(I’ve got dozens of little history snippits slowly coming together to form the History of MMA section of the Fightlinker Guide to Human Cockfighting book – here’s some of the stuff regarding France’s place in the sport’s past. Note as usual with all this book stuff that this is first draft material, and the final product will be tightened significantly, have more jokes, use different words, could either have a lot more stuff on the topic or a lot less, and so on. And yep, I’m finally going to be sharing book material with you guys a lot more frequently now.)
One area that never gave up on hand to hand combat sports was France, which kept up a strong wrestling tradition and actually created what is now known as Greco-Roman wrestling. Originally known as ‘flat hand wrestling’ or simply French wrestling, the name was hijacked and renamed Greco-Roman by a douchebag Italian wrestler named Basilio Baroletti so it would reflect it’s “ancient values.”
Wrestling matches were extremely popular across the country and contests that allowed striking and submissions as well were classified as Brancaille. The name was an interesting regionalized bastardization of the word Pankration: a popular saint in France was St Pancras, better known in the region as Branca … hence Brancaille. There was also a double entendre to the name – ‘branca’ was an expression that meant ‘maimed’. These brutal and quick fights were held in sandpits during festivals and included punches, elbows, kicks, knees, and headbutts.
France also has the distinction of hosting one of the first major mixed martial arts matches in October of 1905 – a classic striker versus grappler match if there ever was one. Georges Dubois was a savate expert who was also adept at boxing, fencing, gymnastics, and various other sports – he even represented France in the Olympics in multiple sports. Ernest Regnier was a French wrestler who had gone to England to train under jiu jitsu master Yukio Tani. He returned to France calling himself Ré-Nié and teaching what he had learned. The country just wasn’t big enough for two completely different styles of fighting – it wasn’t long before a flame war erupted between Dubois and Regnier over who’s martial art was stronger.
After months of back and forth letters published in sporting publications escalated national interest into a frenzy, a fight was set up to determine who’s style was superior. The match ended similarly to the striker versus grappler bouts seen in the early days of the UFC: despite all his athletic achievements, Dubois managed to throw only a single kick before Regnier grabbed him around the waist, tripped him to the ground and submitted him with an armbar. The fight lasted all of 26 seconds.
Not one to ignore the ass kicking he had received, Dubois himself became a student and teacher of jiu-jitsu, even hiring Regnier to teach classes at his gymnasium. Regnier would continue to take challenge fights to prove his style’s superiority until he was defeated by a Russian wrestler named Nan Padoubny, who outweighed Regnier by over a hundred pounds. With the loss also came the end of mainstream attention to Regnier and jiu-jitsu, which quickly faded back into obscurity in the country.
Ernest Regnier aka Ré-Nié