If there’s one sport that has blown out of proportion in popularity in the past 20 years, it has to be MMA.
Mixed martial arts, or MMA as it’s most commonly known, is a combat sport that allows competitors to use a range of fighting styles and techniques, including striking and grappling, in a battle to find the most powerful competitor.
Although the combat sport has always had a good following, some names in recent years have helped it to explode.
With this mainstream popularity now behind it, more and more people are wanting to get into the fighting style themselves, whether it’s simply to increase their fitness or to compete on a serious level.
What is MMA all about, though?
MMA is a broad term to describe a competition of combat sport where combatants used techniques and styles from mixed martial arts to fight each other.
MMA comprises many schools of martial arts including boxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and more, with fighters specializing in certain forms of combat or a combination of many.
Whether you’re looking to train for MMA and become a professional fighter or just want to know more about the booming competitive sport, there’s a lot to learn.
This guide can help an absolute beginner understand what it’s all about, what fighters need to succeed, and what’s required for those looking to enter the realm of mixed martial arts.
Table of Contents
What is MMA?
MMA stands for mixed martial arts, and the concept of the combat sport is all there in its name.
Rather than focusing on just one method of combat, MMA is about allowing fighters to use a range of techniques and systems to battle their opponent, and the rules are generally a lot more flexible than other styles of martial arts.
Mixed martial arts has grown exponentially in the last 10 to 20 years, and today, there are fans and spectators in the hundreds of millions range.
People from all over the globe follow the sport and it’s easily become the fastest growing combat sport of the moment, due to its fierce nature.
In an MMA bout, two competitors enter the cage together to battle and can use a range of movements like strikes, throws, grapples, chokes, joint-locks, and more to beat their opponent.
A fighter will usually be proficient in one main school of martial arts and borrow parts of others, and seeing these different styles go head to head in the cage is part of its appeal.
To win the contest, your opponent must be knocked out or submit, otherwise, a referee will make the final decision on when the match is over.
Depending on the rules of the match, there will be varying rounds and times for each one, as well as weight classes that the fighters must be categorized into.
The History of Mixed Martial Arts
It’s impossible to look anywhere these days without seeing some sort of discussion about MMA, but the sport goes back a lot further than Conor McGregor’s famous fights in recent years.
Leitai, a combat sport dating back to Ancient China, was one of the first instances of mixed martial arts contests where fighters battle in a no-holds-barred competition.
The first modern form of mixed martial arts contests took place in the 20th century, mainly in Japan, and from there, battles between practitioners of varying martial arts backgrounds became commonplace.
In the United States, the Tough Guy Contest tournament was the first regulated MMA in the country, however, it was banned in 1983 when a bill was passed prohibiting it.
When the Gracie family, famously responsible for being developers of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, brought the form of martial arts to the US through the Ultimate Fighting Championship, people started to take notice.
With the first fight held in 1993, there was not a lot of regulation yet over the sport, but it still gained a lot of spectators and from there, only grew more popular.
Popular MMA Organizations
The name most people think of when they hear mixed martial arts is UFC, but there are loads of reputable MMA promotions that are just as good, if not better. These are some of the biggest MMA organizations in the sport at the moment:
Ultimate Fighting Championship
Arguably the most popular of all promotions, UFC is the host of some of the biggest battles in recent MMA history.
The company is based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and their most viewed fight to date was the 2018 bout between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Singapore based One Champion is an MMA, kickboxing, and Muay Thai promotion that deals with all forms of martial arts. Although it’s only been running for 10 years, it’s already one of the biggest companies in Asia to host a range of bouts.
The Bellator MMA promotion have been running for 12 years and is based in California. As a subsidiary of ViacomCBS, it’s the second biggest in the US alone and hosts a range of combat sports and bouts from all over the world.
As the parent company of the UFC, Zuffa covers more than just MMA, and has a range of sports promotions and mixed martial arts tournaments under their belt. Based in Las Vegas and owned by casino executives, it attracts many of the big names in MMA.
Weight Classes of MMA
As with other forms of martial arts and combat sports, fighters are categorized by their weight in the UFC and other MMA competitions.
This allows fighters to compete against each other fairly so that they’re not battling competitors who are much larger and stronger than them. The men’s and women’s weight categories are slightly different, categorized by the following weights:
Men’s Weight Classes
- Heavyweight: 206 – 265 pounds
- Light Heavyweight: 186 – 205 pounds
- Middleweight: 171 – 185 pounds
- Welterweight: 156 – 170 pounds
- Lightweight: 146 – 155 pounds
- Featherweight: 136 – 145 pounds
- Bantamweight: 126 – 135 pounds
- Flyweight: 116 – 125 pounds
Women’s Weight Classes
- Featherweight: 136 – 145 pounds
- Bantamweight: 126 – 135 pounds
- Flyweight: 116 – 125 pounds
- Strawweight: up to 115 pounds
Ranks and Belts Systems
As there are a few major organizations involved with MMA, it’s difficult to have a definitive list of how the fighters are ranking. However, looking at the UFC’s data on their competitors is the best way to get an indication of who is currently leading the pack.
These rankings are only for fighters who have been in a bout in the last 450 days, and on a per division basis.
The list is updated constantly with each new fight, and depending on where a fighter sits on this list, they might be able to earn more money from a tournament and build up a better campaign for themselves.
There’s no belt system used in MMA, so it’s different from other martial arts in this regard.
However, most competitors are categorized into either the professional or amateur fighter group, and promotions will try to pair those that are of equal or slightly equal skill and ranking to ensure a good fight.
The Most Common Martial Arts In MMA
Although MMA is a combat sport comprising of many styles, there seem to be some more dominant than the rest.
When you’re training to become an MMA fighter or want to learn for fitness and strength, these are the most common systems and styles that you’ll see in the cage in a professional bout.
The surge of BJJ fighters began in the early 2000s, and this is thanks to the martial arts’ ability to get their fighters from the back position.
With BJJ training, you’ll be able to attack every part of your opponent from the back and get yourself out of seemingly impossible situations, so it’s an essential skill to have.
As one of the oldest combat sports around and a favorite of many MMA champions, boxing is commonly used in a bout.
Without boxing, fighters wouldn’t have the powerful punches that take down their opponents in one hit, so it’s a necessity for the sport.
The most common craft used in MMA has to be wrestling, and this is because it allows for an advantage when in close quarters with an opponent.
Many of the UFC champions in the past have had some form of professional wrestling background, proving its worth in the cage.
Although MMA fights are a low more flexible in where and how you can strike an opponent compared to kickboxing, it’s still a useful skill to have. With kickboxing training, you’ll have the power of your legs and arms, giving you a huge advantage.
Muay Thai is the most complete form of martial arts you could ever ask for, and when it comes to MMA, it’ll enable you to use the full force of all eight limbs. The power and precision of its strikes and the competency of its guards are what make it so great for a fight.
Essential Gear for MMA Training
Mixed martial arts is one of the most thrilling combat sports to get involved in, and whether you plan on taking your skill to a professional cage match or simply want to learn the basics of fighting for your own, it all starts the same.
Here are some of the essential pieces of MMA gear you’ll need to begin training in your own home gym.
At least one pair of MMA gloves is needed for MMA training, depending on what you plan on hitting.
Most serious fighters have a pair of gloves for sparring, competition, training, and bag practice, so build up your collection for whatever you need them for.
A punching bag is a must-have to practice your hits, but there are a few different types beneficial to MMA.
A heavy bag is good for improving the power of your hit, a reflex bag can build precision, and a speed bag heightens your pace.
MMA can deliver some serious injuries without the right protective gear and there’s a range of things you’ll want to be kept as harm-free as possible.
A mouthguard, groin protector, chest protector, rash guard, knee pads, and boxing headgear are all basic pieces of gear to help you get started.
Depending on the martial arts you want to specialize in, there are likely garments designed for it.
A BJJ gi is helpful and MMA shorts are required for Muay Thai and other forms of boxing, so you’ll want a selection that allows you to train freely in your chosen sport.
Keeping up your general fitness with MMA cardiovascular workouts is essential, so you’ll want some equipment that can help you stay fit.
The simplest approach is a jump rope as it’s good for cardio but also improves your footwork, which can be useful in the cage.
Standard Training Routines
An MMA fighter’s training routine will differ depending on the individual, their goals for fitness, and the upcoming bouts they have scheduled.
For someone looking to train for MMA at home and without much prior experience, you can follow a basic training routine that will allow you to improve your general fitness as well as martial arts skills, while you determine which of the styles you want to master.
- Perform a five-minute warm-up which includes light cardio and stretches to loosen your body up.
- A 45 – 60-second session of shadow boxing where you practice various moves. Combinations of jabs, uppercuts, and swings should be practiced, and if you need help, look in the mirror to watch your form. 30 seconds of rest follows.
- 60 seconds of intense cardio, including burpees, sprints, and jump rope, followed by another 30 seconds of rest.
- Repeat these small sessions of intense workouts, whether it’s shadow boxing or cardio, and continue for at least 20 minutes. Use the rest of your training time to practice the skills of your chosen martial art or work with an instructor to improve technique and form.
The Safety and Dangers of MMA
Watching an MMA match might be daunting at first, especially if you’re someone not used to a lot of blood and gore. However, just because there’s a lot of gore and full-body contact, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the most dangerous combat sport.
According to a recent study conducted at the University of Alberta’s Sather Sports Medicine Clinic, MMA fighters might look bloody, but it doesn’t mean they’re being seriously injured.
Most of this blood comes from cuts on the skin and blood noses, and not from long term injuries like those that are earned in boxing. Therefore, in the grand scheme of things, it’s one of the better choices for fighting styles where your health is concerned.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t risks with MMA, though. Even the most experienced fighters will encounter injuries like broken and fractured bones, sprains, and skin contusions and bruises, as well as concussions and serious head injuries.
However, because the sport focuses on all parts of the body and not just delivering blows to the head, you’re likely to suffer fewer severe harms.
The best defense you can have in MMA is to undergo the correct training, which means using an experienced instructor to teach you the basics, so you can go on to perfect them on your own.
Mixed martial arts is one of the fastest-growing combat sports on earth, and it sees such a huge variety of talent in its cages each year.
If you’ve ever considered starting MMA training or learning some of the moves at home, we’ve answered a few commonly asked questions that beginners have.
When Did UFC Allow Women?
MMA has always been a male-dominated sport, but when the UFC allowed Ronda Rousey to become the first female fighter in 2012, things began to change.
Today, it’s commonplace for females to take part in MMA and there have been many large competitions with female competitors that gain just as much attention as their male counterparts.
How Long Does It Take to Be Good at MMA?
Mixed martial arts are a complex group of skills to train in, and as many different techniques and systems are being taught, it can take a few years before you get any good.
Don’t expect to take part in your first match for at least three years as you’ll be training and building your technique to the required level before that.
How Many Hours a Week Do MMA Fighters Train?
A professional MMA fighter can spend up to 24 hours a week training, with just one rest day in this period, and slightly less when they’re off-season.
When they’re preparing for a fight, these training sessions can be longer, and sometimes they will practice up to three times a day.
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