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The Geography of Mixed Martial Arts


International Fight League

Tim Kennedy (red/yellow trunks) of Team Red Bears checks on his opponent Dante Rivera (red trunks) of Team Pitbulls following his victory at the International Fight League event at The Arena at Gwinnett Center on February 23, 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Due to the meteoric rise of the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), mixed-martial arts (MMA) has become one of the world's fastest growing sports. It is a form of fighting that encompasses all disciplines of combat, including wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, and many others. MMA is a globalized sport that unifies all cultures and geographies.


Wrestling is considered by many to be the foundation of MMA because it allows practitioners to dictate the location of the fight, whether it be on the ground or standing. The two main forms of wrestling utilized today in professional combat sports is Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling.

Greco-Roman wrestling is a European-style of grappling that utilizes throws, locks, and clinching techniques to pin an opponent's shoulder to the mat. Despite its name, this form of wrestling does not share its historical origins with the ancient civilizations. What the Greeks and Romans practiced was actually closer to freestyle wrestling. According to the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA), Greco-Roman wrestling is actually French in nature, having been created by a Napoleonic soldier in the mid-19th century. An Italian wrestler named Basilio Bartoli would eventually popularize the name Greco-Roman wrestling for the style due to his underline interest for ancient values and traditions, such as the Olympic games.

Freestyle wrestling is a form of grappling that focuses on throws, leg trips, and control. It differs from Greco-Roman in that it allows practitioners to attack an opponent's legs. It was developed in Great-Britain and in the United States under the name "catch-as-catch-can" where it became popular due to its less-restrictive style.

Freestyle wrestling was especially well received in the United States and many American presidents practiced it, including George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt. It was introduced for the first time at the 1904 Saint Louis Olympic Games. All 42 wrestlers who participated were of American nationality. Freestyle wrestling would also later influence the development of the collegiate wrestling system.

In modern MMA, America has become the symbol of superior wrestling- the British are actually now more known for their striking. The NCAA wrestling program is world renown and the country has some of the best wrestling gyms on Earth. Some of MMA's greatest fighters and champions learned how to wrestle from American public schools, including Rashad Evans, Dan Henderson, Gray Maynard, and Chael Sonnen.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) is a ground fighting style that promotes the use of leverage, chokes, and joint-locks to incapacitate opponents. The discipline is rooted in traditional Japanese judo, but evolved through experimentation by the Gracie family of Brazil.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a judo master named Misuyo Maeda traveled the world to spread his art and challenge fighters from other disciplines. He eventually arrived in Belém, Brazil, where he met and taught judo to a gentleman named Carlos Gracie, who would later pass this knowledge down to his younger brother Hélio.

Due to his small physical size, Hélio Gracie initially struggled with judo. He understood the techniques, but he had a difficult executing them because many of the moves require brute strength. Through much trial and error, Hélio would eventually transform Japanese judo into a more suitable style called Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (at the time, judo was commonly referred to as jiu-jitsu).

In contrast to most other martial arts disciplines, BJJ does not aim to implicit direct blunt physical damage. Instead, the style is based the philosophy that a smaller, weaker person can still successfully defend themselves against a bigger, stronger person by using techniques to choke opponents unconscious or by applying pressure to vulnerable points on the body to cause tremendous pain and skeletal fractures. The vast majority of BJJ's techniques are executed on the ground.

In the early 1990s, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu received fame when practitioner Royce Gracie won the first, second, and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championships. Royce's victories were particularly impressive considering the events back then had no weight class divisions and limited rules. Using Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he defeated much larger opponents from practically every form of martial arts.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is now a stable of the MMA world. A fighter who has never trained in BJJ will unlikely succeed in the UFC. Thanks to this unique discipline, a fighter can still be a threat and win even when he is being held down on the ground. Some of the UFC's most feared fighters are individuals who have BJJ as their base.

Muay Thai

The art of kickboxing have been around for centuries and is practiced by many cultures, but the most well known form is called Muay Thai, a stand-up style of fighting that utilizes boxing, kicks, knees, elbows, and clinch techniques.

The discipline is thought to have originated in Southeast Asia and popularized in Thailand, where it is a national sport and a vital part of its culture. There are over 65,000 professional Muay Thai kickboxers in Thailand, compared to just 2,900 professional boxers in the United States. To many Thais, Muay Thai is a way of life and an opportunity to escape poverty. The sport also carries a unique tradition that is not found in any other martial arts discipline, including the adornment of a mongkong, a traditional headpiece circle, and a prefight dance known as the wai kru ram muay.

Muay Thai have been an integral part of Thai society for several hundred years, but it wasn't until the late 20th century that the sport would begin to receive international attention and respect. This recognition was galvanized by the success of many Thai fighters in Olympic boxing, including a gold medal win in 1996, the country's first in boxing. Additionally, with the meteoric rise of the UFC and their Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva, who dominates his opponents using primarily Muay Thai techniques, the style has now become one of the world's most sought after disciplines.

Other Disciplines

Wrestling, BJJ, and Muay Thai may be the core disciplines of the contemporary MMA fighter, but many combatants today also utilizes traits and skills from other forms of martial arts, as well.

Taekwondo practitioners primarily use kicks. The style is extremely effective at keeping opponents at range, maintaining balance, and delivering devastating head kicks. This discipline is native to the Korean Peninsula.

Although BJJ is more often utilized, traditional Judo is still very effective inside the Octagon (the UFC cage). It is a grappling style of fighting that focuses on using leverage and momentum to execute takedowns, tosses, and sweeps. Judo was developed in Japan and remains fundamentally a Japanese style of martial arts, along with karate and aikido.

Sambo is a Russian form of combat. The name is an acronym for "SAMoobrona Bez Oruzhiya" which translates to "self-defense without weapons." It was developed by the Soviet Red Army in the 1920s. Sambo blends elements of Judo with Central Asian style wrestling. One of the greatest heavyweight MMA fighters in history, Fedor Emelianenko, brought Sambo into prominence.

Jeet Kune Do is the philosophy and style of the most famous fighter of all time, Bruce Lee. It is a hybrid style rooted in traditional Chinese martial arts and incorporate attributes from all other disciplines. The core of Jeet Kune Do is on the concentration of speed while exercising minimal movement. It was named for the concept of interception, attacking your opponent just as he is about to attack. As a pioneer in blending combat styles, Bruce Lee is commonly recognized as "The Father of MMA." UFC Middleweight contender Tim Boetsch is a practitioner of his art.

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