It has been 25 years, this month, since the inception of the UFC.
And they have solved absolutely nothing.
In 1993, the UFC touted itself to be the ultimate showcase where it would decide what martial art was crowned the undisputed greatest martial art of all martial arts.
Not only did it fail in its grandiose ambition, it muddies the waters even more.
Along came a Gracie.
Royce Gracie won 3 of the first 4 UFC tournaments and 12 of his first 13 fights in the UFC in grueling fashion. Gracie set the standard for winning using his family’s paradigm-shifting, ground-grappling specialty, now known as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. For the better part of the last 25 years, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu has been the “IT” martial art.
But, like with any horse race, there is always one who breaks out from the pack at the start only to have the rest of the field catch up later.
To its credit, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu exposed some glaring holes in the martial arts world. The fight went to a place nobody expected it go. Over the years, however, a lot of styles have caught up to BJJ only to be overtaken in turn.
Back and forth they go.
UFC Champions have won with NCAA Wrestling, Dutch Kickboxing, Judo, Karate, BJJ, Sambo, Tae Kwon Do, Greco-Roman Wrestling, Muay Thai and Catch Wrestling. By my count with Wikipedia’s help, there have been 77 champions in 25 years and that does not include multiple-time champions, two division champions or the UFC Tournament winners.
But in looking at the number of champions in UFC history and with a slightly modern perspective, they seem to break down into 3 tactical categories.
In the early days of the UFC, including the tournaments, grappling was at the forefront but from 2001 to 2004, the striking arts got their mojo back just in time to see another seismic shift in the MMA landscape.
Hybrid Fighters = Mixed Martial Artists
Since 2005, there has been a growing influx of hybrid-fighters training in multiple aspects of fighting. Not just stylistically either. They are bringing video study. Cardiovascular training has gone through the roof. A current fighter must be familiar, if not fluent, in distance control; takedown defense; scrambles; cage-work; the guard, footwork and nutrition for weight-cutting purposes on top of their stylistic specialties. And yes, psychological skills.
In other words, a complete fighter must examine the entirety of fighting. Mixed Martial Arts have morphed into Mixed Martial Artists.
So maybe the UFC has achieved something in spite of its intent. Even if it is just forcing us to look at ourselves in the mirror.
“Military action is important to the nation. It is the ground of death and life, the path of survival and destruction. It is imperative to examine it.”—Master Sun Tzu on Strategic Assessments. Chapter 1, The Art of War: Complete Text and Commentaries. Translated by Thomas Cleary