20th Century

The start of the 20th century carried on the trend of boxers and wrestlers fighting each other in mixed matches. In 1901 the boxing hopeful Frank “Paddy” Slavin managed to knock out wrestling champion Frank Gotch. This match took place in Canada. Around the same time, Ren-nierand, a judo practitioner, also gained fame by challenging wrestlers.


An Englishman called Edward William Barton-Wright created a new kind of mixed martial arts, Bartitsu. He combined a number of established combat sports. This included savate, wrestling, jujutsu, boxing and French stick fighting. Bartitsu is often cited as the first martial art to combine European and Asian styles of fighting. Mixed martial arts contests began to take place throughout England. Both western and eastern fighters were invited to challenge each other.


In Japan, there were similar contests which mixed western and eastern fighting styles. These were colloquially termed Merikan fights, after the Japanese slang for Americans. Victories were gained from knocking out the opponent or getting them to submit. A variety of rules started to be developed. This included the best of three throws and points decisions.


Russia was another country that started to develop a form of mixed martial arts around the same time. During the 1920s Russians created Sambo, which merged judo and wrestling into a single form of combat. Striking was an important element of it. Wrestling was popular in the nation at the start of the century but waned after World War I. It saw a boom again when boxers such as Kingfish Levinsky challenged professional wrestlers.


The first televised mixed martial arts fight took place in 1963. It was fought between wrestler/judo practitioner Gene Lebell and boxer Milo Savage. The match was no-holds-barred, ending with Savage losing consciousness. However, the general sentiment at the time was that Lebell’s use of choking was unsportsmanlike.