Want to start training MMA?
MMA is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. The likes of Boxing, Karate, Judo and Taekwondo used to be the go-to combat sports or martial arts to learn. Now, it’s MMA.
Whether you want to train for fitness, self defense or competition, starting MMA can be the start of an awesome journey. The sport has a lot to offer, no matter your shape, size, age, gender or background.
Read on and we’ll share all you need to know about how to get into MMA and start training, for both casual athletes and future professionals.
What is MMA? Understanding the Basics
MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts. As the name suggests, the idea behind it is mixing various forms of martial arts, such as boxing, BJJ, Karate, Kickboxing, Judo, Wrestling, and more.
MMA evolved out of Vale Tudo, an “anything goes” fighting style that originated in Brazil in the 1920s. The modern version of MMA was born with UFC 1 in 1993, where Royce Gracie used Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to defeat a range of bigger and stronger opponents.
Compared to Vale Tudo, MMA has more rules – it’s not quite a “no holds barred” fight. No biting, eye pokes, groin strikes, strikes to the back of the head, for example.
Essentially, MMA is kickboxing, with smaller gloves, and Wrestling and Jiu Jitsu mixed in. You can win by knockout, submission, or points (as well as your disqualification).
MMA is usually fought in a cage. The biggest professional MMA organization, the UFC, holds fights in an 8-sided cage known as the “Octagon”.
Other organizations fight in a similar style of cage. The UFC has trademarked the use of the Octagon, so other promotions use a circular cage, or a polygon shape with less than 8 sides (like the Hexagon cage in the image below, used by the WWFC in Ukraine).
Alternatively, some MMA fights are held in a ring, like Boxing or Kickboxing (the ring is more popular in Japanese organizations, such as Rizin today).
Different Aspects of MMA: Striking, Grappling & Transitions
What makes MMA so different and exciting is the different aspects, each of which may be a strength or weakness from fighter to fighter.
Every fight starts standing up, so that makes striking a very important part of MMA. Most fighters have at least a basic level of competency in Kickboxing – punches and kicks.
A lot of fighters have had success with more specialized striking styles too, like Muay Thai, Karate, and Taekwondo.
The second major element of MMA is grappling. In MMA you can put your opponent against the fence (if fighting in a cage), or on the ground, and control them there. This is usually a big advantage, as controlling your opponent from top position usually leads to winning the fight.
For this reason, a large number of fighters come in with a base in Wrestling. It’s quite common for US college wrestlers to transition to MMA, as a high level of Wrestling often gives a fighter the ability to control where the fight takes place.
BJJ – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – is also a big part of MMA. Scoring is very subjective, with judges needing to weigh the different elements of the fight against each other, so it’s always a big advantage if you have the ability to finish a fight by submission.
The final aspect to consider is transition areas – meaning the ability to move seamlessly between striking and grappling, Boxing and Jiu Jitsu, and so on. The ability to combine different martial arts is often what separates a good fighter in the gym from one who has success in a real fight.
How Important is Fitness in MMA?
To be an MMA fighter, you need to maintain a good level of physical fitness.
MMA fights, though fairly short in actual fight time, are extremely exhausting. Especially when you factor in the adrenaline dump that comes with a fight.
A strength advantage over your opponent can be a big plus, and often leads to less skilled fighters taking a victory.
Fitness needs to be balanced against technique, however. Don’t expect to be able to win a fight on strength alone, if your opponent is much more skilled than you.
This is what makes MMA such a great sport – the balance between physical ability and technical skill, and matchups of people with strengths in different areas.
Regarding fitness, it’s important to train your body specifically for MMA. Classic strength training isn’t really suitable for MMA. You need to condition your body for explosive movements, and to be able to maintain that over a (usually) 15 minute fight.
The Best Way to Train: MMA Gyms vs Specialization
There are differing opinions on the best way to train for MMA.
Some people choose to train at dedicated MMA gyms. When you train grappling, you train grappling for MMA. When you train Boxing, you train Boxing for MMA.
On the other hand, some people train each skill on their own. For example, you’ll go to a Muay Thai gym or class, and train Muay Thai there. Then you’ll go to a BJJ gym, Wrestling gym, and so on.
There’s no “best” method for everyone. Training at an MMA gym helps you craft your game specifically for MMA, but the deeper level of skill gained from training specialized skills can be an advantage.
If you do train separate skills on their own, you need to know how to adapt these for MMA. Arts like Karate, BJJ, Boxing, Wrestling can all be great bases and very effective in MMA, but only if you consider the differences between the rules and game of the base art and of MMA.
What Gear Do You Need for MMA?
At most gyms, you’ll be able to start training MMA with minimal gear, so you don’t need to make a big investment before you truly know whether MMA is for you.
You can usually wear regular gym gear when you’re starting out (there’s no uniform like a BJJ Gi in MMA).
One thing you’ll want to get early on when you start training is a mouthguard. While you can usually borrow gear like gloves or shin guards, you can’t borrow a mouthguard, for obvious hygiene reasons. A mouthguard is essential if you’re going to spar, so it’s worth spending $20-30 to get a decent mouthguard early on.
Once you get into MMA, and you’re ready to invest in gear for MMA, here are some of the pieces of equipment you should get (with links to our team’s recommended products):
- Shorts – read now: the best MMA shorts
- Shirt/rash guard – read now: the best rash guards for MMA & BJJ
- Gloves – read now: the best MMA gloves
- Shin guards – read now: the best MMA shin guards
- Cup – read now: the best cup for MMA
You’ll also want a backpack to help carry around all your gear. Check out our recommendations for the best backpacks and gear bags for MMA athletes.
Starting MMA: Finding a Gym
Ready to get into MMA for real?
The first step is to find a gym, and start training. You can put it off with excuses like “I’m not ready, I need to improve my fitness, I need to learn another martial art first”, but the best way to fix all of these issues is to just start training.
Luckily there are gyms all over the world today, both for MMA and specialized arts.
Do a search for “mma gym near me” or “mma gym (your area)” to get some ideas of where to train.
You can replace this with “BJJ”, “Muay Thai”, “Kickboxing” or other terms if you want to train in a more specialized manner.
Try and gather some information on the gym, such as reviews and accounts on Facebook and forums before committing to a long membership deal. If possible, go and check out the gym personally too, to get a feel of whether you like the gym and fit into the culture there.
How to Get an MMA Fight
Getting your first MMA fight is a big step in your martial arts journey.
Before you think about fighting competitively, make sure you’re confident in your preparation. You should have at least 6 months’ experience in MMA, ideally longer in one or more disciplines.
Once you’re ready to compete, look for events in your area that are offering amateur fights or fights for competitors with little experience. You don’t want to (and most likely can’t, anyway) jump right into the UFC straight away.
Some organizations let you apply to be a fighter online. Here are a few examples:
In most cases, your coach should be able to get you a fight, particularly if you’re training at a dedicated MMA gym. As your coach likely has fighting experience and connections in the MMA industry, they’ll be better suited to organize a fight for you, than trying to get a fight yourself.
Your MMA coach is also in a good position to assess your skill, and whether you’re ready to fight.
Hopefully your coach will take care of this too, but pay attention to proposed opponents before you agree to a fight. If it’s your first fight, you don’t want to be matched up against someone with a significant number of fights already, as this can end up with you getting seriously hurt.
Here are the answers to all your burning questions about starting MMA.
Are there belts in MMA?
Traditionally, there are no belts in MMA, like there are in disciplines like BJJ or Karate. Some gyms may have their own system, but this is very rare.
What’s the best base for MMA?
This is debatable, and hard to give a sure answer. Many consider the best base for MMA to be wrestling, as this gives you the ability to control where the fight takes place. However, wrestling-based fighters are not necessarily better than fighters based in Boxing, Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, or other martial arts.
Is MMA legal?
MMA is legal in most areas of the world these days. Some countries or states only recently accepted MMA as a legitimate and legally recognized sport, most notably New York, France and Vietnam.
Is MMA dangerous?
Rules and regulations are in place to ensure MMA is as safe as possible. However, it’s a fight, and there is a degree of danger involved, especially for inexperienced fighters.
To minimize risk to yourself, make sure you’re well-trained and in good physical shape before you get into an MMA fight, and only fight with regulated organizations.
What is allowed in MMA?
Generally speaking, MMA allows strikes, takedowns, grappling and submissions.
Common fouls (illegal techniques) include:
- Hair pulling
- Groin strikes
- Eye pokes or eye gouging
- Grabbing the cage or fence
- Strikes to the spine or back of the head
Depending on the level of fighting (amateur or professional) and the organization you fight in, other techniques may be illegal, including:
- Elbows/knees to the head
- Kicks or knees to a grounded opponent (e.g. soccer kicks)
You can see here the “unified” rules for MMA: https://www.ufc.com/unified-rules-mixed-martial-arts
These rules are accepted in most MMA competitions across the world, though some may have small differences. Make sure you find out the exact rules you’re fighting under before you agree to a fight.
What are the weight classes in MMA?
Conventional MMA weight classes are as follows:
- Strawweight – 115 lb (52.2 kg) upper limit
- Flyweight – 125 lb (56.7 kg)
- Bantamweight – 135 lb (61.2 kg)
- Featherweight – 145 lb (65.8 kg)
- Lightweight – 155 lb (70.3 kg)
- Welterweight – 170 lb (77.1 kg)
- Middleweight – 185 lb (83.9 kg)
- Light heavyweight – 205 lb (93.0 kg)
- Heavyweight 265 lb (120.2 kg)
Some organizations may change these a little (such as ONE Championship does). Some (particularly for womens’ fights) also have the Atomweight class (105 lb).
How to Get Into MMA: In Summary
MMA is an awesome sport. And it’s growing, fast, all over the world.
One of the best things about MMA is that it offers a lot for all different kinds of people. If you’re a serious athlete who wants to compete, it provides a thrilling competitive platform. While if you just want to get in shape, or learn self-defense skills, it fits the bill there as well.
For anyone wondering how to get into MMA, the first step is just to get started. There’s likely to be a lot of gyms around you, most of which will be welcoming to newcomers.
It doesn’t matter if your training environment isn’t perfect at the start, it just pays to start building experience and the skills needed to train MMA, and you’re not going to do that on the couch.