(Commodus: The original Just Bleed Guy.)
Note: This timeline of MMA’s history is extremely abridged for the sake of brevity. If you’re interested in the topic, Jonathan Snowden’s Total MMA and Shooters, and Clyde Gentry’s No Holds Barred cover MMA history in detail better than I ever could.
By Matt Saccaro
684 BCE: Pankration—a hybrid martial art whose name means “all powers”—is introduced into the Olympic games.
19th century: Various mixed rules contests take place throughout the United States, ultimately morphing into what we now call professional wrestling. (Seriously, I can’t recommend Shooters enough for information about this phase of combat sports’ evolution.)
1898: Edward William Barton-Wright invents Bartitsu–a martial art combining boxing, judo, savate, and stick fighting and one of the first dedicated “mixed martial arts” in the entire world. This mixing of styles occurs 42 years before the birth of Bruce Lee, the so-called “father of MMA.”
1905: President Theodore Roosevelt conceptualizes MMA on a whim in a letter to his son, Kermit. “With a little practice in [jiu-jitsu], I am sure that one of our big wrestlers or boxers, simply because of his greatly superior strength, would be able to kill any of those Japanese,” he says in reference to watching a Japanese grappler submit an American wrestler named Joseph Grant.
1914: Judo ambassador and all around tough guy Mitsuyo Maeda arrives in Brazil. In the coming years, he’ll begin teaching the Gracie family judo techniques, planting the seeds for BJJ.
Early-mid 20th century: Vale Tudo competitions emerge in Brazil, and ultimately gain popularity. The Gracie family rises to prominence and enjoys success in these “everything allowed” contests.
1963: Gene Lebell fights Milo Savage in North America’s first televised mixed-rules fight.