What Is MMA

(Last Updated On: July 17, 2019)

The sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is often confused with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), but UFC is just an MMA league. So if UFC is just a league, then what exactly is MMA?

Well, it’s a wide variety of different things, hint the word “mixed.” So if there’s more to MMA then the fights we see in UFC, what are we missing? Well, let’s take a look.

Before we dive into what MMA is exactly, let’s look at its origins. MMA can trace its roots as far back as the Olympics in ancient Greece, to an event called “Pankration.” While not as organized as modern day MMA, Pankration was a competition in which fighters used a variety of boxing, wrestling and kicking to force their opponent into submission.

The sport only forbade biting, eye gouging and attacks to the genitals. When the Olympics was revived in 1896, Pankration was the only sport specifically excluded. MMA as we know it today gained popularity in the early 20th century, with various competitions popping up around the world, mostly in Europe and the Pacific Rim. In 1969, Greek-American fighter Jim Arvantis introduced a version of Pankration to the American martial arts community.

Today, MMA is at an all-time high in popularity thanks largely to the Gracie family of Brazil, legends in the martial arts world, who brought Vale Tudo, or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, to the United States in 1993. The Gracies founded the UFC, now one of the world’s best known MMA organizations.

There’s more to MMA than just mixing a bunch of different forms of martial arts and fighting someone. There is more nuance to the sport than many people think. From the rules to pre and post game handshakes between opponents, here are 11 things you should know about MMA:

What exactly is MMA?

Mixed Martial Arts is exactly what it sounds like, a fighting sport that consists of several different kinds of martial arts including (but not limited to) boxing, wrestling, karate, kickboxing, judo and jiu-jitsu. Most fights have three rounds of five minutes, except for championship matches, which have five rounds.    

UFC is an MMA organization, but MMA is a sport

Saying you “do” UFC would be like saying you play NBA or you do English Premier League. UFC is the biggest MMA league in the world, but the UFC itself is not a sport. So you wouldn’t practice UFC, you would practice for UFC.

MMA is accompanied with many rules

Despite what it can look like, MMA is actually regulated by many rules. If you want to get into MMA, you’ll want to read through the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, which is used for most MMA competitions worldwide.

The rules cover everything down to how you’re allowed to wrap your hands. So, yeah, the list of rules is extensive.

With rules, there are also fouls

Whenever you have rules, you also have penalties for those who break those rules. UFC regulations, for instance, list more than 30 infractions. As in ancient Pankration, biting, gouging and groin shots are still prohibited, as are headbutting, heel kicks to the kidney and hair pulling.

Check out these top mma mouth guards

For each foul committed, the fighter loses a point of their score. If a fighter commits a flagrant foul, the referee can disqualify the fighter.

Like boxing, MMA divisions are classified by weight

There are ten different weight classes in MMA: Strawweight, Flyweight, Bantamweight, Featherweight, Lightweight, Welterweight, Middleweight, Light Heavyweight, Heavyweight and Super Heavyweight.

The MMA scoring system

If a fighter doesn’t knock out his opponent in the three (or five) rounds, the decision is made by three judges who have scored each round. Judges award points to the fighter based on technique, defense and control of the fight, among other factors.

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Whichever fighter wins the round is awarded 10 points. While the judges award between 1-10 points, rarely do both fighters get 10 points in a round, but it is possible.

Knockouts and judges’ decisions aren’t the only way to win a fight

While most wins come from knockouts and decisions, fighters can also win through submission, forfeiture and disqualification. Also, not all fights end with a winner, as draws are possible too.

The true reason for the cage

A common fixture of MMA contests is a cage, enclosing the fighting area, as opposed to the open “ring” used by boxers, or the more open mats used by wrestling and judo.

Of course the cage is there to keep the fighter close and to keep the competition interesting, but that’s not the only reason. In boxing, they use a ring made of three elastic wires that fighters can slip under to exit the ring.

So the reason MMA uses a cage instead of a typical boxing ring is to keep the fighter from rolling off the elevated ring when wrestling.

MMA fighters aren’t your average street brawlers

To be a good MMA fighter, you have to put in years of work to build up the speed and agility to be successful at a high level. The endurance needed to fight in the ring is also very difficult to build up and can’t be done over just a few months.

Not only are they good athletes, but since many MMA fighters wrestled in college, a lot of them also have college diplomas.

UFC isn’t the only MMA league

UFC is the reason MMA is at an all-time high in popularity, but there are other fighting programs in the world too, and even in the U.S. Cage Warriors, a smaller MMA program, serves as the starting ground for tons of current UFC fighters, like Conor McGgregor.

Another league is the Bellator Fighting Championship, which gets roughly 600,000 views when they air fights.

Post and pre game encounters with opponents

In a lot of sports, when you meet up with your opponent, the encounters are not always friendly (look at boxing’s Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather weigh-in).

But MMA, fighters are much different. Fighters are known for meeting before the fight and to joke around and converse. Even after beating the pulp out of one another, they still talk backstage and hug each other after the fight.

So the name of the game is Mixed Martial Arts, but what are the most popular martial arts used by fighters?

Also Read: What are the best 10 martial arts for self defense?

Muay Thai

Referred to as, “the discipline of eight limbs,” muay thai is very similar to kickboxing, and focuses on attacks with the hands, feet, elbows, shins and knees. Muay thai focuses on attacking with any opportunity you have.  


Boxing is played under a very strict set of rules. It only allows only punches above the belt, nothing else.

Boxers tend to be very quick but powerful with their strikes, and undergo years of training to acquire the endurance needed to fight in the ring.


The main goal with karate is to develop muscle memory when attacking. Originally from Japan, karate tries to teach quick and methodical attacks mostly through punches and kicks.

Jiu Jitsu

Jiu Jitsu focuses on teaching throws and grappling to defend yourself from bigger attackers.

While professional MMA fighting can look just like a typical street fight to the outside view, it’s much more than that. So when someone asks what MMA is, it’s hard to give a simple answer due to the variations and differences worldwide. But when it comes to all the different fighting styles used in MMA, besides biting and headbutting, what isn’t MMA?

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