What is Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)?

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is where different forms of martial art are combined together to create a hybrid style. More recently it has emerged as a combat sport and is one of the fastest growing sports in the world.

MMA fights consist of two people competing against one another (usually in a cage but it can also be in a boxing style ring ) to see who the better mixed martial artist is. This includes many different martial arts disciplines where striking, wrestling and ground fighting  are used.

There are rules for MMA competitions which we will go through in more detail later on. But the overall goal is to defeat the opponent which can be achieved by:

  • Knocking your opponent out
  • Submitting your opponent with a submission
  • The referee stops the fight (also known as a technical knockout or TKO)
  • By decision if the fight goes the full distance.

These bouts are usually action packed due to the purpose of the fight being to hurt your opponent. It has caused many people to be intrigued by the sport, building up its following each day.

Nowadays there are millions of people who enjoy watching MMA. Many different companies hold MMA fights and competitions. Most notably is the UFC, which is heavily regarded as the company that really took MMA to the mainstream media.




The origins and history of Mixed Martial Arts

Though mixed martial arts has only become a very popular sport in the last 30 or so years, the concept of combining different martial arts has been around for centuries .

To get a better understanding of martial arts in general and the history of it, make sure to check out our ‘MARTIAL ARTS…WHAT ARE THEY? post.


History of Pankration

The earliest reported date where martial arts were combined in a mixed style can be found in Ancient Greece. At around 648 BCE the sport Pankration was introduced into the Olympics.

The word is derived from the two Greek words ‘pan’ and ‘kratos’. Pan means all or everything and kratos means power or strength. So, Pankration basically means all the power! It was a ruthless sport where there were barely any rules.

The 2 small rules they did have forbade biting and eye gouging! The sport was by far one of the most popular of its time. Bouts were even reported to last hours with deaths among the competitors happening on some occasions.

Winners were declared through knocking out their opponents or when the opponent gave in and submitted. Pankration combined boxing and wrestling disciplines.


Early forms of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

However, in 393 CE, Pankration would come to an end once the Roman emperor Theodosius I banned the Olympic games.

The merging of different fighting styles spread to various countries where they too would combine different martial arts to see what would be most effective.

During the Han Dynasty, the Chinese military wanted to create an art that would be of use to them when fighting wars and weapons were not available.

They combined styles like boxing and Kung Fu to create Shuai Jiao. This is one of the earliest forms of mixed martial arts that is known to us. It included both striking and grappling techniques.

People also wanted to see which martial art was most effective. This caused many cross over fights to happen. Martial artists would look to fight people who had been trained in a different martial art to showcase that their skills and the art they had learned was superior.

Karate occupations - abstraction card


Different Martial Arts styles compete against one another…

In 1852 a competition was held between French Savate fighters and English bare-knuckle boxers. They wanted to see what style was better and this inspired other martial artists from different disciplines to compete against one another.

This also happened much later on when three Kyokushin Karate practitioners went to Thailand to fight against three Thai fighters in the world renowned Lumpinee Stadium.

Englishman Edward William Barton-Wright is one of the pioneers of combining different martial arts from around the world. He combined both European and Asian martial arts to create his own style called Bartitsu in 1899.

He combined Judo, Savate, western boxing, catch wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu into his own art.

The first ever televised mixed martial arts styles fight took place in 1963. The popular wrestler and Judoka Gene LeBell (also known as Judo Gene) competed against the professional boxer Milo Savage.

LeBell won the bout with a rare naked choke rendering Savage unconscious.


Bruce Lee’s impact on Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

During the 1960’s and 70’s martial artist and movie superstar Bruce Lee emerged. He  bought martial arts to the attention of the mainstream media with his exhilarating movies.

Many people became fascinated with martial arts seeing the moves Lee was able to pull off on screen. Lee was an avid martial artist. He studied martial arts and realised his style had flaws when he fought behind closed doors against Wong Jack Man.

Prior to the bout Lee had trained primarily in Wing Chun, most notably under Master Ip Man. It was after this fight that Lee turned to developing his own hybrid style of martial arts called Jeet Kune Do.

He incorporated styles such as boxing, Wing Chun, grappling and even fencing into his style. Bruce Lee famously described his style as water. Showing people that water takes many shapes and is adaptable, just like his martial arts style.

He believed that people would need to be able to adapt to their opponent’s style. Bruce Lee is highly regarded as the ‘Father of modern-day MMA’. People like  Dana White, the president of the UFC has said this too.

Find out more about Bruce in the Bruce Lee- MILITAR MINDSET blog and in this video we made!

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Mixed martial arts started to gain popularity in the 1980’s and 90’s. During this time the Gracie’s, the founding family of Brazilian Jiu jitsu, were making a name for themselves.

Vale Tudo, which is regarded as a predecessor to mixed martial arts, became highly popular in Brazil, as the Gracie’s challenged anyone that thought they could beat them.

Vale Tudo means ‘anything goes’! Different martial artists from different disciplines would challenge the Gracie’s Jiu Jitsu style. These became big Vale Tudo events in Brazil with thousands watching.

The first known mixed martial arts event actually started a few years prior to UFC 1. In 1985, Japanese legendary wrestler Satoru Sayama created the Shooto organisation.

Shooto combined numerous styles into their fighting rules, but strikes were only allowed with open fists and the fighter had to remain standing. They held their first professional MMA event in 1989.

UFC 1 was the first key event that brought mass attention to mixed martial arts. After conquering Brazil, the Gracies’ wanted to take over America too and display their martial art to the world.

The Gracies’ believed their style was the best and they wanted to test it against styles all over the world. Rorion Gracie put his younger brother Royce Gracie into the tournament to showcase Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.

The first event was a tournament full of people from different martial arts backgrounds competing against one another. The whole purpose of the event was to see which martial art style was the best.

Competitors included Ken Shamrock, who was known as a shoot fighter and Teila Tuli who was a sumo wrestler. Royce Gracie won the tournament showing the effectiveness of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, bringing a lot of attention to mixed martial arts.

The UFC experienced its highs and lows for the next few years. However, they were on the verge of bankruptcy prior to 2001.

Dana White entered the scene, bringing along with him the Fertitta brothers, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta who bought the company for around $2 million.

After what was a rocky start, they were able to turn the UFC around with the help of the introduction of the series, ‘The Ultimate Fighter’. The series did well and helped to bring the UFC back on track.

Since then, the UFC has continued to grow and so has mixed martial arts. It has come a long way from when there were only 2 rules in UFC 1, which were no eye gouging and biting!

The combat sport now has many rules in place making it less barbaric and more of a sport people can watch and enjoy.

This video goes through the highlights of the first ever UFC event!

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Modern MMA

MMA has evolved immensely since its earlier days. When it first came onto the scene, many people thought it was brutal. There were barely any rules and it was sold as ‘no holds barred matches’.

Over the years with the help of the UFC, MMA has been able to improve its image in the public eye. Especially in America, states started to sanction MMA fights till now, where fights are allowed in the majority of states.

MMA is now a world-renowned sport with many rules in place, allowing for matches to take place in the safest environment. Due to the nature of the sport, people are thrilled and glued to their seats when watching fights as anything can happen at any given time.

The competitors are also treated better nowadays too, with their chosen organisations making sure they receive the medical care they need from any injuries they may sustain while fighting.

Mixed martial arts bouts originally took place to determine which martial art was superior. Over the years, competitors have started to train in different martial arts to give themselves the best chance of winning.

For example, if a striker was fighting a high-level wrestler, they would make takedown defence a priority in their training for the fight.

Nowadays, competitors are well rounded in all areas. Making sure they are able to strike, grapple and fight on the ground. As well as the UFC, there are many more organisations which hold MMA fights all over the world.

This includes Bellator and One Championship. Mixed martial arts is constantly growing as a sport with many of the competitors now training in multiple disciplines and starting their training at earlier ages.


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Basic foundations of Mixed Martial Arts

Mixed martial arts require people to be well rounded in all aspects of the game. Due to mixed martial arts being a hybrid style, people must be well skilled in more than one art form to become a good mixed martial artist.

When it comes to MMA competition, there are many places the fight can take place. We will look at the three key foundations a mixed martial artist must know:


MMA striking

All MMA fights start on the feet. Competitors must be able to throw strikes using their arms and legs. Most mixed martial artists tend to train and improve their striking using martial arts such as Boxing, Muay Thai and Karate.

These are the most popular martial arts trained when preparing for an MMA bout as they are the most effective striking martial arts. Embedding these techniques into their game will allow them to perform to the best of their ability when the fight is standing.


MMA grappling

This includes the grappling element of a fight. Competitors are able to clinch opponents and hold them to throw strikes. Many people drill takedowns which is a move that allows a competitor to bring the fight to the ground.

When it comes to grappling, martial arts such as wrestling are most popular for this. It enables the mixed martial artist to learn ways to control their opponent and use techniques which can put them into dominant positions.


MMA ground fighting

Unlike the many combat sports that came before MMA, fights can continue on the ground. Fighters are able to throws strikes on the ground when opponents are on the floor.

Competitors also grapple on the floor and are looking to find themselves in good positions where they can attempt submissions to end the fight. The most popular martial art for ground fighting is Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, as this is an art form that consists of purely ground fighting.

These are the three core fundamentals a mixed martial artist must train in, even if they do not wish to compete. Mixed martial artists must be comfortable in all these aspects to become a well-rounded mixed martial artist.

When it comes to competing in MMA, usually there can be fighters who specialise in one area over another. But having a good grounding on all three will give the competitor the best chance of winning, wherever the fight takes place.

STOCKHOLM - OCT 8, 2016: Fight between Edris Rafigh vs Viktor Gustavsson at Superior Challenge 14 at Eriksdalshallen in Stockholm.

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The difference between the UFC and MMA

As I am sure you are now aware from reading this article…the UFC and MMA are not the same thing! Many people confuse the terms with one another.

Mixed martial arts is the actual sport and competition, whereas the UFC are an organisation that put on MMA fights.

The assumption that both are the same has most likely come from the UFC being the primary organisation that has led mixed martial arts to its growth over the years.

Nowadays, there are many more organisations that put-on MMA fights, but none have done as much as the UFC has been able to do in regards of promoting and growing MMA as a sport.

So next time when you hear someone say MMA and UFC are the same, make sure you let them know there is a difference!

Here are some of the most popular knockouts in UFC history!

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Equipment needed to train in MMA

When it comes to training in MMA there will be different equipment required depending on what you are training in, as MMA training consists of a mix of different martial arts.

Usually when doing MMA sparring, you will require MMA gloves, shin guards and a mouthguard (headguards are also recommended depending on the intensity of the spar and a groin guard).

As it is MMA, you will also need the smaller gloves, as these are used in MMA not the standard boxing gloves. These gloves are specific to mixed martial arts as they allow people to be able to grapple.

However, when it comes to training for MMA fights, competitors like to train all martial arts skills.

So, this can include just striking where regular boxing gloves are worn and shin guards (people also like to wear hand wraps under their boxing gloves as this provides their wrist with extra support and can prevent injuries).

Then if grappling usually a t shirt and shorts will do (similar to what is worn for no-Gi Jiu-jitsu).  Depending on your intentions with mixed martial arts and whether you plan on competing, you should contact the gym you train at to see what they recommend.

But we have covered all the necessities you will need when it comes to training. We are preparing our clothing which is made to fit this purpose of your training, so make sure to check out our clothing page!

a man training and hitting the punch bag

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Rules of competitive MMA

As stated before, MMA has really transformed into a popular competitive sport. Back from when the UFC started with just two rules being no eye gouging or biting, there are many more rules nowadays.

The rules have developed over the years to make sure that the fights were as safe as possible and entertaining for fans to watch.

When it comes to the rules, the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts are the most popular ruleset that MMA promotions use. We will go through some of the fundamental rules in MMA competition:


MMA Weight divisions

When the first UFC event took place there were no weight divisions. It was an open weight contest where people were various weights.

Nowadays there are weight divisions, making the contests fairer and more competitive. These are the weight divisions that are currently used in MMA:


  • Straw weight- up to and including 115 pounds
  • Flyweight- over 115 and up to 125 pounds
  • Bantamweight- over 125 and up to 135 pounds
  • Featherweight- over 135 and up to 145 pounds
  • LightweightOver 145 and up to 155 pounds
  • Super Lightweight- Over 155 and up to 165 pounds
  • Welterweight- Over 165 and up to 170 pounds
  • Super Welterweight- Over 170 and up to 175 pounds
  • Middleweight- Over 175 and up to 185 pounds
  • Super Middleweight- Over 185 and up to 195 pounds
  • Light Heavyweight– Over 195 and up to 205 pounds
  • Cruiserweight- Over 205 and up to 225 pounds
  • Heavyweight- Over 225 pounds and up to 265 pounds
  • Super Heavyweight- over 265 pounds

These are all the weight divisions within the MMA. Of course, not all these divisions are in use in all organisations, as the UFC do not use all of these weight classes. Within the UFC they have these divisions currently in use:

  • Heavyweight
  • Light Heavyweight
  • Middleweight
  • Welterweight
  • Lightweight
  • Featherweight
  • Bantamweight
  • Flyweight


Key rules of MMA fighting

You cannot perform the below actions in an MMA fight. These actions can cause point deductions or disqualifications:

  • Groin attacks
  • Eye gouging
  • Biting or spitting on an opponent
  • Strikes to the back of the head or spine
  • Kneeing or kicking a grounded opponent in the head
  • Hair pulling
  • Head butting
  • Stomping on a grounded opponent
  • Fish hooking (inserting finger/fingers into mouth/nostril of opponent)
  • Grabbing or striking the throat
  • Intentional grabbing of ring/cage
  • Small joint manipulation
  • Throwing opponent purposefully outside the fighting area

These are some of the key rules. Check out the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial arts here for the full list here.


Ways an MMA fighter can win  

There are different ways in which a fighter can win depending on how the fight goes. Here all the ways of a possible victory for an MMA fighter:


  • Knockout- This is when a fighter becomes unconscious due to the other opponents strikes. This way of winning is most popular with the fans, as this is what people usually want to see.
  • Technical knockout (TKO) – This is when the fight is ended by the referee due to the fighter no longer being able to defend themselves. Doctors and the corner team of a fighter can also choose to stop the fight if they believe the fighter is no longer able to continue and taking too much damage.
  • Submission- This is when a fighter has their opponent in a submission hold forcing them to submit, usually by tapping. Sometimes fighters fail to submit and can fall asleep if in a choke or even break a bone, in which the referee will call a stop to the fight.
  • Decision- This is when a fight has gone the full distance and neither opponent has been able to force the fight to end early. There are judges who are watching the fight scoring each round. They usually score fights on the effectiveness of the striking/grappling used and the control a fighter displays in the fighting area.
  • Disqualification (DQ)- A fighter can also win if their opponent fails to follow the rules. Usually, a referee will give a warning the first time depending on the severity of the rule broken. But if a fighter continues to break rules they can be disqualified from the fight, resulting in their opponent winning.
  • Forfeit- Though very rare, fighters can also win from their opponents forfeiting just before the bout. This could be due to a sudden injury that may happen just before the walk to the cage is made. Usually once fighters have made weight, fights will go on as by then, there is not enough time to change opponents.

There are also times when a fight can be deemed as a no contest. This can happen if both fighters break rules during the fight. However, this usually happens after a fighter has won but they have been caught for using an illegal substance. The fight will then be overturned from a win to a no contest.  

Check out this video which explains the rules of MMA too!

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Why study Mixed Martial Arts over other martial arts?

One of the main reasons people choose to train in mixed martial arts is because it can be something they can compete in and do for a living.

The sport is constantly growing and evolving, allowing for people who really enjoy mixed martial arts, to make it a career  for themselves.

Many fighters will have a martial art that they started training in prior to training in mixed martial arts.

For example, someone who may have trained and competed in Muay Thai may make the transition to MMA. Or someone who trained in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu may do the same.

There is usually more money to be made when it comes to fighting in MMA than in individual arts such as Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.

Therefore many people choose to transition to MMA as it is something they are more likely to be able to live off if they trained full time and were able to reach a high level.

People also like the challenge and thrill of competing in MMA, as ultimately if you are able to beat someone in an MMA bout, you are the better fighter and mixed martial artist.

Mixed martial arts also take into account multiple disciplines rather than just the one. This allows for people to mix different martial arts together to find the most effective techniques in different scenarios.

People who train in mixed martial arts don’t always have to compete. They may want to train just to be able to defend themselves in all possible situations, becoming the best mixed martial artist they can be.

Studying in mixed martial arts can be tougher than studying in just one martial art, but the benefits of studying all the most effective techniques across all disciplines is huge.

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Benefits of Mixed Martial Arts

There are many benefits of training in  mixed martial arts. We will go through some of the key benefits:

  • Learn self-defence- Mixed martial arts allows you to be able to defend yourself in all situations. Whether that be on the feet or on the ground. Studying mixed martial arts will allow you to be prepared for any scenario
  • Improve your strength and stamina- Training can be very tough. Due to mixing styles, you will need to have the stamina to train on both the ground and on your feet. This will be physically demanding at first but over time and through constant training, you will see both your strength and stamina increase
  • Improve your self-confidence! – Mixed martial arts training will definitely increase your self-confidence. You are constantly training the most effective techniques from different martial arts. By doing this you are becoming a well-skilled mixed martial artist, making you feel better in yourself as you are constantly growing your skills. This feeling of self-achievement will spread into anything you do in your life, as you will know that you are able to do what you put your mind to. Just as how you displayed in your mixed martial arts training.
  • Can be a viable career option- As stated before mixed martial arts is now a career many people dream of and pursue. It has evolved over the years allowing people who really enjoy martial arts, to become mixed martial artists for a living!
  • Improve your mental health- Regular training can help to reduce stress and uplift your sprits by providing you a way of expressing yourself through mixed martial arts. It can help combat depression and anxiety.
  • Builds character- Mixed martial arts will definitely build up your character. It can be tough when you start as there is so much for you to learn. You will have both good and bad days in training. But over time and staying active in your training, you will start to see yourself improve. This will apply to your general life too, as this constant work ethic to succeed is a superb trait to have!

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How to get started and find a Mixed Martial Arts class!

Anyone can start mixed martial arts, no matter how old or fit you are. Finding a mixed martial arts class is a simple process! Make sure to check online for nearby mixed martial arts gyms in your area, as most will have an online presence.

Contact the gym (if they have contact details) if you have any questions you want to ask. Find out which session you would like to attend by contacting them if possible.

Wearing a t-shirt and shorts will be suitable for training (make sure to sign up to our emails here to find the latest on our clothing!) in your first lesson, you will not be required to purchase the equipment as of yet.

This is a commitment you make once you realise mixed martial arts is for you! Turn up to one of their sessions and see how it goes! Usually first classes are free, so this will allow you to see if this is a good fit for you.

After going to a few classes and trying Mixed Martial Arts, it may not be for you. Don’t worry, there are many other martial arts out there! Be sure to check out our ‘MARTIAL ARTS…WHAT ARE THEY?’ post to gain a good understanding of other popular martial arts too!

If you have any questions on this post, the MILITAR MINDSET, martial arts in general or any other enquiries feel free to contact us.

Make sure to follow our Instagram page to keep up to date with the latest news on our clothing items and for frequent motivational posts. 

We have gone through Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in this post. In our next few posts on the Martial Arts Series, we will cover other individual martial arts. Make sure you subscribe to our blog to keep up to date with the latest posts!

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