Amateur MMA – no one studies the history

2 Jan

Today, most people think that Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) began with the Gracie family and the UFC. The UFC is a strictly professional venue, and so a lot of people also have varying opinions on amateur MMA. For most, it is an after thought. In my opinion, this is missing the larger picture.

The closest thing we have to modern MMA began in 1986 in Japan as Shooto. The former pro wrestler “Tiger Mask” (Satoru Sayama) combined his training in Muay Thai, Russian Sambo and Catch Wrestling into his Shooto system. The first matches were all amateur. Eventually, they developed a well organized amateur program with a class system. When westerners eventually found themselves going to Japan to fight professional Shooto fighters, those fighters had been molded by a well thought out amateur program.

In pretty much all sports, the majority of the competition is amateur. So having a good amateur version of a sport is essential to making it popular. But never forget that a good amateur program also develops the elite competitors. Do you think our wrestling team would do well in the Olympics if they hadn’t wrestled since they were kids in thousands of matches? In boxing, the professional have extensive amateur careers.

With Shooto as my primary inspiration, I tried to establish the first amateur league in the US in New York City in 1997. We stared with “C Class” rules, that is with headgear and no striking on the ground. Like any new sport, we were experimenting and trying to learn from the actual events. Then we got shut down when New York State went after not only MMA events but ALL martial arts events.

There were (and still are!) people who raged against the idea of an amateur MMA. They scoffed at any changes in the full MMA format (ironic, since over the years even PROFESSIONAL MMA has changed!). But I never gave up hope. My good friend, the late Paul Rosner, former president of the USKBA, finally felt the time was right to approach Nick Lembo and the New Jersey Athletic Control Board (NJSACB) about an amateur MMA.

Once again, we looked to Shooto, but with the experience my short lived 1997-1998 league had also provided us. We then made compromises to try and appeal to the commissions, many of which were not MMA friendly. Some rules we had NOTHING to do with, they came from the commissions (no kicking to the head, that is a LONG STORY!). But ultimately a set of rules was put into being, adopted by a lot of places (not just NJ). In NJ, the program has been a HUGE success.

So I ask myself……


Yup, today someone showed me some “new rules” for amateur MMA…

Back to 1986 again……



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