If you’re an MMA fan then you’re likely seeing all these high-level UFC fighters and thinking “dammnnnn, that looks tight” about some of the sleeves, back, and chest pieces that a huge proportion of fighters have inked on their skin.
Some of the best MMA tattoo ideas can be found by looking at your favorite fighters and choosing styles to replicate. Whether it’s the animal kingdom on your chest and stomach like Conor McGregor or symbols of your heritage hanging across your neck like Israel Adesanya.
In this article, I’m going to discuss some of the best tattoos I’ve seen in the fight game to hopefully inspire you for your next piece of ink!
Table of Contents
- 1 Conor McGregor
- 2 Cub Swanson
- 3 Andre Fili
- 4 Alexander Volkov
- 5 Israel Adesanya
- 6 Megan Anderson
- 7 Dustin Poirier
- 8 Max Holloway
- 9 Cody Garbrandt
- 10 Amanda Nunes
- 11 Sean O’Malley
- 12 Final Thoughts
The notorious Conor McGregor has a collection of ink that largely projects outwardly a certain image he has of himself. More often than not, that of displaying himself as a “king of the jungle”.
Being a fan of animal movement and studying movement practice from all kinds of places, like that of Ido Portal, it seems Conor has a strong connection with his animalistic nature and enjoys expressing it in tattoos across his body and in his fighting styles.
What does Conor McGregor’s chest tattoo mean?
After training for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in Straight Blast Gym in Ireland, Conor chose to make the focus on his chest tattoo that also of a gorilla. Conor has said that he thinks of himself as the “king gorilla” and so a gorilla, wearing a crown, whilst eating a heart seemed like the perfect fit for him.
What does Conor McGregor’s tiger tattoo mean?
Conor has a tattoo across his belly of a Tiger. Above the tiger reads his surname, McGregor. And below, his nickname Notorious. Conor has said that he thinks of the Tiger as a very “courageous” animal alike himself.
Cub Swanson is pretty well known for the number of tattoos he has across his back, arms, and even down one whole leg. I’d say that there are some great MMA tattoo ideas in here to inspire you for your own with a mix of religious and gothic themes.
On the top side of his left forearm, he has his Lion tattoo which is carefully drawn and has great detail. He wanted an animal tattoo and started there. On the underside of his left forearm is a Knight wearing armor and a castle in the background.
Cub has said that his left arm is a theme as a Warrior. It goes further into the inside of his left forearm which reads “Victory is reserved for those willing to pay its price”. Cub had this tattoo done because he broke his jaw and had his mouth wired shut, so he wanted something inspirational to keep him motivated through a challenging time to recover and get back to the fighting sport he loves.
Related: How Much Do UFC Fighters Make?
On Cub’s stomach, he has palm trees to represent where he comes from Palm Springs, a city in California. He also has “So Cal” tattooed across his chest, because he’s from Southern California. When Cub started fighting on the big screens he wanted everyone to see and to know about where he came from and that it’s a part of his story.
Swanson also grew up with a lot of religion in his life and spent a lot of childhood at the church. In light of that, his most significant piece is a whole back Murial tattoo that represents many religious themes. He has a giant cross in the middle of the back, with “Swanson” across the upper back.
The back piece was put together by his friend, nicknamed “Alabama”, which copies many of the religious illustrations from “The Dore Bible Illustrations” by the French artist Gustavo Dore (available on Amazon):
The Dore Bible Illustrations
Gustave Dore’s collection of Bible illustrations heavily inspired and were even copied for Cub Swanson’s back tats. A good resource for MMA tattoo ideas if you are inspired by the religious text.
The tattoos Cub chose for his backpiece are all included in the theme of the battle of good against evil. Which plays a unique part in his story and particularly from his childhood.
Cub’s right leg is what he refers to as his “death leg”. He broke his leg in high school and it has been tough ever since, so he likes to use his right leg a lot for dealing damage to his opponents to give them a bit of his own pain. The leg is covered in deathly themes like spiders, cobwebs, snakes, roses, and skulls.
Andre is becoming a more commonly known fighter in the UFC. In his early career, he had an incredible record of 13 wins and just 1 loss. That is until he fought Max Holloway (also in this list) at UFC 172 in his second UFC appearance. Since then, he has faced challenges staying on a winning streak. All that said, I think he’s a really entertaining fighter to watch and one that constantly tries to evolve his game.
Andre “Touchy” Fili is easily recognizable from over 30 unique tattoos that spread across his entire body and up to his neck. His tattoos are very varied in design and meaning but often play a salute to the meanings of life and death, among other gothic symbolism. Plus just straight-up characters he likes, similar to many fighter tats.
Starting from the head down, Andre has written quotes on either side of his head. One reads “Pray For Peace”. And on the other side reads “Prepare For War”. The two paired together are suggestive of Fili’s troubled childhood where he grew up in a broken home with violence and disturbance. I would guess that whilst he hoped for peace in his life, he always felt he had to be prepared to defend himself and fight.
One of Andre’s most noticeable inks is the one across his throat. It features a lantern with a burning candle inside. His meaning of it as “There is a light that never goes out”. I think it means that he has it as a reminder of his burning light inside him that despite all the challenges he has faced it keeps burning on to inspire him to fight for better.
Either side of his neck are pictures of a black dog and a black cat. The cat on his left he noted as “Lucky Lefty” which might be to do with cats being lucky and the dog on his right side has the world in its jaws which might suggest chewing up the world and not letting its small problems eat you up.
On his chest, he has designs of a Hindu goddess and down onto his stomach he has Gruffalo characters from the children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are”. Underneath these and closer to the waist and pelvis are the words “Heartthrob” in a unique fragmented design which might be suggestive as a nickname people have given to him.
Just above his groin area he also has a tombstone with a beach sunset pictured inside of it. It seems that it was inspired by a quote from Yamamoto Tsunetomo – a Samurai whose musings about the failure of the samurai caste were published in 1716 as Hagakure (available on Amazon):
Hagakure: The Secret Wisdom of the Samurai
The bushido code inspired one of Andre Fili’s tattoos about the practice of meditation. Potentially a great option for your very own MMA tattoo ideas.
Andre also has tons more tattoos down his left and down his legs of different characters from his favorite movies and more, like:
- Star Wars
- The Grinch
- A classic Boxer
- Bill The Butcher (from the movie Gangs of New York)
- A more gruesome version of the carnivorous plants from Mario
- A monkey hand souvenir
- The Devil
- A melting skull
- A Spider with a face
- A crying tribal baby
- A frog in a Muay Thai fighting stance wearing hand wraps
He even has a photo-realistic tattoo of one of his idols, the fighter, and coach of Team Alpha Male, Urijah Faber. There’s probably even more than listed here and who knows what is about to be inked next.
Alexander, AKA “Drago”, has one of the most distinctive tattoos I’ve ever seen. It spans across his entire back featuring a metallic face with a red floral design coming out of the face. It reminds me of a samurai’s face mask which is called a Mempo. They were designed to protect the face but also send fear into their enemies with their daunting look.
Originally Alexander just had a giant patterned manta ray across his upper back. But later he decided to improve on it and even replace it with an entirely new design of the Samurai’s Mempo.
In interviews, he told the story that he laid on the table for two weeks straight to completely finish the design. He spoke of his squeals of pain in the process of finishing such a big tattoo in a short time. With a short time like that, it doesn’t leave any time to rest in between sessions so the skin soreness, bruising, and even sometimes bleeding can be constant.
But in the end, he has one of the scariest looking back tats out there in the UFC. You’re not going to miss that giant Samurai face staring back at you. If you want to enforce fear into your enemies then this could be one of those great MMA tattoo ideas that do the job.
The Last Stylebender has a collection of tattoos across his upper body that has different meanings to him. Some are about his heritage and life and others simply about some of his favorite anime and comic characters.
One of Israel’s early tattoos is the “Broken Native” hanging from across his chest like an African necklace. As a Nigerian born, he has always considered himself different from the pack including that of his heritage. He uses the term “broken” as different from the rest and “native”. The phrase actually comes from the dance crew he was a part of in his youth, but he kept it by tattooing it across his chest from its significance for him.
Israel also has a tattoo of Africa in the center of his chest, featuring Nigeria highlighted where he was born. It seems he doesn’t want to forget where he came from and what that means for him.
He has a wolf on his right shoulder, because of his passion for dogs and canines.
Matching to his passion for comics and anime, Israel’s fighting nickname “The Last Stylebender” comes from the anime “Avatar: The Last Airbender” along with multiple tattoos on his body. He has a tattoo of Toph Beifong on his forearm as well as Avatar-inspired Ocean and Moon spirits around his stomach encased with the Nine-Tailed Fox seal from Naruto.
Not only that, he’s got Deadpool, the anti-hero, on his ribcage, and Calvin and Hobbes tattoos which were one of his favorite comics as a kid.
Megan is an Australian mixed martial artist competing in the Featherweight division of the UFC. She’s easily recognizable from her considerable height at 6 foot tall and her collection of ink sleeves on both her arms and even almost one full leg.
Megan’s tattoos are all in a similar style that you might call grunge. Each tattoo seems to be mainly done with a thin needle to create a detailed look against her light-colored skin.
All in all, Megan’s tattoos include images of many things which are good inspiration for MMA tattoo ideas:
- Sun and the Moon
- Horned Warriors
- Viking Ships
- The Devil
- and other Norse & Viking mythology
It seems that she combines a lot of styles into adjoined full limb tattoos with inspiration from mythology mixed with ideas of life and death.
The first tattoo Dustin ever had was a “D” with flames and dice around it on his shoulder, aged just 14 years old with a homemade tattoo gun. Eventually, his mother decided to let him get real tattoos by a professional to help him stop risking getting a blood disease from needles on the street.
On Dustin’s right hand he has symbols for “Inspire” and a Crown. On his left hand features a Fleur-de-lis which is a Lily symbol used by the French monarchy in many kinds of design. Dustin has a French background which inspires this tat.
On each wrist, Dustin has his grandmother’s name and the name of his wife. And at the top of his right arm, is his mother’s name. He also has his daughter’s name on his chest which was the only tattoo he got outside of Louisana, instead, it was in Florida at the birth of his child.
He also has symbols from Louisana, animals like a tiger and a phoenix down his arms. The tiger effect also goes across his left chest with tiger stripes and the Bushido in the middle – which is a moral code of the warrior.
Poirier even has a large cross on his right thigh that most never get to see because of the long shorts he wears during fights. It was done badly on the streets of Louisana but has since tried to make improve it with a cover-up job which just makes it bigger. He has commented it as his least favorite but still a part of his story.
Max was an early inked fighter as he got his last name, “Holloway”, tattooed across his stomach at the age of 17.
The tattoos that Max has on his chest is a mix of representing his Polynesian heritage with customizations for himself and his son, pictured as little birds. And the features of small trees are to bless his health. They’re also broken apart in a stylistic way, suggesting how his story isn’t yet complete and when it is he’ll be able to finish the piece.
“Blessed” Holloway also has a sleeve on his right arm that features the “Blessed” nickname and a mix of designs artistically woven into it like the light and the dark pictures as different colored Doves.
On the inside of his right arm, Max has his son’s name on his inner bicep. And on his left bicep, he has his street name.
Max is also well known for his back tattoo. He has giant wings tucked along either side of his back, which makes him look like either an angel or a bird of prey ready to take flight. The left wing is that of an angel, and the right wing is more like a gargoyle or the wing of the devil.
Max has said that those wings are a representation of balance. It’s one of those tattoo ideas of making a big statement as an MMA fighter – that there’s both light and dark within and you’ll see it all come out in the fight.
These were Holloway’s second ink session, so that’s quite a jump to go straight for wings with your second visit under the needle.
Cody is another fighter on this list, like Dustin Poirier, who had his first tattoo when he was just 14 years old. He and his brother made an agreement with their mother that if they won national titles that year she had to allow them to get their first tattoos, which she agreed to, and they both then went on to win titles and Cody grabbed his first ink of a cross with a ribbon across the top of his back.
Cody went on to have over a dozen tattoos by the age of just 15.
He has True Love tattooed across his knuckles to signify his love of the sport of fighting and a grenade on the back of his right hand as a running joke for the bombs he drops through his right hand.
Cody’s arms feature a traditional colored Japanese style sleeve on his right arm and counters the symmetry by having a left sleeve all in straight black ink.
A lot of Cody’s tattoos include references to God and the church. He has the word “Blessed” across his stomach in a banner. On the top of his left hand are the words “Only God Can Judge Me”. He also has St Michael and the Devil inked.
Nick Duel was a teammate of Cody that he looked up to and decided to replicate one of his tattoos by getting a 9mm gun inked around the back of his waistband.
Cody’s left bicep features the word “Relentless” inspired by his activity in fighting and never backing down.
One of Cody’s most noticeable tattoos is the one on his neck. It features a diamond with wings and a banner that reads “Self Made”. The diamond represents the perfection that likes to be under pressure, the wings to show that there are no levels and the sky is the limit.
He also has a big piece across his chest that has references to God and spirituality that he says several different artists have tried to make improvements to it for him but he’s still not happy with it. The trouble is, it’s so inked in at this point that he’s even considered laser surgery to remove the ink so he can start again.
Amanda is one of the greatest women MMA fighters ever. Not only is she a force-de-triumph in the UFC, but she also has some cool tats.
On her left forearm, she has a medium-sized key. She says it is the key to her partner’s, Nina, heart. Nina has the locket tattooed on her arm so the two pieces fit together.
On her right arm, she has a sleeve designed as armor, that has different sections to it which changes its appearance like just above the elbow it looks like chainmail or a mesh connecting a shoulder armor to the rest of the arm. At the top of her right shoulder is a Fleur-de-lis topping off the arm piece.
There are also other unique parts to it as a Lion’s eye on the inner arm and a small piece at the wrist which is one half of a piece that is completed by the other which is on her partner’s wrist. If you have a partner that you love then maybe these give you some MMA tattoo ideas for your own MMA-loving relationship.
Around the top of the right arm and into the shoulder blades on the back she has her iconic octagon ring which inside includes a half face of herself and the other half a Lion with the words “Amanda Nunes” and “The Lioness” around it.
On Amanda’s left arm she has the number of UFC events where she made big accomplishments, like UFC 200 and UFC 232. On her upper left arm, she has the features of an owl. She has the owl there because her grandmother owned one when she was a child and it was such a significant memory for her that she wanted it on her body. Just above the owl is her niece’s name in scripted writing.
On her left calf, she has the video game character, Mario. When she was a child, the first big present she remembered was getting a Nintendo with Mario on it and so it is a strong memory for her. Every birthday or holiday, she never knew if she would actually receive a gift because of the struggles her single mother went through. She’s commented that it was the most painful tattoo to get, probably because it’s all muscle close to the skin.
Sean “Suga Show” O’Malley is quickly becoming one of the popular newcomers to the UFC. His performances in The Ultimate Fighter TV show won him a straight ticket into the UFC and since his arrival, he’s put on a combination of flawless performances and knockouts.
“Suga” is not only well known for his performances but his unique sense of style, swagger, and MMA tattoo ideas inked on his body. It seems we’re just at the beginning of Sean’s discovery of his MMA tattoo ideas. For a start, he has his nickname “SUGA” tattooed above his right eyebrow.
On the left side of his head just beneath his hairline is the word “Breathe” tattooed in reverse so that whenever he looks at himself in the mirror he reads the reminder to breathe. Sean is a big fan of meditation, ice baths, and breathwork and talks about it often on his podcast as being a huge help to maintaining a positive mentality for his life and fighting.
Many other fighters on this list often go for a big chest tattoo and many with wings usually on their back. Sean has a similar combination with wings spread Owl positioned across his chest. It’s colored using two of his three main colors you’ll see on almost all of his tattoos, in green and red.
Sean often uses green, red/pink, and yellow colors in his personal style with hair coloring, fashion sense and that seems to have spread into his tattoo work.
Moving to the back of Sean, he has a large crest over his left shoulder blade area that is very bold in green and yellow. The crest is of the O’Malley surname coat of arms which includes a knight’s helm, and a wild boar in the middle representing the warrior. The colors of this crest play importance as red signifies military fortitude, and yellow signifies generosity. Perhaps this crest alone inspires many of his coloring used among his other tattoos.
On the other side of his back, looks like a green clover with the surname O’Malley inside. This, along with his crest, shows lineage to his Irish roots.
Another noticeable tattoo is on his upper left arm which is covered by a large green design that spreads into the forearm. It appears to show DNA coming out of his insides and cherries around it. It’s a bit of a difficult one to understand the concept but I’d take a guess that it’s something to do with his DNA being special in some way, like a perfectly sweet and sour cherry.
Sean also has various words around his body, like:
- “Only God” and “Can Judge Me” across his biceps, visible when he flexes
- “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” across his right ribcage and waist
- “Family” on his right forearm
He has a few smaller tattoos like a rose and baby footsteps imprinted on him, for which the meanings are unclear.
By now hopefully, you’ll have a great combination of MMA tattoo ideas for your own ink project. There’s often a lot of similarities between fighters such as gothic and warrior themes, along with religious and family-orientated messages.
As Max Holloway has said about tattoos “don’t overthink it, just do it”.