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MIXED MARTIAL ARTS

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Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a full contact combat sport in which a wide variety of fighting techniques are used, including striking and grappling.

Modern mixed martial arts tournaments as a popular phenomenon emerged in 1993 with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, based on the concept of pitting different fighting styles against each other in competition with minimal rules in place, in an attempt to determine which system would be more effective in a real, unregulated combat situation. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, mixed martial arts events implemented additional rules for the safety of the athletes and to promote acceptance of the sport, while maintaining as much of the original no-holds-barred concept as possible. Since these changes, the sport has grown rapidly, to the point of setting pay-per-view records.

The history of the modern MMA event can be traced to the Gracie family's vale tudo martial arts tournaments in Brazil starting in the 1920s, and early mixed martial arts matches hosted by Antonio Inoki in Japan in the 1970s. The fighting concept of combining various combat disciplines gained popularity in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the emergence of Bruce Lee and his theories of mixing various martial art styles. The sport gained international exposure and widespread publicity in the United States in 1993, when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter Royce Gracie dominated the Ultimate Fighting Championship, sparking a revolution in the martial arts, while in Japan the continued interest in the sport resulted in the creation of the PRIDE Fighting Championships in 1997.

Though rules have been adopted, there is no general sanctioning body for the sport, and the sets of rules vary according to the laws of individual organizations and localities. It was thought that Olympic recognition would be forthcoming for the 2004 Summer Olympics, held in Athens, under the banner of pankration. However, the International Olympic Committee was unconvinced that Greece could handle the total number of sports proposed. To placate the IOC, the organizers removed all new medal sports and pankration missed out.

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). Some unarmed hand to hand combat techniques are considered illegal in most or all modern competition, such as biting, eye-gouging, fish-hooking and small joint manipulation. Over the last ten years, strikes to the groin have become illegal in all sanctioned organizations. The legality of other techniques such as elbows, head butts and spinal locks vary according to competition or organization.

A victory in a bout is normally gained by the judges' decision after an allotted amount of time has elapsed, a stoppage by the referee or the fight doctor (in the event that the competitor is injured or can no longer defend himself intelligently), a submission, by a competitor's corner man throwing in the towel, or by knockout.

While competition in the sport is occasionally depicted as brutal by the media, there was no death or crippling injury in a sanctioned event in North America until the death of Houston, Texas fighter Sam Vasquez on November 30, 2007. Vasquez collapsed shortly after being knocked out in the third round of an October 20 fight at the Toyota Center in Houston by Vince Libardi. Vasquez had two separate surgeries to remove blood clots from his brain, and shortly after the second operation suffered a major stroke and never regained consciousness. The only other verified fatality in competition is the 1998 death of Douglas Dedge in an unsanctioned fight in Ukraine. There are unconfirmed reports that Dedge had a pre-existing medical condition. Questions also have been asked about the health of Vasquez before his final bout, although no firm information has yet surfaced. Since he was age 35, he would have had to undergo extensive pre-fight medical screening in order to obtain a license to compete in Texas.

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 TBI in MMA competitions when compared to other events involving striking."

As a result of sporting events, martial arts training, information sharing, and modern kinesiology, the understanding of the combat-effectiveness of various strategies has been greatly improved. UFC commentator Joe Rogan has claimed that martial arts have evolved more in the ten years following 1993 than in the preceding 700 years.

The early years of the sport saw a wide variety of traditional styles—everything from sumo to kickboxing— and the continual evolution of the sport has gradually eliminated less effective techniques and "pure" styles, usually because specialized fighters were lacking in skills to deal with broader techniques.

In the early 1990s, three styles stood out for their effectiveness in competition: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, amateur wrestling and shoot wrestling. This may be attributable in part to the grappling emphasis of the aforementioned styles, which, perhaps due to the scarcity of mixed martial arts competitions prior to the early 90s, had been neglected by most practitioners of striking-based arts.

Fighters who combined amateur wrestling with striking techniques dominated the standing portion of a fight, whilst Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stylists had a distinct advantage on the ground: those unfamiliar with submission grappling proved to be unprepared to deal with its submission techniques. Shoot wrestling practitioners offered a balance of amateur wrestling ability and catch wrestling based submissions, resulting in a generally well-rounded set of skills. The shoot wrestlers were especially successful in Japan, where this style initially dominated others.

As competitions became more and more common, those with a base in striking became more competitive as they acquainted themselves with takedowns and submission holds, leading to notable upsets against the then dominant grapplers. Subsequently, those from the varying grappling styles learned from each other's strengths and shortcomings, and added striking techniques to their arsenal. This overall development of increased cross-training resulted in the fighters becoming increasingly multi-dimensional and well-rounded in their skills. One of the first fighters to be considered the prototype for mixed martial arts was UFC middleweight champion, Frank Shamrock. "During his reign atop the sport in the late 1990s he was the prototype — he could strike with the best strikers; he could grapple with the best grapplers; his endurance was second to none."

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