As recently as 15 years ago, MMA was still viewed by those unfamiliar with the sport as an underground activity. Politicians wanted to ban it and mainstream sports fans were bewildered by it. Its reputation as a real-life Fight Club suited those involved who embraced the dark and curious nature as an antidote to the unashamedly showbiz world of boxing.

As the sport grew in popularity, it became clear that it was more than just organised back-street brawling – these fighters were serious athletes mastering a difficult and complex sport within a rigid set of rules and guidelines. The angry young rebel of the sporting world grew up and earned respect, setting it on an inevitable path into mainstream culture.

How MMA Has Influenced the Gaming Sector

It’s no surprise that MMA has had an influence on the world of gaming. Since the days of arcade and console classics such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, martial arts games have been hugely popular amongst gamers. In fact, the recent resurgence of the Street Fighter series can be attributed in part to the rise in popularity of MMA. While early versions of the game took inspiration from the mythical fighting competitions depicted in Kung Fu Movies, more recent titles have also tapped into the popularity of real-world fighting tournaments such as UFC. Street Fighter still retains that other-worldly atmosphere of the originals but understands what modern players who are also MMA fans want from their combat gameplay. Street Fighter is so popular that it can even be found in the world of online casino as sites like 888casino offer video slot titles such as Street Fighter 2, which features many of the same characters and themes as the console games.

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While some games are inspired by MMA, others are directly linked to the sport – EA Sports UFC being the prime example. The game was released in 2014 when EA Sports acquired the license from THQ. Swedish fighter Alexander Gustafsson and American Jon Jones appeared as cover athletes on the first version. The game spawned three sequels, the most recent being EA Sports UFC 4 which was released in August 2020.

Another classic that has stood the test of time thanks in part to the influence of MMA is Tekken. The game first appeared in arcades and on the PlayStation home console in 1994, with nine further instalments released since. The game has featured many memorable fictional characters including the Swedish fighter Lars Alexanderson, who was the main protagonist of Tekken 6 on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable and Xbox 360.

One of the most famous Tekken characters of all time is Nina Williams. The Irish assassin first appeared in 1994 and has been ever-present in the series ever since. She has also appeared in spin-offs such as the 2012 crossover game Street Fighter X Tekken, the 1998 anime adaptation Tekken: The Motion Picture and as a spirit in Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate video game.  

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Another mainstay of the series has been Bryan Fury who first appeared in Tekken 3 in 1997. Fury was a former international police officer who was brought back from the dead by a mad scientist intent on forming a cyborg army. The zombie cop has remained popular amongst the new generation of Tekken fans thanks to his kickboxing martial arts style that is reminiscent of a cybernetic MMA fighter. 

Mixed Martial Artists Who Have Appeared in Films

Today, MMA is big business. The top fighters gain superstar status and the sport has had a big impact on the entertainment industry. So much so that a host of top MMA fighters have now appeared in movies – many in Hollywood blockbusters.

Swedish Mixed Martial Artist Alexander Gustafsson started his career back in 2007 and still competes in the heavyweight division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The man known in the ring as “The Mauler” also turned his hand to acting, starring as a Police Task Force Commander in the 2015 Swedish movie Johan Falk – Blood Diamonds.   

Former army sergeant Randy Couture became a six-time UFC champion before retiring in 2011. He started acting in 2003 and has more than 20 movie appearances under his belt, most notably playing the character “Toll Road” in the Expendables series alongside the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Jason Statham. If that didn’t confirm his arrival in mainstream culture, his appearance in the 19th season of Dancing with the Stars certainly did.

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Canadian Georges St-Pierre is widely regarded as one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time having dominated the welterweight division for many years. He also won the UFC middleweight title, making him one of only a handful of multi-division champions in the sport. In 2014, he starred as Georges Batroc in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, part of Marvel’s Avengers series of films. He reprised the role for the 2021 series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. He has appeared in six feature films in total. 

The Influence of MMA/UFC on TV & Documentaries

The fascination with MMA has inspired many great TV shows and documentaries. Back in 2011, filmmaker Gerard Roxburgh set out to chart the rise and fall of mixed-martial-arts superstar Evan Tanner by interviewing a number of figures that knew him. The resulting film, Once I was a Champion, is an elegant and intriguing study on the excesses and contradictions that can touch the lives of top athletes.   

In 2016, many high-level mixed martial artists contributed to the documentary The Hurt Business, which attempts to chart the history and anatomy of the sport from a mainly American perspective. The film gives great insight into what goes on behind the scenes, covering key areas such as training, mental preparation and the impact of injuries on the athletes.

This is just a glimpse of the influence MMA has had on modern culture and entertainment and this could just be the beginning for what remains one of the fastest-growing sports on the planet.

A martial artist and former coach for two decades from Houston, Texas. Specializing in the disciplines of kickboxing, karate, MMA, and Jiu Jitsu.