Mixed Martial Arts is an amalgamation of different combat sports whose idea was originally coined by the great Bruce Lee. In today’s time, MMA has become a billion-dollar sport that has a global audience with the most famous franchise being the UFC and then several others that include Bellator and OneFC in Asia.
The reason why MMA has gained so much popularity in such a short amount of time is because of the unrestrictive rules and the combination of styles that attract fight fans from all over the globe. It is widely said that styles make fights, but which styles to be exact?
In this article, we will discover the five most dominant martial arts that combine to create an MMA fighter. The most commonly used are Boxing, Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, and Kickboxing. The lesser-known styles include Karate, Sambo, Judo, Sanda, and Taekwondo.
The Big Five Martial Arts
The most important martial arts that a fighter needs in their arsenal are Boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, and Wrestling. Without the knowledge of these combat sports, one is direly exposed inside the Octagon.
The question arises as to why these five? Well, the reason these sports are needed as the fundamental building blocks of any fighter is due to the necessity of these styles. Boxing, Muay Thai, and Kickboxing cover the striking element from punches, elbows, knees, and legs. While Jiu-Jitsu covers the grappling aspect with respect to implementing techniques, executing submissions and wrestling allow a fighter to hold their own against takedowns and grappling.
Now that we have briefly covered all sports, let’s dive deep into each one and discuss why these are important for Mixed Martial Arts.
Boxing itself is bigger than the Mixed Martial Arts world. The sport has a rich ancient history, more money, proper federations, a worldwide audience, and a dedicated athlete pool. It not only enables other sports such as MMA, Muay Thai, and Kickboxing but is widely taught in militaries and defense forces. Why? Because of how effective it is.
If we study the rules of boxing, a square ring is provided to two boxers who are allowed to punch each other above the torso only. Kicks, takedowns, knees, or elbows are not allowed. Usually, ten to twelve rounds of three to five minutes per round are allotted to the athletes. Wins either come from scoring points or knocking down your opponent.
If we have to summarize what boxing is, in the words of the great Floyd Mayweather, it is the art of hitting without getting hit. It is not as simple as simply punching your opponent, but boxing is a complete science. The fighters that are at the top dedicate their lives to learning the sweet science of boxing.
Striking and being able to move on your feet is how boxing supports an MMA fighter. It teaches the fighter to land shots and defend themselves on their feet. Punching, feinting, evading and throwing combinations are all learnt by learning how to box.
Boxers that transitioned into MMA have become champions. Boxing allowed fighters like Holly Holm to dominate the famous Judoka Ronda Rousey in just the first round of their fight. Another example is Conor McGregor who rose to fame with his famous left hand. Other notable champions include Cody Garbrandt, Max Holloway, and Dominick Cruz.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or BJJ is a grappling sport that is essential for any MMA fighter to learn. Without the skills of the “Gentle Art”, one is defenseless on the ground.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a ground-based combat sport that involves leverage, technique, and mental wit to overcome and overpower your opponent. It was created by two Brazilian brothers named Carlos Gracie and Helio Gracie. Their mentor was a Japanese master called Mitsuyo Maeda who traveled to Brazil and taught them Judo.
After learning the techniques of Judo from Maeda, the Gracie brothers created their martial art known as the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This sport had the techniques of Judo and Jiu-Jitsu combined.
Years later, Royce Gracie came on to the MMA scene and put Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on the world map. He became victorious in the first edition of the UFC despite his small size. Using his exceptional skills, he defeated bigger and stronger opponents than him, just by technique.
From that day to this day, the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has garnered millions of practitioners all over the world. Multiple Gi and No-Gi federations have been made and a whole new industry has been set up. The greatest athletes in the MMA world include Gunnar Nelson, Damian Maia, Nate Diaz, and Georges St Pierre.
If we focus on which aspects of BJJ translate into MMA. We will find that all submissions in the Octagon come directly from BJJ. No other sport can replace ground game and submissions. The survival of a fighter once the fight goes to the ground, depends upon their Jiu-Jitsu skills, how they move, how they defend against submissions and how they execute their own.
The next martial art on our list is Wrestling. A grappling sport that is an absolute necessity for any MMA fighter.
This is a martial art that involves grappling, takedowns, pins, slams, and suplexes. An Olympic sport that is practiced all over the world.
Wrestling is one of the most important fundamentals of MMA. That is why the earliest champions in the UFC were wrestlers such as Ken Shamrock, Don Frye, and Mark Coleman.
The reason why wrestling is imperative to MMA is due to the knowledge of defending takedowns and launching attacks on the opponent. Wrestling allows the fighter to dominate their opponent and establish ring generalship.
One of the most brilliant displays of wrestling can be seen by athletes of the American Kickboxing Academy which includes the former Olympic wrestling champion Daniel Cormier who went on to become the light heavyweight and heavyweight champion of the UFC. Other notable athletes include Cain Velasquez and Brock Lesnar.
The fourth Martial Art that we are going to discuss is Muay Thai.
Muay Thai is a striking combat sport that involves the usage of punches, elbows, kicks, and knees. It originated in Thailand and holds a significant place in their culture. There are several techniques in Muay Thai that MMA fighters regularly use. Such as elbows and knees. Muay Thai is also dubbed as “The Art of Eight Limbs”.
Muay Thai enables the fighters to stay light on their feet and execute kicks from unconventional angles. That is why MMA fighters find Muay Thai to be an essential art that allows them to throw flying knees, checks, and head kicks.
Not only eight limbs but a sound knowledge of clinch work is taught to the fighters which help them take more control of their opponents in the ring. Muay Thai enables a fighter to stay light on their feet, strike while being close, become agile and defend an onslaught of knees, shins, and elbows.
One of the best executions of Muay Thai techniques can be seen in the fights of Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Jose Aldo, and Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
The last of the big five martial arts is Kickboxing.
Kickboxing is quite similar to Muay Thai. The major difference between these two sports is the use of elbows and knees. Kickboxing only allows fighters to use kicks and punches. Fewer weapons, yes, but the athletes that have brought these skills into the Octagon went on to become champions. The likes of Mirko Cro-Cop, Alistair Overeem, and Israel Adesanya.
If we look outside the MMA world there are exceptional fighters in the Kick Boxing world who have had tremendous success in the fighting world. The likes of Gokhan Saki, Badr Hari and Rico Verhoeven. Even before MMA was a thing, Kick Boxing was a full-fledged sport that was extremely famous in Europe, Middle East, and the Asian world.
Even to this day, fighters who want to survive in the octagon must learn how to throw kicks, teeps, roundhouses, and defend checks. In MMA the fighters translate the techniques of Kickboxing via kicks mainly. It also builds up the fight IQ of an athlete to see and evade strikes from unconventional angles. The whole premise of hitting and not getting hit extends on to Kickboxing as well.
The Less Famous Martial Arts
A large chunk of fighters that come into Mixed Martial Arts is from the big five martial arts. But that does not exclude the other martial artists to try their hand in MMA. A lot of fighters from the lesser-known martial arts have had success in the Octagon. These include Karate, Judo, Sambo, Taekwondo and Sanda.
Karate is an ancient martial art that originated in Japan. It involves the use of kicks and punches thrown in a stiff, snap-like manner. It is a traditional martial art that has its belt ranking system.
It is not used widely because of how ineffective it is in practical situations. However, with fighters like Stephen Thompson and Georges St Pierre, it has regained its lost respect in the fighting world.
Karate fighters have a distinct kicking style that allows them to reach their opponents from far with its long side kicking style, spinning back kicks, and front snap kicks.
Sambo is a mixture of wrestling, striking, and submission. With wrestling being the dominant base in sambo, its athletes are allowed to strike and submit their opponents as well.
A complete martial art that resembles the most MMA. It descended originally from Judo and has elements of Kick Boxing and Muay Thai too.
The greatest Martial Artist came from a Sambo background in the former UFC lightweight champion Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov. Khabib has been the most exceptional wrestler in the UFC with a perfect record of 29-0 and a flawless grappling game. Other notable fighters include Islam Makhachev, who is a lightweight contender in the UFC, and the former MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko.
Taekwondo is a sister sport to Karate. It has a Kickboxing element to it which involves the usage of kicks more than punches. The fighters are not allowed to punch their opponent's face but they can kick it.
The fighters use dynamic angles to land powerful shots such as the spinning roundhouse kicks, high kicks, and spinning back kicks.
Notable fighters that came from a Taekwondo background include Uriah Hall and Yair Rodriguez of the UFC who have had their fair share of success in the Octagon using traditional Taekwondo.
Judo is a grappling martial art as well as an Olympic sport. It is exceptionally effective, practical, and technical. The sport allowed the former UFC bantamweight champion, Ronda Rousey, to reign supreme over the women’s division for almost four years.
The martial art involves throws, sweeps, and takedowns. Traditionally it is practiced with a Gi but with the rise of MMA, the techniques of Judo have been mixed under the umbrellas of Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu because of the obvious similarities in the sports.
Sanda is a modern combat sport that evolved from Wushu. Sanda is also known as the Chinese version of Mixed Martial Arts. It is a sport that allows the athlete to throw strikes, punches, throws, and kicks.
Sanda bouts have three rounds in total with each lasting two minutes with one-minute rest in between. Sanda’s athletes can hit all areas except the groin. In order to win, an athlete has to win two out of the three rounds or score a knockout.
The punching is infused from a Karate style and the kicking style is quite similar to Taekwondo with a snap-like motion in each maneuver. Sanda allows the athletes to throw spinning back kicks, spinning elbows, and punches and involves as much practical usage as possible.
The most stylish fighter who has a background in Sanda is Zabit Magomedsharipov who is an exceptional athlete. Another athlete is the Strawweight Champion Zhang Weili.
We have discussed the major styles and the minor styles that come together to make an MMA fighter. Every style is its use and its effectiveness. No one can count any style out because styles make fights.
The beauty of MMA is its inclusivity and its diversity. As long as you can fight and win, your style is relevant. The Martial Arts that are the most effective are Boxing, Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Wrestling, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with a small ratio of Sambo, Karate, Taekwondo, Judo, and Sanda.
We hope that you enjoyed reading this article and leaving with a bit more knowledge of Mixed Martial Arts than before. If you are intending to upgrade your gear or just buying your first pair of gloves. Be sure to check out our website for the highest quality merchandise on the market.
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