MMA, or Mixed Martial Arts, is a full-contact combat sport that is fast gaining popularity all over the world. The hallmark of MMA has been that, instead of limiting fighters to a single fighting style, like boxing or wrestling, it allows fighters to combine many styles of striking and grappling, including boxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, taekwondo, karate, judo and any other style they might prefer, It offers fighters the opportunity to choose the most effective styles and techniques that work for them.
MMA has its roots in many different styles, such as Vale-Tudo, Freestyle boxing and other combat sports that encourage a mix of different styles. Many different promotions have since emerged that have helped to popularize the sport, the most notable being the Ultimate Fighting Championship and the now-defunct Pride, which was based in Japan. Although MMA was initially frowned upon and referred to as “human cockfighting”, it has come a long way toward becoming recognized as a legitimate sport. Throughout its history it has produced superstar combatants that helped the sport to gain respectability to the extent that MMA fighters now are considered on par with boxers and other world-class athletes.
The list of names of athletes who have devoted their blood, sweat and tears to this sport is long. Famous MMA fighters have included submission fighter Ken Shamrock and his half brother Frank Shamrock, Pat Miletich, and Quentin “Rampage” Jackson. But a few other names especially stand out.
Arguably, the very first fighter to attain hero status is the Brazilian grappler Royce Gracie. The scion of the famed house of Gracie, global proponents of the brand of jiu-jitsu known as Gracie jiu-jitsu, he exploded onto the scene when he won the first-ever Ultimate Fighting Championship, held in 1993. Trained from a very young age in the art his family had long practiced, he stepped into competition as a complete unknown who was significantly smaller than any man he was up against. He used his high-level skills in jiu-jitsu (which was also completely unknown to the audience) to out-grapple, outfight and subdue men twice or even thrice his size, such as fighter Kimo Leopoldo, to win the title and be named the first ever Ultimate Fighting Champion. In doing so, he caused an explosion in the popularity of both MMA and Gracie jiu-jitsu, the latter of which became a staple of MMA in the years to come.
Another landmark fighter who helped to change the face of the sport was the all-American Randy “The Natural” Couture. As a wrestler, the three-time Olympic team alternate (1988, 1992 and 1996), semi-finalist at the 2000 Olympic Trials, three-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division-I All-American and two-time NCAA Division-I runner-up at Oklahoma State University made the transition into MMA very comfortably, going on to become one the most dominant athletes in the history of the sport and only one of two men to have held titles in two different weight classes-heavyweight and light heavyweight. His emergence brought tons of respectability to the sport emphasizing the talent, discipline and hard work required to succeed in it.
Finally, one the most recognizable names of the modern era has to be Georges “Rush” St. Pierre. Born in Quebec, Canada, he had a difficult childhood during which schoolmates would often steal his clothes and money. He began learning Kyokushin Karate from his father at the age of seven in order to defend himself, and then continued training in Kyokushin as he grew up. Later, after seeing tapes of Royce Gracie, he was inspired to take up Brazilian jiu-jitsu and his fascination with MMA began. Also an accomplished wrestler, he made his debut at UFC 46, and then went on to become one of the most dominant forces in the welterweight division, eventually winning the title from his idol, Matt Hughes. He has since lost and regained the championship, and is today regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the history of the sport. His discipline, humility and levelheaded attitude are cited as being exemplary and he is considered to be an ideal role model for youngsters looking to make a name in the MMA.
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