Cagefighters have been in existence since the time of the ancient Greeks, when unarmed combat, called pankration, was first introduced into the Olympic Games in the year 648 B.C. Pankration was known as the most extreme combat sports, and statues to honor the top pankratiasts were erected in cities as late as the Early Middle Ages. This tradition of no holds barred events, while not always taking place in an actual cage, nevertheless paved the way for the methods and techniques employed by cage fighters. These no holds barred competitions took place in the late 1800s, in arenas and music hall challenge matches throughout the world, predominately in Europe.
The first recorded major encounter between a boxer and a wrestler in modern recording took place in 1887, between John L. Sullivan, the then heavy weight world boxing champion, and William Muldoon, a Greco-Roman wrestling champion. Since then, there have been other pre WWI mixed martial arts matches, but this sport did not really gain any widespread popularity until after World War I and the restructuring of professional wrestling to include to separate styles, shoot, which included actual competition, and show, which later evolved into the modern sports entertainment professional wrestling.
Cagefighters in the modern sense began with the vale tudo tournaments in Brazil, hosted by the Gracie family, as well as the mixed martial arts matches hosted in Japan in the 1970s by Antonio Inoki. The first mixed martial arts organization, Shooto, was formed in 1985. This concept of mixed martial arts was also popularized by Bruce Lee in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and Lee has come to be known as the father of mixed martial arts.
In 1993, after Royal Gracies victory in the first Ultimate fighting championship, cagefighters found a larger, more widespread platform for their sport, despite criticism from those who deemed it too violent and brutal. UFC bouts, as well as other MMA sanctioned cage fighting bouts, are held in an octagonal caged enclosure, or The Octagon, a structure with eight sided walls of metal chain link fence coated with black vinyl and heavy foam padding around the sides. Cagefighters are required to fight in approved shorts, and no shoes, shirts, gis, or any sort of foot coverings are allowed. Fighters must also use approved light gloves that reduce the risk of a broken hand while providing better grabbing and grappling ability.
While todays cagefighter may compete in a different environment than that of the early Grecian combat fighters, the skill set needed, the methods, and the techniques have remained relatively unchanged throughout the centuries of the sports evolution.
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