Two pre-UFC Fights that Shaped the Course of Modern MMA

If you were introduced to MMA before TUF, then this is the article for you.  Here are two classic fights that took place years before the UFC was in existence, and why they were so influential on modern day MMA.  These early fights shaped the course of what was merely a spectacle, and helped it become the sport we know today.

Gene Lebell vs Milo Savage – December 1963

In “the first officially sanctioned fight in American Mixed Martial Arts History”, a requirement was set that there must be a finish.  The perception was generally that Milo Savage, a formerly highly ranked pro boxer, would murder Lebell quickly.  It was a bit of a shock to some of the fans, then, when Lebell was able to use grappling to overcome Savage’s striking, taking the fight to the ground with several judo throws before ultimately finishing the fight with a rear naked choke.  Thousands of fans saw this fight on video, and thousands more saw it years later on video.

Of particular significance is the simple result of the grappler overcoming the striker in the fight in order to finish via submission.  This concept, foreign to most Americans watching the first UFC 30 years later, wasn’t new to everyone after this fight!


Antonio Inoki vs Muhammad Ali – June 1976


In contrast with Gene Lebell going into his fight with Milo Savage, millions in Japan knew that Inoki was capable of breaking legs and arms, and twisting people into submission.   The entire world knew of Ali’s boxing prowess.  Muhammad Ali was widely recognized as the greatest boxer of all time.  Thousands of Japanese fans in attendance sat on the edge of their seats.  With all the pre-fight hype leading up to this spectacle, the fans awaited something amazing to happen.

It didn’t.  Instead, what they got was both fighters working their hardest to avoid the strongest area of the other- Inoki essentially pulling guard and trying flying kicks; Ali trying to keep Inoki within boxing range (and on the feet).  15 rounds of this.

This match did little to encourage future matchups of style-vs-style fights (proto-MMA) on an international level.  The fight was viewed as a disappointment by both camps, and by fans around the world, but it did showcase the concept of one style of fighting facing off against another style.  Another notable fact:  the ref is none other than “Judo” Gene Lebell.

Take some time to learn a little bit of history about MMA when you can.  There are tremendous resources out there nowadays, from Wikipedia to Youtube to Google.  MMA is still very young, but its roots can easily be traced back thousands of years.

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