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Boxing Versus Wrestling: Proposal for an Early MMA Contest, 1922

October 31, 2014


Today, many young people remember the advent of mixed martial arts (MMA) as having its roots in the early 1990s, with the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), in which exponents of various martial styles competed against one another for supremacy.

However, the interest in (and fascination with) mixed-style contests goes back much earlier, as the following illustrated article, published in the December 13, 1922 edition of the New York Evening World, so aptly demonstrates:

“The announcement by [boxer] Jack Dempsey that he had been made a proposition for a ‘mixed match’ with [Ed] Strangler Lewis, the wrestler, and has accepted, is very good advertising for the decadent sport of wrestling.”


The article goes on to criticize the proposed contest, insisting that such a scenario would be like mixing apples and oranges. In an interesting, albeit prejudiced, line of reasoning, the author then imagines how the two fighting styles might perform against one another given the various rules and conventions of the time, and gives the initial advantage to the boxer:

“As for a ‘mixed match,’ in which a wrestler can use any grappling trick to overcome a boxer, and the boxer uses boxing, there’s no sense in it…Wrestlers don’t develop the art of taking punches on the chin. Instead of going back with the punch, as a boxer does, they stiffen their necks and take it.”


The author, however, then seems to realize that that the standard rules wouldn’t apply to such an unconventional contest, and theorizes how a wrestler would alter his strategy to deal with a boxer—namely, by using takedowns:

“But Lewis wouldn’t be foolish enough to stand up to Dempsey. He would plan a battle especially designed to offset Dempsey’s boxing skill and hitting power. He would crouch low and dive at Dempsey’s ankles before he came within hitting range. Dempsey would be forced to sidestep quickly to save himself, for if the wrestler once got his hold the match would be over.”


Then, the author takes his imagined bout one step further, theorizing how the boxer might counter the wrestler’s new strategy:

“The boxer might be able to go to the mat and strike a blow heavy enough to stun his rival, but the chances would be very much against that. To put the stunning effect into a blow the drive of the body from the knees must go into the punch. And the wrestler, at home on the ground, would take his hold and do his work with his head tucked down out of danger.”

Unfortunately, no account of an actual match between Dempsey and Lewis seems to exist.

However, despite the occasional faulty lines of reasoning, here, more than seventy years before the founding of the UFC, the modern Mixed Martial Arts contest has been aptly predicted.

The article, which is quite lengthy, can be read in its entirety by clicking on the image below:



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“How the President is Taught Jiu Jitsu”


From → Articles

One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on sukotsuto blog and commented:
    See the pretext for American MMA, as well as an accurate analysis of a style versus style matchup, a lifetime ago before the UFC

    Liked by 1 person

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