If you click a link on this page and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more.
Many different martial arts focus on striking. From boxing to Muay Thai, there is a lot of variety in the martial arts world.
Mixed Martial Arts requires a fighter to be experienced in multiple styles so that they can effectively attack, defend and counter whilst on the feet and on the ground.
But what is the best striking martial art for MMA? Muay Thai offers the most diverse range of striking techniques with boxing-style punches, elbows, kicks, knees, and spinning combinations. Many of the best MMA fighters will use Muay Thai as a strong foundation for striking skill, making it the best base for MMA.
In this blog post, I’ll go even further and compare the different striking styles of martial arts.
Table of Contents
Boxing is a martial art that focuses on punching. It’s one of the most popular striking styles in MMA and has been around for what seems like centuries, making it one of the oldest styles still practiced today!
Punches are usually thrown with both hands from different angles to confuse your opponent and create clear openings for mainly head strikes and body hits under the ribs.
The most common punches are jabs, crosses (straight right), uppercuts, or hooks to either side of your opponent’s head.
There are several styles of boxing itself. The style of boxing from the traditional sport is very different from the types of mixed martial arts seen today in competitions like UFC, Bellator, etc.
The fighters often evaluate each opponent and the positions from which they are likely to be fighting. Fighters then will choose their preferred method of attack based on position and might have to adapt and change as the fight progresses.
In boxing technique, the influence of the hips and legs is also critically important because it affects how the fighter can move into a better position.
With hand strikes, boxing is by far the best art in terms of effectiveness.
Muay Thai is the national martial art of Thailand and is a very popular sport that dates back to the 16th century.
It is said that it began within the Siam kingdom as a peace-time martial art practiced by the soldiers under King Naresuan’s rule.
It is sometimes known to be called “The Art of 8 Limbs” because of the points of contact each strike uses. Two for each fist, two for each elbow, two for each knee, and two for each foot/leg strike.
But Muay Thai also combines other techniques such as grappling and tripping up the opponent. It makes it highly versatile in any stand-up fight. You learn to use pretty much every body part, like devastating elbows, you have to inflict damage and even how to position and flow your movement into great takedowns by just using momentum and your opponents’ own weight against them.
Muay Thai fighters have to adapt their footwork to patiently follow the opponent and his movements until they find an opportunity for attack or to see a strike coming in and with correct adjustments be able to completely get out of the way or set up a strong counter strike.
Learning Muay Thai will teach you a hell of a lot about fighting. It’s so broad that you’ll have to become very fit and very durable. Expect to be kicked a lot – hard!
There’s no wonder why this martial art is one of the most commonly foundational styles for mixed martial artist competitors, it is brutal and it is highly effective in defense and attack.
Kickboxing is a martial art that focuses on punches and kicks. In the “K1” ruleset for this sport, you are not allowed to throw knees, elbows, or attempt to trip up your opponent or work “in the clinch” (grappling).
Kickboxing was created in 1964 by a group of martial artists inspired by competition with other styles such as Karate and Kung Fu. It was designed to take some of the key strikes and combine them into one style that focuses on the attack, defend and counter.
What I like most about kickboxing is that side-on stance which is different compared with Muay Thai which can be a fairly wider stance facing your opponent.
Being heavily side orientated it opens up the door for a different selection of sidekicks to the shin, body, chest, and head. Those kicks are really direct and don’t require much torque power generated from the body (like swinging your momentum) but can dispense painful body hits and even knock someone out with the right strike to the head.
Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is a great example of a very high-level kickboxer in the UFC. He has a very side-on stance and can produce some dazzling offense with his kicks that forces his opponents to have a very high guard.
Karate originated in Japan. It has its roots in the ancient Japanese fighting styles of Kenpo and Shorinji Kempu, which were developed over centuries before blending together to form Karate-do.
The word “karat” means empty hand techniques while Do translates as ‘way’. In other words, karat refers specifically only to unarmed combat with no weapons.
The Karate fighting style mainly consists of strong punches and kicks. Karate is a very aggressive martial art and its main goal in combat, as with most other styles of Karate-do is to knock out the opponent.
Whilst most people probably recognize Karate as something you send your kids to do to learn some respect, it does have some very credible move-sets to use against an opponent.
Modern Karate involves unique styles of punches, kicks, elbow and knee strikes, as well as even grappling, throws and locks.
In Karate competition you can get a good idea of the style, like in this video:
You’ll notice that they are very bouncy on their feet with a very side and side-on stance. The fighters use a mix of approaches which is mainly about trying to open up the opponent and tempting them into a strike from which they can counter. It’s all about those headshots – but also grabbing a point from a clean strike in the sport.
Karate practitioners learn to have very mobile hips so that extending a kick to the head can be performed in a very short distance to their opponent and with lightning speed.
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that has been popularized in the West. It’s an excellent striking style for MMA because it teaches a variety of strong and lightning fast head kicks which result in easy knockouts.
The fighter uses footwork so that they can stay on the offensive while blocking well-timed counterattacks from their opponents. Taekwondo fighters are often more than willing to take risks and close distance quickly if need be!
These practitioners learn to have very mobile hips so that extending a kick to the body and head becomes as second-nature as reaching out an arm.
Kung Fu is a martial art that emphasizes the use of “chi” or inner energy. It was originally practiced for self-defense and general fitness. Today, it has been heavily influenced by both Western fighting styles as well as Eastern philosophy.
Several moves in Kung Fu are the same or similar to those found in Karate or Taekwondo – like blocks, punches, kicks, and sweeps.
Kung Fu also teaches how one can fight multiple opponents at once without injuring oneself due to improper balance over individual strikes; this makes it an excellent style for improving agility and versatility for MMA.
Some say, though, that Kung Fu isn’t an actual fighting style and more of a form of physical art performance. It’s been questioned a lot, and sometimes even recorded, that a Kung Fu fighter expects too much of their opponent to be easy to predict.
If you’ve experienced sparring against a boxing or Muay Thai (or any other martial art) fighter then you’ll know that every fighter and every round is unpredictable. The likelihood that you won’t be caught off guard at all is extremely slim.
In MMA, every fighter has to learn to be able to take the hits when they come but to have enough grit to carry on anyway.
Krav Maga, from the Hebrew words meaning “contact combat”, is a self-defense and fighting system that has been used by many Israeli military forces since the 1940s. It was designed for people in stressful situations to be more likely to instinctively do what’s necessary without overthinking it.
The unarmed techniques focus on real-world scenarios with one goal: giving you the skills to survive any situation including violence against your person or others as well as during natural disasters like floods or earthquakes.
It is one of the best fighting styles for striking as it focuses entirely on getting results against an attacker. Whether that is disarming them, or incapacitating them so you can make an escape.
Because of these things, there are definitely some cross-over skills in Krav Maga particularly when it comes to tight grappling situations up against the cage.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz is one MMA fighter who has a pretty strong background in Krav Maga.
But it is said that many UFC fighters use techniques that could appear like Krav Maga as they are influenced by grappling martial arts like Muay Thai.
Krav Maga is all about eliminating the threat and disengaging as fast as possible – which could be useful in an octagon.
Sambo is a wrestling-based martial art, originally formed in the Soviet Union, and now predominantly practiced and competed in Russian schools and gyms.
Sambo comes in two forms: sport Sambo which resembles a lot of Judo techniques and allowing leg locks but not chokeholds.
The second form, combat Sambo which took the sport and developed it further to be suitable as a military training practice. Sambo strongly resembles modern MMA as it includes pretty much all forms of striking but with a heavy emphasis on takedowns, ground control, and submissions.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because the undefeated Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov has a strong background in Sambo training and has of course been incredibly effective in the UFC.
The striking techniques of Sambo are less refined than other martial arts but more varied, making it an excellent mixed martial art for those looking for something outside of boxing or kickboxing.
That said, its ground game probably isn’t quite as strong as BJJ and submission techniques so it could be considered a secondary choice for MMA fighters who want to focus primarily on their ground grappling skills.
I believe that mixed martial arts striking is the best form of combat sports striking. Though there are many forms of fighting, from wrestling to boxing and karate, I think MMA is the most effective style because it combines all of these techniques into one art
Mixed Martial Arts (or MMA) covers a wide range of different styles and disciplines in both stand-up and ground fighting which makes this an excellent discipline for those looking to become professional fighters or simply enjoy training with your pals.
Related: How To Get Into MMA
The beauty behind Mixed Martial Arts as a sport lies within its simplicity: you use whoever’s limbs come closest to your target!
This means no matter what type of person you may be—a wrestler who loves takedowns or someone more about the leg kicks—you will always benefit in an actual fight by using the optimum route to attack.
MMA striking takes a bit of everything and combines it together to come up with the best option in any given position. When you’re on the back foot and moving backward, sidewards, or forwards – there’s always a strike or play you can make to make the most of that situation.
The trick, then, is to building extremely high levels of muscle response in choosing great defense or offense options at the right time.
Whilst there’s plenty of martial arts options to choose from for Striking, there is a large dependency in the sport on Muay Thai.
Muay Thai often comes up as the most diverse option due to highly effective attacks with every part of your body.
That said, I would always try to take in inspiration from fighters who create their own styles of MMA striking by using many techniques in their own form.
Try mixing together boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai and you’ll come up with some interesting results – this has been a joy of mine in my intermediate levels of training.