Carano and Cristiane Santos attracted 856,000 viewers.[50] Santos made history with her victory over Carano as she became the first ever Strikeforce Women's 145 lbs Champion.[51]

One relative newcomer to female MMA is Bellator Fighting Championships. Before Bellator's third season the organization had only loosely associated itself with female MMA, holding only seven female fights. However since the third season, the organization has started to become more involved in female MMA, with a women's 115 lbs (52.16 kg) tournament. The tournament included a number of noteworthy female MMA fighters such as Megumi Fujii, Lisa Ward, and Zoila Frausto among others. Bellator crowned their first 115 lbs female champion, Zoila Frausto at Bellator XXXIV on October 28, 2010.

[edit] Children's competition

MMA events are popular with children. Some tournaments, such as the Western Canadian Martial Arts Championship, admit children. In 2010, rules were changed to allow ground and pound on child competitors.[52]

[edit] Safety

Mixed Martial Arts competitions have changed dramatically since the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993, specifically with the inception of the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. The overall injury rate in MMA competitions is currently similar to other combat sports, including boxing.[53][54]

MMA is dangerous, and its fighters are put at a serious risk of injury each time they enter the cage. MMA fighters are given more care and precaution than athletes in most other sports. With supervised fights, pre- and post-fight MRIs, four ringside doctors and two ambulances in case of emergency at each event, and mandatory steroid testing, these organizations reach the highest levels of safety and quality in all aspects of the sport.[1]

A study by Johns Hopkins University concluded, "the overall injury rate [excluding injury to the brain] in MMA competitions is now similar to other combat sports [involving striking], including boxing. Knockout rates are lower in MMA competitions than in boxing. This suggests a reduced risk of traumatic brain injury in MMA competitions when compared to other events involving striking."[55]

[edit] Injuries and fatalities

Sprained fingers and toes; cuts and bruises on the head, face, and neck; and bloody noses are the most common injuries in MMA.[56]

While competition in the MMA is occasionally depicted as brutal by the media,[57] there have only been two documented cases of deaths after a sanctioned MMA event.[58] The first was the death of Sam Vasquez on November 30, 2007.[59] Vasquez collapsed shortly after being knocked out by Vince Libardi in the third round of an October 20, 2007 fight at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.[60] Vasquez had two separate surgeries to remove blood clots from his brain, and shortly after the second operation suffered a devastating stroke and never regained consciousness.[59] While questions have been asked about Vasquez's health before his final bout, no firm indications of pre-existing problems have yet surfaced. The second death stemming from a sanctioned mixed martial arts contest happened in South Carolina on June 28, 2010, when 30-year old Michael Kirkham was knocked out and never regained consciousness. He was pronounced dead two days after the fight.[61]

According to The Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, MMA must continue to be supervised by properly trained medical professionals and referees to ensure fighter safety in the future.


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