IntroGrappling, like striking, has existed since prehistoric times. Traditional forms of grappling have survived the centuries and are still practiced in many countries, such as glima in Iceland. Other forms of grappling have been codified in various sports and fighting arts, such as amateur freestyle wrestling. Grappling in the form of professional wresting and MAA has become a popular spectator sport.
Ancient grapplingCave paintings in Mongolia dating back to 7000 BC show two naked men grappling while surrounded by spectators. A carving on a stone slab that shows three pairs of grapplers dates to around 3000 BC. A cast Bronze figurine found in Iraq showing two men in a wrestling hold dates to around 2600 BC. An Egyptian burial chamber mural, from the tomb of Baqet III, showing a grappler in action dates to around 2000 BC.
Greek wrestling was a popular fighting art in which points were awarded for touching an opponent’s back to the ground or forcing him out of bounds. It was featured as a sport in the eighteenth Olympiad in 704 BC.
Modern grapplingGrappling as a modern sport developed in the early 19th century from folk grappling in the form of the competitive wrestling styles of freestyle and Greco-Roman. Judo, founded in the late 19th century, uses grappling and throws but no strikes. It is still a widely practiced sport but it has never been a popular spectator sport for the public.
By the end of the 19th century, Greco-Roman wrestling became one of the most popular spectator sports. Because of its popularity and the rise of gymnasiums and athletic clubs, wrestling became regulated and began to hold formal competitions and so-called “professional” wrestling began to become popular.
Wrestlers during this time, such as Paul Pons, Georg Hackenschmidt, Stanislaus Zbyszko, William Muldoon, Frank Gotch, and Constant Lavaux became popular heroes. Wrestlers would participate both in sports competitions and in shows that focused more on spectacle and entertainment. A division between this "professional wrestling" and "amateur wrestling" began to develop.
Starting the early 20th century, increased gimmickry, submission holds, and stunts were introduced to professional wrestling. Amateur wrestlers, Sir Atholl Oakley Henry Irslinger started a style of wrestling called "All-in wrestling," a sort of a no-holds-barred style of fighting. As time progressed, wrestling promoters started introducing more violent techniques into the ring, such as using weapons and chairs to strike the opponent.
With the invention of the television and the start of televised professional wrestling programs, the popularity of “fake” professional wrestling grew until the public thought this was real wrestling and their interest in amateur competitive wrestling waned.
Real grapplingOn November 12, 1993, the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was held in Denver, Colorado. This no-holds-barred (NHB) tournament was the first of a series of events that changed the public perception of grappling and the martial arts forever. In the early days of NBH fighting, competitors begin their matches using striking, but they soon switched to grappling to tie up opponents and stop the onslaught of strikes. In some matches, one opponent would get the other in a hold-down and the match would come to a standstill, with no action occurring over extended periods of time. The matches became boring for spectators, so the rules were changed to keep the action moving.
Some state governments began to ban NHB matches, which, as usual, made them even more popular to the public. VCR tapes of competitions allowed people to watch the matches in their homes.
Growth of MMAOver the next decade, this type of fighting evolved into what is now called mixed martial arts (MMA). Grappling and strikes are still allowed but nonproductive hold-downs are stopped by the referee, so the action is now practically nonstop, which makes the matches even more popular for spectators. Reality television shows that showed MMA fighters training and fighting became popular. MAA fighters have become popular sports figures and pay-per-view of their completions have made some fighters millionaires.
Grappling todayThe professional wrestling style of grappling is still popular, but its popularity seems to have peaked. The amateur wrestling style of grappling is still popular among aficionados, but not amongst the public. The MMA style of grappling and striking is still popular, but its popularity also seems to have peaked. If the public’s interest in watching fighting events keeps growing, fighting events will probably follow the history of fighting events in past civilizations and evolve until fights to the death are again allowed and become popular. Humans may now be “civilized,” but they are still bloodthirsty mammals.