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Fight Archives: The gym wars that birthed the UFC

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A look back on the challenge matches that gave birth to the concept of MMA that we all know and love today.

When the UFC entered public consciousness 27 years ago, the concept of “mixed martial arts” was virtually non-existent. Instead, what the world saw and instantly fell in love with was the “style vs. style” setup, which at the time, could only be made possible through Street Fighter.

It’s easy to see why people were hooked. What was then hypothetical playground talk of “Who would win in a fight between a boxer and a Greco Roman wrestler?” was answered in an entertaining, and oftentimes brutal manner.

The man who brought this idea to America and inevitably the rest of the world was Rorion Gracie. His primary goal, of course, was to prove that a then unfamiliar art called “Grace Jiu-Jitsu” trumps all.

An extract from Brazil, Gracie moved to Southern California in the late ‘70s and eventually set up shop in Torrance. With his sons as reinforcement, he trained his own troop of Jiu-Jitsu fighters. Pretty soon, he had an army big enough to accept “challenge matches” from dojo stormers who proudly carried the banner of their respective disciplines.

As you can see in these clips, the Jiu-Jitsu guy had the makings of a classic Gracie fighter. Clad in a white gi, he has both hands down while prodding the opponent with short kicks to close the distance. He will then tie up to bring the action to the mat using some variation of a takedown. He will throw zero strikes on the ground while advancing positions until he gets the submission.

Frustrated and ego-bruised, the defeated opponent will ask to go again, only to receive the same exact same beating.

Now, remember, these challenge matches happened in a time when you could count the number of Jiu-Jitsu gyms in the entire US with one hand. These days? The outcome tends to be a lot different.