How Old Is MMA?

By Logan •  Updated: 12/14/21 •  4 min read

Mixed martial arts is an ancient sport that dates back thousands of years to ancient China and Greece. Despite the sport’s ancient roots, the MMA we see today only dates back to the 1990s, making the modern version of the sport only about 30 years old.

If you are interested in learning more about the history, origins, and evolution of MMA, keep reading. In this article, we fully cover the origins of MMA and describe when modern-day MMA was introduced to the scene. Let’s get started.

How Old Is MMA?

MMA Origins

MMA can be traced back to ancient combat sports, especially the combat sports in China and Greece. In both of these areas, ancient combat sports looked a lot like MMA today, but it was often a lot more ruthless due to the few rules.

Leitai in Ancient China

One of the earliest forms of ancient combat is the sport of Leitai, which was popular about 2000 years ago in ancient China. This combat sport was a mixture of Chinese martial arts, wrestling, and boxing.

Opponents would lose if they were knocked out, thrown from the stage, or surrendered. The winning opponent had to stay on stage fighting until they either won outright or were defeated by another opponent, making the sport a brutal one.

Pankration in Ancient Greece

One of the more popular sports in the ancient Greek Olympics was Pankration. The sport is a form of combat that contains kickboxing, boxing, and wrestling. Many of the techniques used in the sport are similar to modern MMA. That being said, there were only two official rules: no eye-gouging or biting.

Much like Leitai, the fighters of Pankration had to continue fighting until one of the opponents outright lost or submitted to the other.

Modern Day MMA

Even though MMA has its origin in ancient combat sports, the sport we see today is vastly different than the cutthroat sports of the past. Modern MMA is largely influenced by Vale Tudo, but UFC was not established until the 1990s.

Vale Tudo

Vale Tudo was a full-contact combat sport that became very popular in Brazilian circuses in the 1960s. It took a lot of inspiration from the Gracie challenge, which was an earlier form of the fighting style from the 1920s.

Much like modern-day MMA, Vale Tudo often involved different types of martial arts. Eventually, the term “Vale Tudo” was used primarily to describe fights that pitted different styles against one another in the town of Rio de Janeiro. The two most popular fighting types were Gracie Jujitsu and Luta Livre.


When most people think of modern-day MMA, UFC is the first thing that comes to their mind. UFC was not founded until 1993, marking it the official starting date of modern MMA. In the 1990s, MMA exploded worldwide due to the birth of UFC.

Since then, MMA has been one of the most popular sports around the globe. Currently, it seems that the future of UFC is bright since it is popular amongst many people and continues to grow in popularity and publicity in mainstream arenas.

Final Thoughts

By most records, MMA, or at least ancient forms of it, are at least 2000 years old. 2000 years ago, ancient fighters in Greece and China especially participated in ancient forms of MMA, but there were other MMA fighters in other parts of the world as well.

Just as people of the past loved MMA, UFC and modern-day MMA are just as popular as ever. In fact, it appears that MMA is only growing in popularity as the sport is becoming more mainstream and accepted by people from all walks of life.


Hi, I've been an avid MMA fan all my life. I've been training in martial arts for the last 5 years and wanted to share some of the tips and tricks that I've picked up along the way to help to aspiring martial artists get started.

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