During the early 20th century, various mixed-style contests took place throughout Japan, Taiwan, and in the countries of the Four Asian Tigers. In Brazil, there was the sport of Vale Tudo. Where fighters from various styles fought with little to no rules. The Gracie family was known to promote Vale Tudo matches as a way to promote their own Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu style.
An early high-profile mixed martial arts bout was Masahiko Kimura vs. Hélio Gracie in 1951. This was fought between judoka Masahiko Kimura and Brazilian jiu jitsu founder Hélio Gracie in Brazil. In the West, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the concept of combining elements of multiple martial arts was popularized by Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do.
A precursor to modern MMA was the 1976 Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki bout which was fought between boxer Muhammad Ali and wrestler Antonio Inoki in Japan. It later inspired the foundation of Pancrase in 1993 and Pride Fighting Championships in 1997. In 1980, CV Productions created the first regulated MMA league in the United States, called Tough Guy Contest. Later renamed Battle of the Superfighters.
The company sanctioned ten tournaments in Pennsylvania, however, in 1983 the Pennsylvania State Senate passed a bill prohibiting the sport. In 1993, the Gracie family brought Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which was initially developed in Brazil from the 1920s and became the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) MMA promotion company.
The company held an event with almost no rules, mostly due the influence of Art Davie and Rorion Gracie attempting to replicate Vale Tudo fights in Brazil. These later would later implement a different set of rules (such as eliminating kicking a grounded opponent), which differed from other leagues which were more in favour of realistic fights.
Originally promoted as a competition to find the most effective martial arts for real unarmed combat. Competitors from different fighting styles were pitted against one another in contests with relatively few rules. Later, individual fighters incorporated multiple martial arts into their style.
MMA promoters were pressured to adopt additional rules to increase competitors’ safety. To comply with sport regulations and to broaden mainstream acceptance of the sport. Following these changes, the sport has seen increased popularity with a pay-per-view business that rivals boxing and professional wrestling.