New England BJJ Academy






Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or BJJ (also written as jujitsu or jujutsu) is a martial art of Japanese origin in which one essentially uses levers, torsions and pressure in order to take one’s opponent to the ground and dominate them. Literally,  in Japanese means ‘gentleness,’ and jutsu means ‘art,’ ‘technique.’ Hence the literal translation by which it’s also known, the ‘gentle art.’

Its secular origin, as with almost all ancient martial arts, cannot be pinpointed precisely. Similar fighting styles have been verified in many peoples, from India to China, in the 3rd and 8th centuries. What is known is that its environment of development and refinement were the schools of the samurai, the warrior caste of feudal Japan.

Its creation derives from the fact that, in the battlefield or during any confrontation, a samurai could wind up bereft of his swords of spears, at which point he would need a weapon-less method of defense. Since traumatic strikes were not sufficient in this type of showdown, as the samurai wore armor, the takedowns and torsions began gaining ground due to their efficiency. Thus Jiu-Jitsu was born in contraposition to kenjitsu and other so-called rigid arts, wherein the combatants wielded swords and other weapons.

Mitsuyo Maeda, a.k.a. Count Koma, sowed Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil at the start of last century. Since then the gentle art has grown vertiginously and born many fruits. Photo: Fabio Quio Archives

The martial art gained new dimensions when a celebrated instructor from the Kodokan Japanese school decided to travel the world and prove the efficiency of his choke and armlocks against opponents of all sizes and styles: Mitsuyo Maeda, a sumo fighter’s son born in Funazawa Village, located in Hirosaki City, in the Japanese prefecture of Aomori, on November 18, 1878, and deceased in Belém, capital of the Brazilian state of Pará, on November 28, 1941.

A lifelong champion of Jiu-Jitsu’s self-defense techniques, Maeda traveled to the U.S. in 1904 accompanied by other teachers from Jigoro Kano’s school. At the time, thanks to the political and economic bonds between Japan and the U.S., the Japanese techniques had many a noteworthy admirer on American soil. In 1903, for example, President Theodore Roosevelt had taken lessons from Yoshiaki Yamashita. In the U.S., the agile Japanese man began racking up thousands of combats and fallen opponents along the way in England, Belgium and Spain, where his poise resulted in the nickname by which he became better-known, Count Koma. Back in America, the fighter did many presentations and challenges in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina. In July 1914, the valiant 5-foot-5, 68kg fighter landed in Brazil to settle down and change the sport’s history.

A lifelong champion of Jiu-Jitsu’s self-defense techniques, Maeda traveled to the U.S. in 1904 accompanied by other teachers from Jigoro Kano’s school. At the time, thanks to the political and economic bonds between Japan and the U.S., the Japanese techniques had many a noteworthy admirer on American soil. In 1903, for example, President Theodore Roosevelt had taken lessons from Yoshiaki Yamashita. In the U.S., the agile Japanese man began racking up thousands of combats and fallen opponents along the way in England, Belgium and Spain, where his poise resulted in the nickname by which he became better-known, Count Koma. Back in America, the fighter did many presentations and challenges in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina. In July 1914, the valiant 5-foot-5, 68kg fighter landed in Brazil to settle down and change the sport’s history.

Maeda would go on to collect delicious stories on Brazilian land. After going around the country, the Jiu-Jitsu black-belt settled in Belém. One day he took on the challenge of a capoeira artist known as Pé de Bola, towering over the master at 6-foot-3 and nearly 100kg. Maeda was not impressed and even let his rival bear a knife in the match. The Japanese disarmed, took down and finished off the Brazilian. Count Koma, as later became a tradition among Jiu-Jitsu professors, would also challenge famous boxers. American boxer Jack Johnson was called out, but never accepted the invite.

It was Koma, also, who promoted the first Jiu-Jitsu tournament in the country – more accurately a festival of bouts and challenges designed to give notoriety to the unknown sport.

Researchers Luiz Otávio Laydner and Fabio Quio Takao found in the newspaper Gazeta de Notícias of March 11, 1915 the rules of the event slated for the Carlos Gomes Theater in Rio de Janeiro, then the country’s capital. In it Koma published the first rules of our Jiu-Jitsu, consisting of ten items:

“1. Every fighter must present themselves decently, with fingernails and toenails perfectly trimmed;

“2. They must wear the gi, provided by Count Koma;

“3. It is forbidden to bite, scratch, head-butt or punch;

“4. When the athlete uses their foot, they must never use its tip, but instead the curve;

“5. The fighter whose back is on the ground is not defeated, even if they were the first one to fall;

“6. The fighter who is defeated must signal their forfeit by tapping either the mat or their opponent’s body thrice;

“7. The referee will deem defeated the fighter who, due to some contingency, cannot remember to tap to signal their forfeit;

“8. The matches will be divided into rounds of five minutes with two-minute resting periods interposed between them. The referee will count the minutes aloud for the benefit of the audience;

“9. If the fighters fall off the mat without either one having forewarned of it, the referee must force them to return to the center of the mat, standing and facing one another;

“10. The jurors may replace the referee in his duties. Neither the enterprise nor the winning fighter is responsible for whatever harm may befall the loser if, due to tenacity, that fighter refuses to signal forfeit.

“* Medical doctors, members of the local press, and professors of physical education and fencing are invited to take part in the jury.”

In 1917 a teenager named Carlos Gracie (1902–1994) saw for the first time, in Belém, a display by the Japanese man who was capable of dominating and submitting the area’s giants. A friend of his father, Gastão Gracie, Maeda agreed to teach the restless boy the art of defending oneself. In his lessons, he would teach Carlos and other Brazilians – like Luiz França, future master to Oswaldo Fadda – the concepts of his art: on the feet or the ground, the opponent’s strength was supposed to be a weapon for the win; to approach the adversary, low kicks and elbow strikes were to be the stratagems before taking them down. For evolution in training, he would use the randori, a full-on sparring session with a partner.

Carlos and Helio Gracie spread Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil, developing a powerful network of academies and even promoting the gentle art through vale-tudo challenges. Photo: José Medeiros/O Cruzeiro

A faithful student, Carlos Gracie embraced Jiu-Jitsu and, to the heartbreak of the mom who dreamed of seeing more diplomats in the prestigious family, he started infusing his brothers with the love for the art. One of eight siblings (Oswaldo, Gastão Jr., George, Helena, Helio, Mary and Ilka), in 1925 Carlos opened the Gracie family’s first BJJ academy. The ad in the newspaper was a marketing masterpiece: “If you want to have your arm broken, look for the Gracie Academy.”

The grandmaster would go on to spawn 21 offspring, 13 of whom became black-belts. Each member of the family began, then, strengthening the art and adding one more link to the chain created by Grandmaster Carlos, founder and guide of the clan, as well as first in the family to launch himself in a rule-less fight, which he dubbed vale-tudo. It was in 1924 in Rio de Janeiro that Carlos Gracie confronted stevedore Samuel, a renowned athlete of capoeira.

Helio quickly became the standout among the brothers due to the technical innovations he made as an instructor and the indomitable spirit that dissonated from the skinny body. In consonance with the tactics of Count Koma, the Gracies continued challenging capoeira artists in Rio, as well as stevedores and other brave men of all origins and sizes. If these muscle men looked fearsome on their feet, on the ground they became easy prey to the pounces and chokes that defeated them as if by magic.

In the UFC, Royce transmitted his ancestors’ legacy to millions of people via cable television. Vale-tudo was on its way to reach fever pitch worldwide. 

The family’s victories in no-rules matches started becoming legends and front-page stories, and mounting. The famous pupils, also – artists, architects, state ministers, mayors, governors, surgeons and doctors from every field.

Besides the challenges, the championships featuring practitioners, with rules exclusive to Jiu-Jitsu, were gaining momentum, fueled by rivalries of dozens of different academies. In the 1960s, when Carlson Gracie had already taken his uncle Helio’s baton as the clan’s front line in vale-tudo, an important step was taken towards the consolidation of sport Jiu-Jitsu. In 1967 the Guanabara Jiu-Jitsu Federation, in Rio, was created under the authorization of the country’s National Sports Confederation. Among the still-primitive rules, moves like takedowns, frontal mounts with both knees on the ground and the back-take yielded one point. Match duration for the adults category was set at five minutes, with three minutes’ overtime. Jiu-Jitsu had gained time controls and a scoring system.

The president of the Federation was Helio Gracie, and the president of the Consultative Council was Carlos. His first-born, Carlson, was director of the technical department. The first technical vice-director was Oswaldo Fadda, and the second was Orlando Barradas – both of them Jiu-Jitsu professors. João Alberto Barreto, a notable pupil of the Gracies’, was named director to the teaching department, whose vice-director was one of Carlson’s brothers, Robson Gracie – each of them a grandmaster of the art nowadays.

Progressively better-organized, today Jiu-Jitsu competitions host around 3,000 athletes. The gentle art is a hit even in the Arab world.

In the ’90s the art underwent a new boom. On two fronts: created by Rorion Gracie in 1993, the kick-started the sport known today as MMA. Starting with pioneer Royce Gracie and further consolidated through the sweat of a bevy of his cousins and brothers in Rickson, Renzo, Ralph, Royler, Ryan, Carley and company, Jiu-Jitsu as a method of self-defense had nothing more to prove.

On another front, Carlos Gracie Jr. picked up his father’s work organizing championships and strengthening the art as a regulated sport. Thus the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) was created in 1994, and these days it promotes tournaments overflowing with over 3,000 athletes from more than 50 countries, such as the World Championship, held annually since 1996.

One century after Count Koma disembarked in Brazil, our Jiu-Jitsu today can be practiced from Alaska to Mongolia, from Abu Dhabi to Japan.

The rest of this story continues to be written by each white-belt who steps into a Jiu-Jitsu gym for the first time.




The origin of Muay Thai, as a fighting style, is thought to have developed for centuries as tribes migrated south from the steppes of China through Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and Cambodia. The major tribes of that period, one of which was the (Tai) Siamese, fought fiercely to survive as they moved south and encountered other smaller tribes in what is now northern and central Thailand, and as far south as Malaysia. Through training, loss of life, military tactics, and hand-to-hand combat, technique and tactics were honed to a razors edge, and the rudimentary elements of a "fighting-style" began to take root.

Older soldiers and fathers taught their students and sons the offensive and defensive tactics and techniques, proper posture and position, and skills to enhance awareness. Those students and sons went on to teach their children, and the roots and permanent structure of an "effective fighting-style" began to strengthen. Proper technique and power strikes were a vital element in war that requires hand-to-hand skills. Each strike and movement is meant to deliever a debilitating and crushing blow, and enable the fighter to move on to the next opponent quickly without leaving himself exposed to an attack.

It would seem that the evolution of the most-effective hand-to-hand form of combat evolved in a rather Darwin-like manner demanding survival of the fittest: those who fought well.......lived and taught others before falling themselves.

The Thai were on constant guard against attack from neighboring countries, including Burma and Cambodia. Enemies for centuries, the Burmese and Thai fought several wars wreaking destruction on both countries. Muay Thai was primarily a part of the Thai culture during this period and was a mandatory training as part of the Thai military of that time. The military continued to train soldiers for centuries in the art of Muay Thai: defining, and refining the skills, tactics, and techniques with the wars against the Burmese, Cambodians, and other invaders.

Young Thai men returning from a tour of duty with the military soon engaged in matches for sport and fun in villages and towns. Each province, town, and village would support a local fighter who showed some promise and skill. Older warriors, survivors of many battles and engagements of the enemy, became Muay Thai instructors and teachers [ Kroo Muay]. The love of the sport, and a need for the defense of the kingdom made Muay Thai a part of the Thai culture for the next 500 years as generation after generation passed the skills on to the next.


The tradition of the Wai Kroo dates back several centuries. The Wai Kroo is a ritualistic and traditional dance carried out before Muay Thai fighters engage in the ring. The Wai Kroo is meant to show honor to the fighters teacher, the sport of Muay Thai, and his country. The Ram Muay is the dance that is unique to each Master instructor who teaches his students. The student will dance in each direction of the ring approaching and touching the corner posts with a prayer, showing respect to his opponent and to the spirits.


Muay Thai has come a long way in the last 100 years. Because of the great national popularity, Muay Thai began to garner international exposure and recognition. In World War II, Thai soldiers were stationed overseas, and foreigners recieved their first good look at Muay Thai firsthand. Muay Thai was named by foreigners as Siam Boxing, as Thailand was formerly Siam. During WW II, the French labeled Muay Thai as "Le Sport Orient" or the fighting style of the orient. The Thai soldiers participating in the war would practice Muay Thai among themselves as soldiers from Europe and America watched with great interest. Until that time, Muay Thai was a cultural gem, hidden within this strange and wonderful culture of this country called Thailand.

Soldiers from abroad were so impressed of the Muay Thai fighting style that they asked the Thai soldiers to teach them the basics and traditions of Muay Thai. As Muay Thai became more popular, especially with an international interest, the rules began to changge to become more inline with other goverened sports like boxing. In the 1920's, the roots of modern Muay Thai were planted when rings were introduced replacing open courtyards.The old-style horsehide, hemp rope, or leather bindings were replaced with gloves similar to boxing. In the past, fighters were known to soak their hemp rope bindings in a sticky resin and then dip their hands in crushed glass and ash that could attack the opponents eyesight. [As appeared in the movie "Kickboxer" starring Jean-Claude Van Dame] A hard-cover groin protector was also added for the fighters protection from brutal kicks and knees.

After the end of WW II, the first formal rules were introduced into the sport. Fights were divided into 5 rounds, and time limits were imposed on each round. Time was counted on a clock rather than the old style of a coconut shell with holes sinking completely in a barrel of water. Major stadiums for Muay Thai were constructed after the war in large cities [Bangkok, Sukothai, Chiang Mai] throughout the country as the popularity of Muay Thai grew. Lumpini Stadium in Bangkok is now almost considered "holy ground" to the multitudes of Thai fighters, and now many foreigners, trying to win a place on a fight card. A system of weight-classes, defined rules, and championships was devised in the years ahead as Muay Thai began to resemble boxing in style and organization.

The typical Muay Thai fighter here in Thailand trains many hours everyday. Many fighters will fight every 3-4 weeks just to be able to support their family. Unlike boxing in Europe and America, Muay Thai fighters make very little money from each fight. A typical Muay Thai fighter may bring home 4000-6000 baht ($100 - $150) every month from fighting which is barely enough to support one person, much less a family.

Muay Thai fighters often begin training when they are 6-8 years-old. They will begin fighting between 8-10 years of age and may have as many as 120-150 fights ( 3 times as many as a very active boxer ) before they are 24 years old. Muay Thai fighters do not generally have long careers because of starting at such an early age and how physically demanding the sport is on the fighters. Injuries are quite common in Muay Thai fights. From cuts and lacerations to the face and head to broken bones and severe sprains of muscles and ligaments, Muay Thai fighters deal with injuries their entire career. Muay Thai fighters are known for their ability to ignore pain and injury.

Today, the evolution of Muay Thai is finally reaping rewards and recognition. Muay Thai was recently accepted as an Olympic sport, and it is becoming quite popular in many countries throughout the world. Professional fighters in martial arts, K-1, and submission fighting all agree, Muay Thai is an essential part of being an all-around skilled fighter and having stand-up fighting skills. Muay Thai will continue to grow in popularity as new training camps and gyms open around the world.


King Naruesan
Thai history recounts the legend of King Naruesan. In 1560, during one of the many wars with the Burmese, the King was captured. Known for prowess and skills as a fighter, King Naruesan was offered a chance at freedom if he could defeat some of the best Burmese warriors. King Naruesan defeated all the Burmese warriors the King placed before him. He was granted his freedom and returned home a hero and a legend of Muay Thai.

The Thai people hearing of the heroics and skill at Muay Thai by their King led to great rise in the popularity of the sport. The tale of Naruesan fighting for his country and freedom spawned great enthusiasm and interest in the sport.

Nai Khanom Tom....The Father of Muay Thai.
Another quite popular Thai legend is that of Nai Khanom Tom and lends truth to the ability of highly skilled Muay Thai fighters. In 1767, the Burmese army sacked the Thai capital city of Ayudhaya (120 kilometers from Bangkok). The Burmese King (Lord Mangra) and his army pillaged the city and its its' magnificient temples, treasure and wealth. Returning quickly to Burma before reinforcements arrived to save the capital, the Burmese army took prisoners for the long march back home to carry their stolen goods and treasures. Among those prisoners was a Muay Thai fighter named Nai Khanom Tom.To celebrate his victory over the Thai, the King of Burma held a festival and celebration. During the festival, the slaves from Thailand were ordered to fight the best Burmese fighters for entertainment.

When Nai Khanom Tom entered the courtyard to fight, he asked for a moment to prepare. Nai Khanom Tom then began a slow ritualistic dance around the courtyard waving his hands and arms. The Burmese fighter looked on in fear, as he thought Nai Khanom Tom was trying to curse him with evil spirits before they fought. When asked what he was doing, Nai Khanom Tom explained he was giving respect to his Muay Thai teacher, his sport, and his country by performing his short dance. Many believe this may have been the origins of the [Wai Kroo] which is still performed by all Thai fighters before they fight an opponent.

When the fight began, Nai Khanom Tom easily dispatched the Burmese fighter with a series of hard kicks and elbows. The Burmese fighter pleaded that he had lost because he was cursed by the Thai. However, Nai Khanom Tom went on to defeat 10 more Burmese rivals with combinations of hard, chopping, debilitating kicks and elbows, fast punches, and throwing his opponents to the ground. The Burmese King was impressed with Nai Khanom Tom's ability and skill in the face of danger. When Nai Khanom Tom defeated his last rival, the Burmese King granted Nai Khanom Tom his freedom and rewarded him with several Burmese women to be his wives and concubines. Nai Khanom Tom returned to Thailand as a hero, and lived out his life teaching Muay Thai. Because the legend of Nai Khanom Tom is so well-known, he is called the "father of Muay Thai." Muay Thai day is celebrated on March 16 in his honor.

The French Brothers
In 1788, during the reign of Rama I, two brothers from France traveled throughout S.E. Asia to study, wager, and fight against the different styles of combat they would encounter from the foreign tribes and counties, and peoples of the region. The brothers arrived in Thailand and arranged a match for prestige and money with the monarchy of the period. The Frenchmen were loud, and bragging of their victories in many different countries. The Thai King ordered his captain of the palace guard, a well respected Thai fighter, to fight one of the brothers for the honor of his country and sport, and a large sum of money was wagered on the fight.

When the fight began, the Thai danced around the fighting area moving quickly in and out of the reach of the French fighter and kept him at a distance by kicking him in the abdomen and legs. The Frenchman became enraged and angry he could not hit his Thai opponent. The Frenchman was not used to this style that used the entire body as a weapon. The other brother, watching from the side, decided to cheat and help his brother by grabbing the Thai from behind and pushing him within the reach of his brother's attacks. This angered the Thai fighters and audience, and violated the spirit and rules of Muay Thai. The two Frenchman suddenly found themselves in trouble as the Thai fighters grappled and tackled the brothers to the ground until they were so exhausted and in pain that they could not rise. The two French brothers left the next day in defeat and humiliation. The popularity of Muay Thai continued to grow as did the national pride of the Thai people for their martial art.


The Tiger King of Thailand
Muay Thai is called "The Sport of Kings," and the Thai monarchy has always played a promonent role in the development of the art and sport. King Sri Saan Petch, aka "The Tiger King," was infamous for disguising himself in a tiger mask and competeing in tournaments. The King so loved the sport and a fair fight, that he would hide his royal heritage under a mask to compete in Muay Thai tournaments at festivals, fairs, and temple matches. If the other Thai fighters would have known it was their King, they would have bowed before him and pleaded not to fight; so great was their love and respect for their King. (The modern Thai people also hold the King in great reverence.) But the King hid his identity, and he always wanted a fair and hard fought match with each of his opponents.

The Thai Monarchy has played a central role in the devolpment of Muay Thai as a sport and not just a military requirement. Kings would hold great week long festivals in major cities that had spectacular Muay Thai tournaments with fighters traveling from all parts of the country to participate. In the early 1900's, the sport started to become more centralized and marketable as an attraction. Sometimes, issues of national agenda, where high-ranking members of the Thai governement would disagree, the dispute would be settled by Muay Thai combat with each faction having a fighter to represent their interests.


The Thai people are known for being superstitious and their belief in evil spirits and ghosts. Muay Thai fighters have for centuries used special tattoos, wards, amulets, and ceremonies to increase their good fortune and ward off bad luck and evil spirits that might follow them into the ring. Fighters will often wear pieces of bones from their ancestors wrapped within their headdress [Mongkong] or in a armlet tied about the bicep. The bone is supposed to represent the good spirits of their ancestors and provide them protection from injury in the ring and evil spirits.

Some fighters, and regular Thai people, will often go the temple or a [Maa Doo], a witchdoctor/medicine man, or high-ranking priest to have tattoo inscriptions in Thai language etched into their skin. The powerful inscriptions are supposed to provide special protection from certain influences like good fortune, bad luck, ghosts, spirits, etc. Other tattoos were told to grant strength, courage, long-life, or sexual prowess. Often before fights, fighters would rub special oils and mixtures or potions on their skin to make them oblivious to pain and invulnerable.

Special amulets (Kreung Rang)worn around the neck were also told to carry special magical powers. Amulets could contain written inscriptions with wards and protections rolled up in a small cylinder. Other amulets came from important temples and bore the image of Buddah or highly-reverred monks. Whatever the amulet, tattoo, oil, potion, or inscription, the result was to give the fighter confidence through his strong beliefs.


The Buddha was, and described himself as, both a student and teacher. The teacher is held in reverence and respect in Thailand. When young men want to enter into a gym and become Muay Thai fighters, they must first pay respect to their Muay Thai teacher (Kroo Muay) and give respect and honor to the gym where they will train. You jusy don't decide to become a Muay Thai fighter. It is a way of life and long respected tradition in Thailand. The student must perform the Yok Kroo or Kuen Kroo.

Each Master Thai instructor has a different style or way to perform the Yok Kroo. There may be a significant initiation where the prospective student must spend time in meditation at a temple, or perform some ritualistic tasks. Students are usually expected to give some form of gift or offering, such as white linen cloth, flowers, joss sticks (incense), and some small monetary offfering.

On auspicious days, (Thai's like Thursdays for good luck and prosperity) a picnic or gathering of fighters to welcome the new student to camp and eat together. The Master Thai instructor would then ask for a blessing for his new student and then place the traditional Mongkon on the student's head and tie a armlet (Pra Jer) on his bicep.


Muay Thai has been a part of Thai Heritage & History for over 2000 years as with most objects and traditions from ancient times, there exist many different versions of the History of MUAYTHAI, but all sources agree that MUAYTHAI was the primary (and most effective) Self Defense used by Thai warriors on the battlefields of conflicts and wars that have occurred many times in the history of the nation now know as, Thailand.
The first know practice of MUAYTHAI as a “sport”, off and away from the heat and chaos of the battlefield, occurred in the 15TH century when loosely organized competitions started spourting up around the country. MUAYTHAI soon became the favoured pastime sport for people from all walks of life, with training camps being established all over the country. It must be remembered that though it was being practiced as a kind of spectator sport over the following centuries, it was not the kid of sport we are used to seeing in modern times. Muaythai was an extremely dangerous that often ended in injury and for competitors and participants. It wasn’t until 1930 that this began to change, when MUAYTHAI was officially codified, with regulations being created and introduced into the sporting world of the early 20TH Century as one of a safe ring sport.
MUAYTHAI has had many faces, as a popular ring sport, a Self Defense and a fitness program and as MUAYTHAI has become more and more popular organizations such as IFMA have been rightly commissioned and estabilished to regulate MUAYTHAI as a world sport.
Now, MUAYTHAI is established around the world as a fitness form (MUAY aerobic), as a ring sport (MuayThai) and as a form of self defense (Muay Boran). The circle of history has been closed and MUAYTHAI now belongs to World, making a new and proud world History.

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Mixed martial arts was believed to date back to the ancient Olympic Games in 648 BCE, when pankration—the martial training of Greek armies—was considered the combat sport of ancient Greece. The brutal contest combined wrestling, boxing, and street fighting. Kicking and hitting a downed opponent were allowed; only biting and eye gouging were forbidden. A match ended when one of the fighters acknowledged defeat or was rendered unconscious. In some cases, competitors died during matches. Pankration became one of the most popular events of the ancient Olympics.

In 393 CE Roman emperor Theodosius I banned the Olympic Games, spelling the end of pankration as a popular sport. However, this style of fighting later resurfaced in the 20th century in Brazil via a combat sport known as vale tudo(“anything goes”). It was popularized by brothers Carlos and Hélio Gracie, who began a jujitsu school in Rio de Janeiro in 1925. The siblings garnered attention by issuing the “Gracie Challenge” in area newspapers, proclaiming in advertisements: “If you want a broken arm, or rib, contact Carlos Gracie.” The brothers would take on all challengers, and their matches, which resembled those of pankration, became so popular that they had to be moved to large soccer (association football) stadiums to accommodate the crowds.

MMA first came to the attention of many in North America after the Gracie family decided to showcase its trademark Brazilian jujitsu in the United States in the 1990s. Hélio’s son Royce Gracie represented the family in a 1993 tournament in Denver, Colorado, that came to be called UFC 1. The name referred to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), an organization that became the leading promoter of MMA events. The earliest aim of the UFC events was to pit fighters of different styles against each other—such as wrestler against boxer and kickboxer against judoka. Initially, the only rules decreed no biting and no eye gouging. Bouts ended when one of the fighters submitted or one corner threw in the towel. Royce Gracie emerged as the champion of UFC 1, which was held in a caged ring at Denver’s McNichols Arena. As the UFC’s first cable television pay-per-view event, the tournament attracted 86,000 viewers. That number increased to 300,000 by the third event.

The UFC initially marketed its product as a no-holds-barred sport in which anything could happen. Its brutality raised the ire of many, including such politicians as U.S. Sen. John McCain, who famously called caged combat “human cockfighting” and sought to have the sport banned. In 2001 new UFC management created rules to make the sport less dangerous. It added weight classes, rounds, and time limits and extended the list of fouls in the ring. The revamped UFC no longer featured mostly brawlers. Newer fighters were more skilled as boxers, wrestlers, and martial arts practitioners, and they were forced to train extensively and remain in peak condition to perform well. In the United States the sport came under regulation by the same bodies that governed the sport of boxing, including the Nevada State Athletic Commission and the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. Even McCain dropped his opposition to MMA, acknowledging in 2007 that the “sport has made significant progress.”

Although the UFC struggled to make money in its early years, it eventually developed into a highly profitable organization. Between 2003 and 2006, a trilogy of fights between two of the sport’s biggest stars, Americans Randy (“the Natural”) Couture and Chuck (“the Iceman”) Liddell, at UFC 43, 52, and 57 helped elevate MMA and the UFC. The sport also received a boost from The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show, which first aired in 2005. The show traditionally features fighters looking to break into the UFC. Divided into teams under celebrity fighter coaches, combatants live under the same roof and fight each other in a knockout format, with the final winner earning a UFC contract. Beginning in 2013, women also appeared on The Ultimate Fighter both as coaches and as competitors.