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When did MMA start?

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About the author: Bill Viola Jr. is Amazon best-selling author and creator of the award-winning Sensei Says® life skills curriculum. He experienced the "Golden Era" of MMA firsthand as his father, Bill Sr., is credited as the co-creator of the sport of mixed martial arts in 1979. His book Godfathers of MMA inspired the critically acclaimed SHOWTIME film Tough Guys where he acted as a producer alongside an Academy Award accredited team. The Viola family owns and operates Allegheny Shotokan Karate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania now celebrating their 50-year anniversary (1969-2019). He is currently the President of Kumite Classic Entertainment Corp.

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when did mma start

“March 20th was more than the beginning of Spring, it was the birth of what many are calling a new sport…This first-in-history event sold out three consecutive nights.”         News-Dispatch (April 12, 1980)

We often hear folks ask, “When did MMA start?”  Its a tricky question because you have to define what MMA is?  If you are talking about combat, we know there is no official timeline of when hand-to-hand combat began.  However, most people consider MMA a sport, one that the UFC has made popular.

The beginning of “mixing martial arts” dates back to the dawn of mankind with countless boxer vs wrestler bouts at the turn of the century.  However the organized “sport” of MMA has a very direct lineage.  Throughout history individual challenges/contests have featured mixed-fights such as Gene LeBell vs Milo Savage (1963) or Muhammad Ali vs Antonio Inoki (1976) but they were just that, a challenge.  It was not a sport–yet.  The creation of organized mixed martial arts competition with rules, weight classes, safety equipment, sanctions etc. began in 1980.

The sport known today as MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) did not begin November 12, 1993 at UFC 1 as many fans believe.  It actually began a decade earlier in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on March 20, 1980.  CV (Caliguri & Viola Productions) promoted the “Battle of the Tough Guys” at the New Kensington Holiday Inn.  The “Tough Guys” sold out 3 consecutive nights and was a commercial success.  The company launched a full-scale league that was rebranded “Super Fighters” and held championships across Pennsylvania until the Senate outlawed the company and MMA in 1983 with the passage of the “Tough Guy Law.” 

Below is an advertisement for the first open and regulated MMA competition in America.  The Tough Guy Contest officially launched a new sport and answers the question, “When did MMA start.”

the begining of mma

Tough Guy Contest March 20, 1980

“The biggest fight event of ever… Anything goes! All fighting styles—punching, striking, kicking, grappling and throwing
                             –News-Dispatch  (November 17, 1979)



  2015  /  Godfathers of MMA  /  Last Updated August 4, 2015 by Bill Viola Jr.  /