Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, is a sport that’s been in the shadow of boxing for a long time but has been steadily moving into the spotlight.
With a solid base of dedicated fans, more fight enthusiasts are discovering the excitement that MMA has to offer.
However, the setup is very different from boxing, and the rules are also different. If you've been intrigued by MMA but haven't known where to start, this is the guide you've been waiting for.
The name - Mixed Martial Arts - provides an indication of what you can expect. Unlike boxing, which is a single discipline, MMA combines a range of different fighting styles, which is one reason why it's so appealing.
Boxing, wrestling, karate, Muay Thai, judo and Brazilian jujitsu are some of the core components of MMA, and together they form many of the main grapples and moves.
In MMA, grappling and striking are both critical.
Grappling is about moving and controlling your opponent when you’re at close range and can include everything from choking, holding, and locking to takedowns and throws. The goal of grappling is often to get your opponent into a position where they are forced to submit. Knowing how to grapple defensively as well as offensively can make the difference between a loss and a win.
In contrast, striking means launching an attack on your opponent; you can use different limbs and body parts to do this. The feet, hands, elbows and knees are all used in striking with the moves based primarily on kickboxing, Muay Thai and traditional boxing.
The combination of different fighting styles may make it seem like a free for all, but MMA has stringent rules to protect participants.
Different rules can be in force depending on whether it’s an amateur or pro fight, the weight class and whether it’s men or women fighting. However, very broadly:
● Must not use your knee on the head of an opponent who has been grounded
● No eye pokes or gouges
● No attacks on the groin
● No head butting
● No holding onto the cage
● No striking on the back of the head
● No hair pulling
● No biting
The penalty for breaking these rules depends on the severity, but at worst, it can get a fighter disqualified.
Every MMA fight is usually three or five rounds, with each round lasting five minutes. There is a break of one minute between each round. This may not sound very long, but the sheer physicality of MMA means each fight requires excellent endurance.
There are a few different ways to win an MMA fight.
A knockout or technical knockout will already be familiar to boxing fans. This involves the fighter being unable to get up and continue or the ref stepping in to prevent serious injury.
You can also win via a submission in MMA. If you manage to grapple your opponent into a position where they are forced to concede, it’s a straight win. A fighter indicates submission by tapping - which is where the MMA phrase tapping out comes from.
If there is no knockout or submission, it's also possible to win with a decision from the judges. Points are given for aggression, control of the cage and effectiveness of their striking and grappling.
In some cases, a fighter may also be awarded the victory if the opponent is disqualified. Disqualification can either occur through a major foul or where the fighter has acquired three fouls during the fight.
Fighting is broken down into weight classes, with each weight class covering a 10 lb block. Fighters frequently choose to move to the weight class below their normal, everyday weight. This is because the weigh-in is the day before the fight, so it's possible to make the weight by shedding some weight and dehydrating. The fighter can then rehydrate and have a weight advantage in the cage on the following day.
MMA has different leagues, with fighters "signed" to each individual league. The biggest and best known of them all is UFC, but there's also One Championship and Bellator.