The answer might surprise you…
Dana White credits Bruce Lee as the father of mixed martial arts, while countless Zuffa Zombies would have you believe it was Dana himself who “Built this thing.” Other experts honor pioneers such as Judo Gene who fought in the first mixed-fight on television vs Milo Savage (boxer). Rightfully so, Judo Gene broke barriers, but there were countless trailblazer’s who have influenced the modern sport before and after him. A one-off challenge is not the establishment of a sport.
When asking the the question, “Who is the father” of a sport, you need specific criteria. Other professional sports immortalize the creator of the rules. It is in fact what takes an idea or disorganized activity and transforms it into a legitimate entity. MMA is no different. For centuries the concept of mixed-fighting has fascinated the public, but the idea of transforming no-holds-barred fighting into a legalized and organized sport is a modern phenomenon.
Alexander Cartwright, James Naismith and Walter Camp all share a similar rite of passage, each has been honored as the “father” of their respective sports: Baseball, Basketball and Football. For all intents and purposes history credits them with invention, although each sport evolved incrementally from some inspiration or another. While there may be scholarly debate about who, what, when, where and how each sport actually was conceived, history proves that the masterminds behind the original “rules and regulations” determine the birth of a sport, and with it the recognition of its original author, aka “the father.”
The journey towards mainstream status for every sport has endured long and winding roads, but each trailblazer took that same very defining first step—RULES. It’s the creation of rules that distinguishes a game from simply goofing off and sport from spectacle. While rules have certainly changed over the past century, the essence of each major sport is steeped in tradition. Basketball, football, and baseball can trace their roots back to a pioneer who drafted a blueprint in an effort to standardize competition. Embodied by awards that bear their namesake, the legacy of Cartwright, Naismith, and Camp are intact, but who is the father of MMA? Who penned the holy grail of MMA rules?
The default response isn’t an individual at all but rather, “The UFC of course.” The nonchalant reaction bundles Rorion Gracie, Art Davie, Campbell McLaren, Bob Meyrowitz, Dana White and a host of others into a single entity so you don’t have to pinpoint exactly when the NHB became MMA. Some would argue that pioneers like Jeff Blatnik, Larry Hazzard, John McCarthy, and Howard Petchler, who all had a hand in influencing modern MMA rules, should be in the conversation. Each deserves a placard in the Hall of Fame, but unfortunately those rules were not the originals. CV Productions owns the rights whether folks know it or not.
CV Productions envisioned a sport that could change the fight game forever and challenge boxing at the box office. Their new “anything goes” sport that would combine all disciplines of martial arts and crown the “Toughest Guy” alive. They developed a safe and regulated version of Vale Tudo that was built to be a franchise similar to the NFL or NBA.
When Bill Viola Sr. first put pen to paper in 1979, he had a vivid dream. As successful as mixed martial arts has become, to him, MMA is as brilliant today as it was supposed to be decades ago. It’s come a long way since the first Tough Guy Contest at Holiday Inn in New Kensington, but one thing remains the same; Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri will always and forever be the undisputed Godfathers of an American sport.
Bill Viola codified the first set of mixed martial arts rules in 1979. His rules and regulations were decades ahead of the original UFC and parallel the unified rules and standards of today. If the Tough Guy Law wasn’t passed in 1983, the UFC would not exist today.
Learn more about who commonly gets the credit as the Father of MMA and meet Dana Doubleday.