As you might imagine, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as we know it today did not start in the form it is currently it. It came from some classic roots that moved into some barbaric roots that eventually, through a lot of help from some outside people and influences, morphed into the beautiful art form it is today.
Dating back to ancient times of Egypt, we see hieroglyphic drawings of hand to hand combat being trained and perfected by men. While we highly doubt they had televised pay-per-view events, they did seem to have something similar to what we have today. We would also venture that they didn't have as many rules and ways to protect fighters as we do nowadays. These sort of primitive forms of MMA can also be seen in many other ancient cultures all over the world including Greece, Japan, and Brazil to name a few.
A Brief Overview
In our modern times, the birth of mixed martial arts in a competitive sense started in Brazil with vale tudo fighting events and then Japanese shoot-style wrestling events. MMA hit the mainstream in the US when CV Productions Inc held a competition called the Tough Guy Contest in 1980. This grew into the Super Fighter Series with ten sanctioned tournaments held throughout the year. This lasted for three years until the government of Pennsylvania (where the fights were taking place) passed a law banning the sport.
Fast-forward to 1993, and we see the emergence of a name that we all know fairly well - The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The UFC saw a quick rise in popularity, predominantly thanks to Royce Gracie winning the very first tournament by submitting three fighters in a matter of five minutes. The sport saw a great rise but fell on some hard times as the barbaric and disorganized manner in which the tournaments and fights happened was off-putting to a lot of people.
This is where the man, the myth, and the legend, Dana White stepped into the picture. Dana believed in the UFC and convinced a few of his wealthy friends, the Fertittas to purchase the struggling promotion. Rumor is it took some convincing, but as we will point out, it was a bit of a good move. The purchase price was $2 Million dollars.
The promotion did not get off to a good start. It continued to struggle, and Dana White had to continually implore the Fertitta brothers to continue putting a few more million in. While most people thought he was nuts, the Fertittas were willing to trust their friend and go with it. Let's just say they recently sold the business for $4 Billion dollars, 2,000 times their initial investment.
The credit of turning mixed martial arts into what it is today goes almost solely to Dana White and the Fertittas. They took the sport from a barbaric blood fest and morphed it into a classy event showcasing the top talent and some of the world's best athletes. The UFC hit its stride around 2006-2007 through a merger with Pride FC and a purchase of the WEC and Strikeforce, two competitors. They basically wiped out all of their competition and were free to move the sport in the direction they wanted. The rest really is history.
Since then, there have been some other fight series that have grown into prominence including Bellator MMA, Invicta FC (all female), World Series of Fighting (WSOF), and the ONE Championship which is the biggest promotion in Asia. As talent continues to grow and we start to see younger and more complete fighters emerge, the sport is poised to continue its growth for a long time.