UFC has certainly played a role in the recent popularity of BJJ, but it's influence spans back centuries.
The Beginning of Brazilian Jiu-Jutsu
The roots of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu actually begin in Japan with Jujutsu, a method of close combat for defeating an opponent. It first began during the Sengoku period in 1467. It combined various Japanese martial arts used in combat and was created as a defense for when soldiers fell off their horses. It's focus shifted over time, but the overall emphasis was on strikes, strangles and close quarter combat, which is the foundation for modern BJJ.
Overtime the traditional combat style shifted into what is known as Kodokan judo. Kodokan was founded by Jigoro Kano in 1882. Kano was an extremely influential teacher who emphasized the importance of a technique called randori. Randori taught students how to be effective in takedowns, chokes and more. This marks a pivotal moment in BJJs history because it shifted the old way of fighting to the fill-contact sparring we see today.
Arrival in Brazil
Mitsuyo Maeda, a student of Jigoro Kano, is attributed for bringing the influence of Kodokan to Brazil in 1914. He traveled the world giving demonstrations and accepting challenges and introducing fighters to their fighting philosophies.
The Gracie Family
Carlos Gracie watched a demonstration by Maeda and was inspired to learn judo. He became one of Maeda's top students and eventually passed his knowledge on to his brother, Helio Gracie. Helio was smaller than his brother and adapted many of the judo moves to be accommodating to fighters no matter their size or strength.
The Gracie family shaped Kodokan into the popular martial art known today as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. While influences can be found from numerous students of Kodokan each branch can be traced back to the roots set forth by Maeda and the Gracie family.
In 1972 Carley Gracie moved to the United States to teach Jiu-Jitsu and then in 1993 Rorion Gracie co-founded the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The influence of Kodokan, Maeda and the Gracie family had on fighting can be seen through the effectiveness of BJJ in the UFC and it's ever-growing popularity as an extremely effective martial art, no matter the size of the opponent.