Some time ago I wrote about the "old days" fighting in the European "MMA" circuits and several people asked me to tell more, so ... I post here as it is the forum where the original requests happened, I realise it's not specifically UFC related although it contributed to MMA's and thus UFC's birth. So, I am relatively “old” and fought in sanda around Europe in my youth (late 80s - early 90s) ... back then most competitions - other than the official ones to qualify for specific championships (for example in my case sanda/wushu) - were simply called “full contact” or “kickboxing” or "open combat" which basically meant all stand up styles together, at times also with wrestling and stand up grappling allowed, with some general rules (usually no elbows, no knees, boxing or kumite gloves, sometimes feet/shin pads). Rules were totally random, so you could go to one competition where no knees or low kicks were allowed, then in the next one by a different organisation they were, so you had to be very adaptable and kind of improvise if your training didn't include something which suddenly was being used. Some great competitions and really hard by today’s standards ... I remember one big open in France attended every year by hundreds of athletes, KOs aplenty, marginal medical supervision, multiple fights per day, sometimes for the elimination rounds no ring/mats (! ... fighting on basketball courts) ... if only my parents knew what I was doing exactly or I had some more self-preservation awareness ... crazy times! Usually there was no prize money, you competed for "honour and glory" and got a medal, trophy or occasionally a small sum which would go only to the winner, so second place meant going home at a loss due to the travel expenses. If you won anyway you spent most of it partying with your team that evening and then covering the fuel expenses for everyone to drive back home. Safety was really sketchy ... weight categories applied as long as there were sufficient athletes for each tournament category and for the evening gala (the finals, when the spectators came and sometimes the bouts were televised); if not, athletes of relatively similar weight were grouped together if they accepted, which everyone did, but as the gaps were often 10kg you'd have 70kg guys fighting 80kg guys ... that's a big difference in power! As I mentioned, elimination rounds happened on everything from tatami mats to rolled out strips of carpets (as in old home carpet duct-taped to the floor!) to unpadded basketball courts (!!!) as the ring was usually one and kept pristine for the evening finals. Yes, multiple bouts in a day, my personal record five but I've seen people do even more. No medical checks whatsoever, you did have to present a medical certificate which you just brought from your GP and was valid for one year ... no post concussion monitoring or anything like that: concussed people would go on fighting if they recovered and might have subsequent multiple fights - and further concussions - during the day. A flat-out KO was usually managed by splashing some water on the face, shaking the person awake, then talking about the bad luck of getting caught and that's that ...! No-one knew about CTE and also brain bleeds were considered the exclusive realms of 12-15 rounds of boxing, so we were all somehow blissfully ignorant and thought to be totally ok. I did get a head X-ray once after a particularly hard blow and following headache once home, but it was only due to the paranoia of a friend who's dad was a neurosurgeon. Injuries were rather common and treated with some random bandaging and a few days of - maybe - rest ... I had a couple of broken ankles, foot and shin micro-fractures, lower back herniated disk, several broken ribs, several broken fingers, subluxated shoulder, cut chin, cut eyebrow, slightly broken nose, one major concussion and two minor ones ... and I mostly won! The most fun part for me in retrospect was actually the "adventure" of minibuses full of young guys crisscrossing Europe with paper maps and just the name of some town 1000km away, to go fight in random sports halls with random rules often unknown until you get there, in tournaments found in martial arts magazines ordered by mail from far away places ... no insurance, no real medicals, no money ... just for a medal and love of martial arts. Back then english was not so widely spoken so often it was challenging linguistically and logistically, getting lost in foreign countries, sleeping in random villages, eating on the road ... meeting enthusiastic foreign girls ... I was one of the youngest (I was under-18 European sanda champion) so you can imagine as a kid going to this far away places with a team of grown-up fighters ... “dad mum I have a martial arts tournament in Germany next weekend, Master has organised everything, it’s super safe and perfectly planned” (no idea where we are going, sleeping, etc). In today's world seems unconceivable, but just 30 years ago was quite ok as there was a different approach to trust and responsibility ... and liability too! Also no cell phones. That's actually my biggest regret, we could have made so many great videos and photos... Back to the fighting, I saw people KOd and bounce their head on hard floors, then being revived and fighting another bout one hour later! Also some fighting happened outside of competition ... plenty of scuffles with unfriendly locals in random nightspots were there was the inevitable "after competition celebrations in foreign city" and the strangers chatting to the local girls was never a welcome addition to the party. Among competitors only lots of respect and brotherhood, today's "trash talk" behaviour simply didn't exist and teachers would have banned any students who behaved like that, it would have been considered a huge embarrassment. Everyone was there at great personal sacrifice purely for the love of martial arts, something far away from todays world of money fights and instagram followers. Met and trained with some crazy guys. I remember one of the first Shaolin monks who came to Europe to do seminars, not one of today's "dancing" guys but a real hard hard man, he was teaching the day before the competition and to warm up he begun to kick a concrete pylon of the sports hall full force, to the point where the hall's manager asked to stop as the whole structure was shaking and looked like pieces of ceiling and light fittings would soon fall off. I never saw so much power being used so nonchalantly against such hard immovable structure, without any damage to the human but with probable destruction of the structure eventually! Many super cool Dutch and French kickboxing guys, with great technique and very very good hands, often semi-pro boxers who also knew how to kick. Some very hard guys from north Africa living in France, not the most skilled but people who really came to fight and would only go out if laid out. Big guys from Eastern Europe, the "Soviet block" was just opening up so they were not in huge numbers but usually in huge sizes, dominating the heavier categories and the only ones to have good wrestling and grappling, whilst most other nations' fighters had primarily stand up skills. Always very friendly giants and the few times they came accompanied they had the hottest girlfriends who were immediately very friendly to the western guys ... dangerous stuff! All martial arts were represented, not like today were for example many kungfu or taekwondo schools are considered useless in combat; everyone regardless of style practiced their techniques in full contact sparring at every training session, so you'd see a really interesting mix of approaches and techniques. I came from kungfu-wushu and we fought sanda style, so we were often doing well as we had some wrestling and throws as well as kicks and punches, but people adapted quickly and there were some scary kyokushinkai karate guys, sambo, boxers and kickboxers of all backgrounds and styles, savate, taekwondo, wingchun, random aikido - jiujitsu - judo even ninjutsu and other unusual martial arts ... everything really. Somewhere there are VHS tapes of the main competitions, as there were always some "rich guys" with an old huge camcorder or the organisers filmed the event. I know my first master, now retired and living in another country, has a whole lot of tapes ... I often tell myself I should contact him and try to make copies. So, I hope you enjoyed the read, for me it was fun to recall those times as I wrote! In a way MMA also started there, with these initial open tournaments which, although mostly stand-up based, promoted the meeting and mixing of styles and arts to see "who/what is best". Much health to you all and thanks for reading!