Make no mistake - mixed martial arts is perhaps the most brutal sport in existence — competitors hit, kick and choke each other during competition in an effort to get the other to submit. But it's also reaching massive, unprecedented heights of popularity, reaching into prime time TV and generating more revenue than any other pay-per-view events in history. Thanks to organizations like the UFC, a sport once plagued by controversy is now an internationally recognized sport and being considered as an Olympic event.
So what is it, exactly? Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a full contact combat sport allowing for a wide variety of martial arts techniques to be used in competition. The rules allow the use of striking and grappling techniques, both while standing and on the ground. The early years of the sport saw a wide variety of traditional fighting styles, such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which consists of ground fighting and submission holds, as well as Muay Tai, Judo, Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing - but the rapid evolution of the sport saw many individual styles prove ineffective. Fighters quickly came to realize that every style has its weakness, and that a combination of different disciplines was much more effective than being limited on just one. As a result, the term "mixed martial-arts" was born.
MMA gained international exposure in the United States in 1993, when the Ultimate Fighting Championship was founded. Legendary Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter Royce Gracie almost effortlessly won the first UFC tournament, blasting through three challengers in just five minutes and sparking a revolution in the martial arts. Meanwhile in Japan, the creation of the PRIDE Fighting Championships in 1997 established even deeper roots in the sport overseas.
As the years passed and the competition grew exponentially in number and ferocity, the sport has seen a level of unprecedented organization. Training camps have been established, and through information sharing and modern kinesiology (the understanding of the combat-effectiveness of various strategies), MMA has been evolving at a break-neck pace matched only by the enthusiasm of its spectators UFC commentator Joe Rogan once claimed that martial arts have evolved more in the ten years following 1993 than in the preceding 700 years.
Today, top fighters in MMA and the UFC have been elevated to full celebrity status. Fighters like Tito Ortiz, Anderson Silva, Chuck Liddell and five-time UFC champ Randy Couture have become household names, and fighters have appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. MMA has also infiltrated Hollywood, and was prominently featured in the Sony film Red Belt, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor.
The momentum of mixed martial-arts' popularity appears to have only just begun - it will be an exciting ride to see where the sport will be in a decade.