Making the Case for the MMA

Royce Gracie in action during the Ultimate Fighter Championships UFC 1 on Nov. 12, 1993, at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver.
Holly Stein/Getty Images
Royce Gracie in action during the Ultimate Fighter Championships UFC 1 on Nov. 12, 1993, at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver.
Holly Stein/Getty Images

There was once a family that hailed from beautiful Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The family was surprisingly stocked with boys who all seemed to walk to the pied piper movement of their father, a martial artist. However, his form of combative exercise was not atypical to his surroundings, which spawned the fighting dance of capoeira. His style was influenced from Japan and was called Jiu-Jitsu.

When translated, Jiu-Jitsu means "the gentle art," and its succession of holds, joint manipulation and elaborate chokes were too appealing to resist for the eldest of the growing clan. This family bore the name Gracie, and their passion spawned a unique brand of gentle art that literally now has their national solidarity emblazoned proudly on the front: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. After beating each other gracefully for years the crew decided to compete in regional tough man competitions, known as Vale Tudo (anything goes) to exhibit the new art form as a way of dismantling larger, fiercer foes. They succeeded time after time, beating men many times larger than themselves, and decided that it was time to export this new tool to the land of seemingly unlimited promise, the United States.

The brothers split up and spread across the nation opening studios that taught their version of the gentle art, capitalizing on the martial arts boom engrossing the minds of Americans during the '60s and '70s. The fervor of the martial arts scene was deafening, and soon, as man always does, competition was ripe on the horizon. However, now there was a clamor to determine which was the best combat style, and a venue to showcase fighting forms in comparison to each other was necessary. As usual the brothers from Rio would prove to be pioneers yet again.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was born amid Sen. John McCain's first national campaign that would call the spectacle "human cockfighting," a series of shows commenced pitting every martial arts style against each another in bizarre fashion. From boxer versus sumo wrestler to karate practitioner versus the All-American wrestler, the event took on an international Vale Tudo feel minus the prototype backyard and alley venues of Brazil. No, these were held in convention centers and large arenas, then blasted to homes, via satellite, across the globe as a pay-per-view property. From the myriad of professionals of each discipline alone stood the youngest of the Gracie brothers, Royce (pronounced Hoy-ce), who with mastery utilized Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to beat all styles and become the first champion of this style of competition. The win solidified two things: The Gracie-credited Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu earned its respect across the world, and future competitors began to realize that they needed to learn more than one martial arts discipline.


Fast-forward to a man by the name of Jeff Blatnick, who coined the term mixed martial arts (MMA) and with it a new way of thinking. No longer is it sufficient to be a one-trick pony. Today you must have ADD when it comes to combat sports. Yeoman martial arts practitioners now go from judo to BJJ while practicing western boxing and Thai boxing all in a day's time. Gone are the days of the martial artist, too. Today these go-hards are known simply as fighters, those willing to learn all and give all in a cage or a ring. It is the ultimate (pun intended) form of competition, simply layered with a step-your-game-up feel based on all the physicality you are supposed to possess.

Yet the hip-hop generation was late to the party.


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