Women fighting men, parking lot matches, head butts, groin shots, no gloves, knees, and soccer kicks to the head of a grounded opponent. Let’s look back at the golden dark ages of MMA…

It’s easy to forget when you look at the polished product that is modern MMA that once upon a time it was a guilty pleasure for very few sports fans worldwide. With already well-established sports such as boxing and kickboxing to contend with, you could say that MMA was always up against the odds.

There were a number of promotions that arguably pioneered MMA, but the UFC is clearly the most successful of that group. Currently boasting the best fighters on the planet, the biggest market value, and the largest paying audience, prime-time MMA is cornered by the Zuffa-owned organization.

But it wasn’t always that way, and there are a whole bunch of other promotions that helped, albeit eventually crumbling or paling in comparison, build the modern game that so many now follow religiously.

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 12: Zane Frazier of N. Hollywood, CA lands a left to the chin of Kevin Rosier of Buffalo, NY during the Ultimate Fighter Championships UFC 1 on November 12, 1993 at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Holly Stein/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO – NOVEMBER 12: Zane Frazier of N. Hollywood, CA lands a left to the chin of Kevin Rosier of Buffalo, NY during the Ultimate Fighter Championships UFC 1 on November 12, 1993 at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Holly Stein)

The old rules of mixed martial arts were just shy of no holds barred, with only biting and eye-gouging outlawed by every ‘legitimate’ promotion. Shots to the groin were legal, as were head stomps, and this often led to some horribly late, and sometimes extremely graphic finishes.

Also, we’ll take a look at the underground MMA scene, where men fought women, crowds clung to the cell as their favorite fighters went at it bare-knuckle, and some shows even went down in parking lots!

As said, the UFC is the biggest gun in town right now, but it was a very different ball game in the early 90’s all the way up to post 2000. So take a look at our breakdown of the dark ages of MMA.

UFC: The Early Days

Founded in 1993 by Art Davie, Campbell McLaren, Rorion Gracie, Bob Meyrowitz, the UFC was little more than a taped-together slugfest that had managed to hire a camera crew. Of course, these ideas based on the legendary Gracie gym challenges would later prove to be revolutionary.

But back in the day, this was some seriously brutal bare-knuckle fighting, and led to some all-time classic moments, as you can see above.

UFC 1 was won by legendary grappler Royce Gracie, who returns to face Ken Shamrock for the third time under the Bellator banner in early 2016. All the way up until UFC 28,  Although the advertising said There Are No Rules, there were in fact some rules: no biting, no eye-gouging, and no groin attacks. Fights ended only in the event of a knockout, submission, or the corner throwing in the towel. Despite this, the first match in UFC 1 was won by referee stoppage, even though it was not officially recognized as such at the time.

Unfortunately for Joe Son (but luckily for people that were watching) when he faced Kieth Hackney, the rules of groin shots were dropped at UFC 2, and the referee allowed Hackney to blast Son’s balls up into his sternum. That was my personal highlight of the early UFC days.


Pride FC

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Pride was the premier MMA organization in the world. The UFC couldn’t even touch them, and the Japanese MMA show had the best fighters on their roster.

The great Fedor Emelianenko, the Rua brothers, Sergei Kharitonov, Fabricio Werdum, the Nogueira brothers, Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, Rampage Jackson, and the list goes on and on.

The rules used meant that soccer kicks, stomps, and knees to the head of a grounded opponent were legal, making for some very exciting viewing and often leading to stoppages as opposed to decisions.

Unfortunately, it was later revealed that the Pride owners were terribly crooked, and accusations/evidence of steroids and fight fixing began swirling after Zuffa consumed the now-defunct Pride organization.

Vale Tudo 

International Vale Tudo Championships or IVC was most notably dubbed the ‘birthplace of Wanderlei Silva.’ The Brazilian-based promotion put on fights in a ring, which heavily favored strikers.

Once again bare-knuckle and very primitive in terms of the modern MMA world, the IVC highlights are like something from a horror movie. IVC ran between 1996-2002 putting on 15 events.

Next up is a look at the much darker underground MMA scene, and then finally a tribute page!

Rio Heroes

Rio Heroes is undoubtedly the most notorious of the group of underground MMA promotions that began arising during the UFC’s expansion on to the international and global market. The Brazilian show ran for just one year between 2007-08.

The rules were simple; there are no rules, do what you have to do for victory, even if it means fighting a woman, or in a parking lot, and mostly with the spectators literally hanging off the cage fence.

Shut down, mainly due to the fact it was unlicensed and putting out pirate PPV’s on the web, Rio Heroes is alas no more. For better or worse, it at least provides some pretty crazy highlights.

Skip to the final page for a tribute to all the over glorious shows featured in MMA’s dark ages, enjoy!

Most brutal knockout ever Vovchanchyn vs Lima 1995

YouTube video

Old MMA knockouts

YouTube video

UFC-Brutal Beginnings props to FOX Sports

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