When I began MMA, I took my fancy to whichever martial arts looked the most interesting or fun to learn. For me it began with a brief stint in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and later moved into Muay Thai and Boxing. As I have grown in my experience, I have now been considering what martial art is the best base for MMA.
I’ve spent most of my MMA training so far in Muay Thai and Boxing. But I have felt the unique differences from fighting on your feet to fighting on the ground. In my experience, the better martial art to focus on can depend a lot on the fighter.
I dug around some more to understand the unique benefits of different martial arts and what you need to succeed.
What martial arts do you need for MMA?
The beauty of Mixed Martial Arts is that it opens the doors to use any martial art and the techniques that come from them.
There’s a whole beautiful mix of tools at your disposal that come from many different disciplines all over the world.
Most professional fighters will have a strong background in:
- Muay Thai
These four martial arts are often considered the fundamentals of mixed martial arts. It would suggest that it’s because they are the most effective for a mix of being able to fight on the feet but also take it to the ground and win, too.
I talk more about this in my article Is MMA Best for Self Defense? in which I go a lot deeper about the effectiveness of different martial arts.
There’s other martial arts to consider which professional fighters have used to great success, like:
Sambo is one martial art that is gaining more popularity in the MMA community. One of the greatest pound-for-pound MMA fighters of all time, Khabib Nurmagomedov, studied Sambo. Khabib is a 2-time WCSF Sambo World Champion.
Should I train MMA or boxing?
If you’re trying to decide whether to pick to commit to boxing or for more broad lessons in a mix of martial arts, then that can depend on what you want to achieve.
Boxing as a sport has been around for a long time that you can be sure you will be able to grow in this sport. Boxing has millions of fans across the globe with many people having participated in some way.
With such a huge audience for the sport, you’d find it easy to find a gym or a coach in many places in the world.
With MMA training, there’s not always such a wide selection of gyms that are setup for mixed martial arts.
Your ability of access to different martial arts in your area could make the choice for you. Even if you can’t find an MMA gym, though, you can try using different gyms for each martial art. Look for gyms that teach the fundamental martial arts for MMA like Boxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling and BJJ.
Across the globe you are sure to find many Boxing gyms and BJJ schools to practice.
Is boxing a good base for MMA?
I mentioned earlier that Boxing is one of the fundamental bases for MMA. There’s no doubt in my mind about this as a truth.
Boxing is a pretty broad term as the art of punching people in the face is in many martial arts, like Muay Thai and Kickboxing, among others.
So throwing on a pair of gloves and getting better at striking is definitely needed for being effective in MMA or getting into a fight.
There are many lessons in striking that will help you to become a better fighter, such as:
- Stance and foot position for effective energy explosion
- Foot movement and mobility for avoiding strikes and counters
- Slips, rolls and others that will help you to dodge hits and respond with fluid movement that generates power
A good MMA fighter widens their experience across the different modalities. Getting good at striking in one of the related martial arts for it is going to serve you well.
Why is wrestling so effective in MMA?
Wrestling is a very effective art for fighting. It’s because in Wrestling you will learn a huge degree of how to manage and move the fight in the direction you want it to go.
In practice this looks like being able to move an opponent to the ground with a couple of moves. Then controlling them against the fence or bringing it to the feet if you want to.
Having a great base knowledge in Wrestling allows you to make these choices and have the option and skill to bring down your opponent very effectively.
It doesn’t matter about whether your opponent is ready for your takedowns in Wrestling. The majority of the time a takedown is likely to work due to the transfer of bodyweight and force.
Having an excellent takedown defense is helpful for any fighter, but it can’t work every time and expels a lot of energy. So keep taking them down over and over and they are not going to have much energy left for you on the feet either.
Is wrestling the best base for MMA?
The best base for MMA is Wrestling. Despite some outliers, the most successful professional fighters in the UFC have a very strong background in Wrestling. This is because they can control the fight and take it where they want it to go, making it difficult for the opponent to respond.
There’s a lot of debate out there about what is the most effective base for MMA and Wrestling often comes up as the top of the list.
Wrestling teaches a fighter a mix of skills and strength benefits. To be a good wrestler, the fighter needs to be able to:
- Dummy or fake the opponent to open up parts of their body for attack
- Have strong stability and grappling to grab limbs, hold them tight, and secure necessary takedowns
- Be very flexible and have strength in mobility to move with the opponent where they try to go. Defend, stay locked on and adapt to the situation to remain on top.
Should I learn wrestling or BJJ first?
Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu have many similarities. They are techniques for fighting on the floor on the face of it.
Wrestling does have some specific differences to BJJ. Wrestling teaches you a lot more about the work you need to do whilst still on the feet. You’ll learn how to:
- Dummy your opponent
- Looking for openings
- Defending takedowns
- Making takedown attacks
With Wrestling, the aim is to be able to get on top of your opponent on the ground. But it always starts from the feet and so understanding good movement and attack/defend strategies gives you many tools.
With BJJ, much of what you will learn in a school is starting from the ground. BJJ is a sport and martial art about beating your opponent with a more technical and chess-like approach.
The attacking and defending you will learn in BJJ will be slower and more methodical. In Wrestling, there’s much more explosive power training involved.
Wrestling is faster, explosive and involves more on the feet. Which works well as a transition from striking to taking the fight to the ground.
BJJ is usually more slow, detailed and technical. Such as how to take several steps moving from one defending position to one that is attacking.
Both martial arts are valuable in learning to be a good overall fighter.
Is wrestling or BJJ better?
It should be clear now that whilst these two martial arts appear similar. They are very different in the details.
Wrestling helps you take the fight your way whilst on the feet. Defend and attack your opponent from the feet. And take them down to the ground when you want it.
BJJ helps you to use every part of your body using technique to put your opponent in positions that they can’t attack. It’s a lot about getting and maintaining control. Then using submissions to finish them off if you need to.
Neither wrestling or BJJ is better. They are both very effective for their purposes.
MMA is such an enjoyable experience because you’ll be able to learn the most successful skills for a fight.
Putting in the effort to create a good base in each of the fundamental martial arts is going to help you win fights.
Some people might specialise more in certain martial arts like Boxing or BJJ. But it is important to have enough knowledge in each of the arts to be able to know what to expect and better yet: defend and counter.
If you want to specialise in a particular martial art, go for it! But don’t forget to have a solid base in striking and ground game. Being able to attack well is important. But if you can’t defend a takedown or an arm-bar then you’re not going to have a great time.
Get out there and learn it all!
Are you also wondering if your age will affect you becoming a great MMA fighter? Check out my other article What is the best age for MMA fighter?