Mixed martial arts
Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a full contact combat sport that allows a wide variety of fighting techniques and skills, from a mixture of martial arts traditions and non-traditions, to be used in competitions. The rules allow the use of both striking as well as grappling techniques, both while standing and on the ground. Such competitions allow martial artists of different backgrounds to compete.
In Japan, it is known as sōgō kakutōgi (総合格闘技), or "all-around martial arts". Maeda Akira claims to be the one who coined the term.
Brief history in Japan
Prior to the UWF, New Japan's top star and president Antonio Inoki hosted ishu kakutōgi sen (異種格闘技戦), or "different style martial arts matches", in the 1970s against the legends of other sports such as Muhammad Ali, Willem Ruska, Chuck Wepner, and Willie Williams. Many believe that the Japanese MMA has its roots in Inoki.
The original UWF as a company closed down in 1985, and the wrestlers returned to New Japan. However, most of them started another version of the UWF in 1988. Funaki Masakatsu and Suzuki Minoru, who would later found Pancrase, as well as Tamura Kiyoshi, currently the head of U-File Camp also joined the second UWF.
Although the second UWF split in 1991, the popularity of the group and its heir organizations such as Fighting Network RINGS, UWF International, and Pancrase, provided inspirations to other promoters including Caesar Takeshi, a former kickboxer who started shoot boxing, and Seidō Kaikan, a karate organization which learned the promotional strategy from the RINGS to start the K-1 event.
Besides the UWF and Shooto, another organization which set the foundation of the MMA in Japan is Daidōjuku, originally a karate group founded by a former Kyokushin Kaikan karateka Azuma Takashi in 1981. Daidōjuku has had several inter-organizational matches with the competitors of Pancrase and Shooto. It is also the first group that send a Japanese fighter to the UFC.
UFC and the Gracie Invasion
The rise of Royce Gracie in the first and second Ultimate Fighting Championship had a huge impact on the combat sports scene in Japan. Royce defeated the competitors who were famous and popular in Japan, such as Gerard Gordeau and Ken Shamrock in the inaugural UFC tournament and Ichihara Minoki, a Daidōjuku fighter and the first Japanese participant ever, in UFC2.
In 1994, Shooto promoted a tournament "Vale Tudo Japan Open 1994", in which Royce's older brother Rickson Gracie, who was at the time said to be the strongest in the family, won by defeating notable Japanese fighers from several different organizations. Rickson again won the tournament in 1995.
The first half of the PRIDE era was made popular by the battles between the Japanese fighters and the Gracie family.
The PRIDE events would eventually be broadcasted in many countries and, along with UFC, became one of the two top MMA organizations in the world.
Dream Stage Entertainment sold the right to PRIDE to Zuffa, the promoter of UFC, in 2007/3. However, the new PRIDE office in Japan was closed later in the same year.