MMA has enjoyed quite the evolution: going from niche combat contests criticised for being too brutal to one of the most talked about sports on the planet.

Ten Biggest Moments In MMA History Men's Fitness UK

Jiu-jitsu black belt Royce Gracie (USA) is lifted by members of his corner after beating Gerard Gordeau (NET) to win UFC 1 | Photo: Getty Images

In spite of its relative infancy, the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) has taken the world by storm. In a quarter of a century or so, the combat sport has enjoyed a meteoric ascent, evolving from unregulated brawls to a slickly marketed, global juggernaut.

Although the sport existed beforehand, the true genesis of MMA came with 1993’s UFC 1, a tournament that pitted expert fighters from a range of disciplines such as sumo, karate, kickboxing and taekwondo against one another, to see which combat style would prevail.

Although the idea itself may have seemed more at home in a video game, UFC captured the imagination of fight fans everywhere, and served as an inspiration for a future generation of fighters and coaches everywhere. 

MMA’s Most Significant Moments

An American MMA League is formed and regulated, but within four years the sport is banned and outlawed in the United States.

UFC 1: Fighters from a range of disciplines engage in a PPV one-night tournament. Royce Gracie and Brazilian jiu-jitsu triumph and MMA has a global audience.

Also that year, Senator John McCain calls MMA “human cockfighting”. Years later, he will soften his stance, but his political pressure at the time forces MMA into the wilderness.

ten of the biggest moments in MMA history Men's Fitness UK

Senator John McCain criticised early iterations of MMA for being like “human cockfighting” | Photo: Getty Images

Pride Fighting Championships, a Japan-based organisation, launches. It will stage some of MMA’s greatest bouts and serve as the home for Fedor Emilianenko, arguably the greatest fighter to never sign with the UFC.

Boxing’s ten-point scoring system is adopted in MMA.

UFC 28: the New Jersey Athletic Control Board review MMA promotions’ rules and conduct, sanctioning a series of events that will legitimise the sport, resulting in a set of Unified Rules. As a result, gloves, trunks and weight classes become mandatory.

The Ultimate Fighter: the finale of the reality TV show saw an all-time classic bout between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar in a fight that UFC President Dana White claimed was the “most important fight in UFC history.”

Bellator MMA, the main rival to the UFC, is founded.

Ronda Rousey: the female MMA superstar headlines the first women’s MMA match in history, defeating Liz Carmouche via armour at UFC 157. Her impact as a champion will grow the sport considerably.

Conor McGregor becomes the UFC’s first ever fighter to hold two belts simultaneously, defeating Eddie Alvarez for the Lightweight Championship at UFC 205, also marking MMA’s return to New York for the first time in 20 years following a state-wide ban.

ten biggest moments in MMA history Men's Fitness UK

UFC lightweight and featherweight champ Conor McGregor celebrates after defeating Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205, earning the Irishman millions in prize money | Photo: Getty Images

Get Fighting Fit 

Coach John Kavanagh trained Conor McGregor to be a double world champion. Here he brings you a winning workout.

“My smart-arse answer if you want to train like an MMA fighter is to train in MMA,” says Kavanagh. “To train in that style, we operate under the principle of two training sessions a day, three days on, one day off – that’s our approach to the week. One session should be skills-based in the morning, and then strength and conditioning in the evening.”

Session one: cardio
“You’ll get a lot of conditioning training from martial arts: wrestling practice, kickboxing, sparring, and ‘red zone’ conditioning work – you’ll get strong and fit doing those.”

Session two: strength & conditioning
“Vary your workouts between the Wattbike, the treadmill and resistance training, to improve posture, mobility and stabilisation. Bodyweight exercises to progress this can include press-ups, frozen V-sits, pull-ups, burpees and jumping squats.

“Measure heart rate and get used to working in that red zone for five minutes, so you can think and act clearly, even when your heart is pounding out of your chest. That’s what you’ll have to do in a fight.”

Words: Dan Cooper