The sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) can include just about any martial art in the world. Unless, of course, the martial art has moves that are against The Unified Rules Of MMA.
If you’re in a rush, here’s a short answer to the different types of MMA:
The fighting types of MMA typically include martial arts like Boxing, Muay Thai, K1 Kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Wrestling. Slightly less common are Judo, Karate, Taekwondo, and Sambo, which have also been used effectively in MMA fighting sports.
There are many other types of martial arts that could be applied to MMA. But in this article, we’ll focus on the most commonly used MMA styles. As well as look at a few uncommon ones.
Most Common Types Of MMA Fighting Styles
First, let’s cover some of the most common MMA types of fighting styles that you will see in combat sports like the UFC, Bellator, One Championship, and many others.
These styles are seen the most in the cage. Let’s get to the list.
Boxing is probably one of the most common forms of MMA fighting styles. Punching your opponent in the face and body is the broadest use of fighting techniques in competitions like the UFC, putting Boxing at the top of the most common styles.
Boxing today is generally shortened as an understanding of what is actually “Western Boxing,” which has developed over many years to bring in styles of Boxing from all over the world.
Having good knowledge of Boxing gives a fighter the ability to:
- Throw a jab
- Throw a cross/rear hand punch
- Throw uppercuts
- Throw hooks
- Use footwork to defend, counter, and move around their opponent
Boxers use different fighting styles, like keeping distance and using the jab, punching close in the pocket, or even Mayweather’s Philly shell style has been used in MMA.
Kickboxing (K1 style) is generally known as using the fighting style of Boxing and building upon it to include using your feet to kick your opponent in their legs, body, and head.
There’s a good reason why there are entire fighting promotions that focus on just this style alone, it’s very visibly exciting, and the attacking techniques are very clinical and unforgiving.
A great kickboxer can outmaneuver and throw a much greater level of attacks to beat up their opponent. Their attacks can have spinning movements that make them even harder to predict and even trickier to avoid.
Suppose you were to pit a Boxer against a Kickboxer. In that case, it could be a pretty quick end for the Boxing fighter as they cannot predict and defend against an entirely new level of attacks.
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Kickboxing is my personal favorite style of fighting. UFC greats like Israel Adesanya specialize in this style and have been hugely influential in keeping opponents at a distance, picking them apart, and getting great knockouts.
Muay Thai has a lot of similarities to Kickboxing in that you also use your feet to land attacks, but “Thai Boxing” adds yet another level by introducing the elbows and knees as extra points of attack.
This Thai style is often referred to as “the art of eight limbs” because of the eight points of contact with which you can attack.
Muay Thai can include any attack from Boxing or Kickboxing, with a couple extra added in:
- Using your elbows to strike your opponent’s head
- Using your knees to strike your opponent’s body or head
Elbows can even have spinning variations often used in countering a forward advancement from your opponent.
Knees can be used to add extra damage to your opponent’s body and even used to attack the face with jumping knees.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the highly effective art of physically controlling opponents through technical grappling and submitting them.
BJJ is a widespread profession for MMA fighters because of its effectiveness in the cage.
With a good foundation in Jiu-Jitsu, fighters can use their entire body and limbs to control their opponent in a ground grappling scenario and even move them into a position for submission.
Submissions from BJJ come in many kinds, such as:
- Chokes, like the Guillotine
- Arm locks, like the Kimura
- Hip locks, like the Electric chair
- Leg locks, like the Kneebar
- Cranks, like the Twister
These match-winning submissions often have origins in many other martial arts.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is specifically designed to be a complete grappling system. Any defense, attack, or control can be included if proven to be effective.
Wrestling (like college or Olympic wrestling) is another highly used grappling martial art in MMA.
Mixed martial artists with a Wrestling background are some of the most powerful, explosive, and successful fighters in MMA competition.
Their unique abilities to control where the fight moves and whether it’s on the ground or on the feet give them the capacity to take the fight where they want it to go.
Wrestling techniques often include holding the opponent in advantageous positions (which is then very useful if they also have BJJ skills), throwing them to the ground, and keeping them there.
Least Common Types Of MMA Fighting Styles
Now let’s take a look at some of the least common types of MMA fighting styles that you’ll see. Some of these can still be used in combat sports and by highly successful fighters, but they are often more specialized.
One of the flashiest martial arts in existence, Kung Fu and the Chinese martial arts are sometimes seen in professional MMA fights.
Even some of the greatest knockouts in UFC history have been some variations of Kung Fu moves.
The simple history of Kung Fu in China and its popularism in Western movies makes Kung Fu continue to be popular.
Kung Fu could be seen as not all that effective for MMA, and I’ve definitely seen flashy Kung Fu fighters get caught out with a counterattack during their attempts.
At the end of the day, Kung Fu is about light movement and attacking. It doesn’t have much in the area of defense!
Using Judo techniques in MMA fighting is actually reasonably common for some fundamental throws.
Many MMA fighters will use a few ordinary trips and sweeps to get their opponent onto the ground to start a control there. But advanced Judo skills are rare, though there have been champions who specialize in Judo.
Some great examples of the best Judo fighters in UFC history are Ronda Rousey and Vitor Belfort.
Judo throws like O Soto Gari and O Uchi Gari are seen relatively often and prove to be really useful for forcing an opponent to the ground.
Karate is a hugely popular type of martial art worldwide, but specializing in this type is a bit less common than similar styles like Muay Thai or Kickboxing in MMA.
But specialists do exist for Karate. A great example is Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, who has a uniquely Karate style when in the cage.
If you ever see a fighter bouncing on his tiptoes with a wide-legged stance, you’re looking at a Karate-dominant fighter.
Karate focuses on straight punches to the midline of an opponent coupled with a wide variety of big kicks to the head. It can be hard to see one of these kicks coming, as they often appear as a countering attack.
Taekwondo can sometimes be seen in MMA, with some fighters having this as their background.
This fighting style is notably fast and extremely powerful and uses a variety of kicks, just like Karate.
Valentina Shevchenko strikes me as a highlight fighter with a background in Taekwondo. She studied this martial art since she was just five years old.
Sambo is a combination of Kickboxing and Wrestling styles that have many similarities to an overall “MMA” fighting style.
Fighters will use punches and kicks to disorientate their opponent before securing a takedown. Then they will usually try to submit their opponent.
Khabib Nurmagomedov is a prime example of an experienced Sambo fighter.
Krav Maga utilizes the self-defense techniques of the Israeli army to destabilize an attacker and disengage as efficiently as possible.
This martial art is often up for debate about whether it’s effective for combat sports. Still, its techniques can commonly be taught in MMA gyms, and some professional fighters have studied it in their careers.
That’s been my list of the most common and uncommon types of MMA fighting styles that you can expect to see used (or not so much) in the UFC and other MMA promotions!
From here, you might want to learn how to get into MMA and find your own ideal fighting style.
Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.