MMA is just one of the countless combat sports in existence but has quickly risen up the ranks in the past few decades thanks in no small part to the efforts of the UFC.
The sport really burst onto the scene in the 1980s, a decade that was responsible for some brutal fights that made the Kumite look like child’s play.
The UFC helped legitimize the sport when it was founded in the early 1990s and basically created modern MMA as we know it, which included the introduction of the Octagon.
The now-iconic ring set the UFC apart due to its sheer uniqueness but I’ve never taken the time to wonder how it came to be in the first place.
On its website, the UFC outlines the purpose of the cage’s dimensions:
[The Octagon] was created with both safety and fairness in mind. Its walls and padded surfaces protect fighters from falling out (or getting thrown out).
The wide angles prevent fighters from getting stuck in a corner with no way out. Since boxing is fought in a square ring and wrestling in a circle, the Octagon avoids giving any one martial arts discipline the advantage.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have any details concerning why the Octagon is… well, an octagon.
Luckily for you, I do.
The History Of The Ring
Dudes have been beating the ever-loving shit out of each other for the enjoyment of onlookers since the days of Ancient Greece, who had their own version of MMA dubbed “pankration.”
Much like the participants in the back alley fight in Anchorman, the combatants had to abide by two rules: no biting and no eye-gouging.
And that’s it!
Pankration contestants weren’t confined to any physical boundaries aside from lines in the dirt and it would take a couple of millennia until the boxing ring was introduced in the mid-1800s (a time where fighters around the planet had started to engage in MMA-style fights).
The boxing ring eventually became the theater of choice for a wide variety of combat events, and while the ropes were usually enough to keep fighters confined, there were certain instances where the ring would be surrounded by metal caging.
However, it would take 150 years or so until the cage that eventually became the norm in MMA would be unleashed upon the world.
The Modern Cage
The legendary Gracie family is responsible for turning MMA into what it is today and the Octagon is no exception.
In the early 1990s, Rorion Gracie decided the only way to take the evolving sport to the next level was to expose it to the masses and turned to television in order to do just that.
The Brazilian was burdened with the task of coming up with some gimmicks that would set the UFC apart and realized the ring the bouts took place in would be an essential element.
In order to come up with a solution, Gracie teamed up with a screenwriter named John Milius, who was one of his students at the time.
Event organizers had suggested using everything from an electric fence to a moat filled with sharks to raise the stakes but the duo set out to come up with a slightly more practical (and less deadly) alternative.
They eventually settled on the unique octagon-shaped enclosure for the aforementioned reasons outlined by the UFC and decided surrounding it with caging to channel a street fighting aesthetic they hoped would draw viewers in.
The Octagon premiered at UFC 1 (which was only governed by the same two rules as pankration) and has remained the standard since then.
I kind of wish they had gone with the shark thing but I guess this was a solid compromise.
The UFC eventually trademarked “The Octagon” name (but not the shape itself) and polygonal rings would eventually become the norm— although some events use circular enclosures and traditional boxing rings).
The cage itself has set MMA apart from other combat sports as it allows fighters to defend against takedowns better than ropes ever could and can also produce some pretty wild moments like this one brought to us by Jose Aldo.
Based on the current state of the UFC, it would appear the Gracies did something right.