Mixed martial arts

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Mixed martial arts, commonly abbreviated as MMA, is a combat sport that utilizes a wide range of fighting techniques from many martial arts and is characterized by a minimalistic ruleset. MMA was originally referred to as "no-holds-barred fighting" or "NHB", although these terms have been downplayed in an attempt to move the sport away from its beginnings, which saw MMA attacked by the media and politicians because of the questionable nature of its original ruleset. In addition, the term "no holds barred" can no longer be accurately applied to MMA. The term "ultimate fighting" is also occasionally used, to refer to MMA, although this term is generally viewed as incorrect and is typically not used by fans, promoters and mixed martial arts competitors.

People who train for mixed martial arts are usually called mixed martial artists, and people who compete in the sport are usually called mixed martial arts fighters.

Typically, MMA is promoted as a way for two people to fight each other in a manner as close to an unregulated fight as is possible without recklessly endangering the fighters. Although in its first appearance in the USA this environment was originally billed as a way to match up martial arts against each other, cross-training is the norm for mixed martial artists, and a kind of hybrid form of fighting has emerged in the sport.

MMA is one of the, if not the single, fastest growing sports in the United States and possibly the world.

The term "mixed martial arts" should not be confused with "hybrid martial art", as mixed martial arts refers to a combat sport and ruleset for the sport, but is not currently an actual martial art itself. This may change in the future, as several methods of fighting and several arts are consistently found to be effective in MMA and thus are consistently trained, leading to a convergence in the type of training for and fighting found in competitions, particularly high-level competitions.

History of MMA

MMA in ancient Greece

One of the earliest examples of mixed martial arts is the original version of pankration, introduced to the original Olympic Games in 648 BC. Pankration was a hybrid martial art in and of itself as well as a combat sport and a system for training Greek soldiers. The ruleset for this sport was extremely minimal, and was in fact composed of two rules: no eye gouging and no biting. Fights were unrestricted by weight classes or time limit, and ended either with the submission of a fighter (which was not necessarily accepted by the other fighter) or incapacitation of a fighter, typically through severe injury, unconsciousness, or death. Fights were brutal and often involved serious injury or the death of one or both combatants.

NHB events in the late 19th to early 20th century

Vale tudo in Brazil

Shoot fighting in Japan

The Ultimate Fighting Championships


While the first MMA competitions had few rules and were much more dangerous, MMA has been changed dramatically to protect fighters in an attempt to gain legitimacy as a new sport.

The concept of the rules is to protect the fighters, rather than to influence the methods of fighting used as in boxing or tae kwon do (although arguably this does occur).

There are many sets of rules for mixed martial arts, although there are generally some basic rules that are common to most modern MMA competitions and organizations.

Methods of winning

  • Knockout
  • Submission
  • Technical knockout
  • Decision
  • Disqualification
  • No contest

Prohibited techniques

  • Eye gouging
  • Hair pulling
  • Biting
  • Fishhooking
  • Striking the trachea, back of the head, or spinal column
  • Striking, grabbing, or otherwise attacking genitals
  • Clawing, twisting, or pinching flesh
  • Small joint manipulation

The MMA fight

Although there are basically no rules dictating the manner in which a fight must be fought in MMA, there have been a number of observations of the course of an MMA fight that have generally been accepted as true.

Striking and grappling

As there are few rules, compared with other combat sports, limiting the types of techniques that can be used, it has been observed that all techniques can be divided into striking and grappling, and that, in order to be an effective fighter, a mixed martial artist must train in both and in the use of these techniques in the three ranges of the fight.

Ranges of a fight

An MMA fight (and arguably all two-person, unarmed fights) can generally be divided into three ranges, usually referred to as stand-up, clinch, and ground. Although in the theory of some martial arts there are other ranges, such as a range between the kicking and punching ranges, and a "trapping" range, in practice in MMA training and fights it has been reasonably demonstrated that these ranges are not distinguishable in practice.

The ranges of a fight are sometimes referred to as the "phases" of combat, although this may be somewhat misleading to the layman. The term "phases" tends to imply a progression through the phrases over the course of the fight, a theoretical view that was common in some arts, notably Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which proposed that most fights, and at least the fights in which one participant was a jiu-jiteiro, began with both fighters standing up, progressed to the fighters entering the clinch range, and finally falling to the ground, where the fight would typically end. This is sometimes true in MMA matches, especially in cases where one fighter is a much better grappler and ground fighter than his opponent, as lack of such knowledge makes it difficult to escape from takedowns and groundfighting. However, in modern MMA, the theory of a progression through phases is seen as untrue, as it has been demonstrated that fighters, especially well-trained, equally-matched ones, can enter and change ranges many times over the course of a fight.

The three ranges of an MMA fight are:

  • Stand-up: This is when both fighters are not close enough to grab each other. Striking techniques must be used, as grappling cannot be used. The out-fighting style of boxing is a good example of what fighting in this range looks like.
  • Clinch: This is when both fighters are close enough to grab each other, which they will almost inevitably do. Striking techniques are used, but are different than those in the stand-up range because they are typically combined with grappling techniques at the same time. A good example of this is the use of a plum clinch, where one fighter will grab another fighter behind the back of the head with both hands and use this tie-up to throw knee strikes at his opponent. There are a number of different tie-ups used in the clinch, some more dominant than others and some more useful for a certain technique than others. Fighters will pummel in order to gain more advantageous tie-ups and tie-ups that can be used for their particular strategy. In addition, grappling techniques may be utilized on their own, in order to take down an opponent. Although it is possible and not unheard of to apply submission holds from the clinch, particularly the standing guillotine choke, this is rarely accomplished because it is more difficult to apply such submissions when an opponent has a relatively high control over his own movement, as opposed to in the ground phase.
  • Ground: This is when the fighters are on the ground and no longer standing. The fighters are typically constantly in contact with each other, as any period of more than a few seconds where they are not in contact with each other generally results in the fighters standing up. Because of the constant contact with each other, the fighters are in close proximity to each other, and can exert a large amount of control on each other's movement. In particular, a fighter in a dominant position can generally control the movement of his opponent. In the ground range, fighters, especially those specializing in ground fighting, will often look to continually improve their positioning to more and more dominant positions and then strike from a dominant position or look to apply a submission hold.

One position that combines two ranges is the up-down position, where one fighter is on the ground and the other is standing up. In general, the fighter standing up is free to strike at his opponent with kicks and jumping strikes, while the fighter on the ground must use up-kicks to defend himself. This position is generally disadvantageous for the fighter on the ground.

Commonly-trained martial arts

Although some people claim that all martial arts are equal, it is demonstrable that, at least in MMA, some arts are more effective and useful than other arts, as practitioners of certain arts are generally more successful in their fights than others.

Some arts that have proven to be useful in mixed martial arts (as demonstrated by the high number of successful fighters who train or have trained in them) are:

There are commonalities among these arts that have been observed, particularly in the ways in the fact that these arts tend to specialize in either striking or grappling in one or two of the three ranges, which these arts have observed exist in the context of their own creation and training.

In addition, these arts share training methodologies, particularly with progressively resistant drilling, large amounts of sparring, and a de-emphasis or non-existence of kata or forms.

Also, these arts are all combat sports in their own rights.


Different fighters have different strengths and weaknesses based on their backgrounds, training, and physical ability and body build. These differences, as well as the differences of the fighters' opponents, create a number of strategies, which typically include at least either striking or grappling in one of the ranges of combat.

  • Sprawl-and-brawl: The sprawl-and-brawl is a strategy used by a fighter who prefers to utilize his stand-up striking skills, "brawling" while in stand-up and sprawling to prevent takedown attempts. Typically such fighters come from a striking background, and train in wrestling to learn sprawls.
  • Clinch fighting: Clinch fighting is a strategy used by a fighter who is confident in both grappling and striking in the clinch, and will clinch with an opponent to strike rather than strike from stand-up or take the opponent to the ground to fight there. Typically such fighters come from a Muay Thai or boxing background, or from a wrestling background, especially Greco-Roman wrestling.
  • Ground-and-pound: The ground-and-pound, commonly abbreviated as GnP, involves a fighter taking his opponent to the ground, gaining a usually dominant but sometimes neutral position, and then striking his opponent. Typically such fighters come from a background with a martial art involving ground grappling, especially wrestling.
  • Submission grappling: Submission grappling (as a strategy in MMA rather than the generic martial arts term) involves a fighter taking his opponent to the ground, gaining a neutral or dominant position, and then working to gain a submission hold. Most fighters who favor submission grappling have a strong background in a submission grappling art, such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo or sambo.
  • Lay-and-pray: Lay-and-pray is a derogative term for a strategy that involves a fighter taking his opponent down, gaining a neutral or dominant position, and then not mounting any attack from that position, preferring to just pin his opponent, thus stalling the fight in order to gain a win by judges' decision rather than a knockout or tapout. Such fighters are typically wrestlers who are very capable of getting a takedown and gaining a dominant position but who have no submission grappling or ground-and-pound skills with with which to finish the fight. Occasionally, the term lay-and-pray is also used to refer to a fighter who is taken down, is put into a neutral or inferior position, and attempts to tie his opponent up and stall until the referee stands the fighters up or until the end of the round. Such fighters are typically stand-up strikers with poor grappling skills on the ground.
  • Multiple strategies: Some fighters are so well-versed in multiple manners of fighting that they utilize more than one of these strategies. A good example of this is Fedor Emelianenko, who has been shown to be able to make effective use of every strategy. In addition, most good mixed martial artists, although they prefer and are generally best at one strategy, are prepared to defend themselves in one of their weaker areas until they can return to their area of strength, or sometimes even mount attacks from a weaker area.


As noted above, the training methodologies of martial arts practiced by fighters who have seen success in MMA are similar, and thus are carried over when training for mixed martial arts. These practices include drilling with progressive resistance, pad work, bag work, and sparring. In addition, new methods of training have been invented, as they were devised for MMA specifically. One example of this is the drills for training Ground and Pound, which usually involve a fighter punching a heavy bag that is laid on the ground so the fighter can take a dominant position on it or hitting pads that are held up by a partner to simulate a head.

All top mixed martial artists cross-train in a number of arts in order to prepare for striking and grappling in the three ranges, and it is rare these days to find an MMA fighter who has not extensively cross-trained.


MMA as a "brawling"

In its beginning, MMA was criticized by politicians and the media as being barbaric, uncivilized, and skill-less brawling, and not a real sport.

Changes to the rules to protect the fighters, including a greater number of banned techniques and the use of weight classes, made the sport much safer. At the same time, MMA promoters began to move away from the term "no holds barred" in order to distance themselves from the original furor over the sport.

Now, proponents of the sport argue that MMA is reasonably safe and involves a high level of skill and athleticism. In addition, many proponents claim that MMA is safer than combat sports that focus purely on striking, particularly professional boxing, reasoning that such sports have much more striking to the head than in MMA because MMA fights can be won through a number of means not relying on knocking out an opponent. In addition, MMA fights may be safer because MMA fights do not typically have standing counts, meaning that a floored opponent will lose the fight quickly and be knocked out or the referee will stop the fight. While it might seem somewhat illogical at first to claim this is safer for the opponent, it is argued that the existence of a standing count allows a professional boxer to recover himself enough to continue fighting for a much longer period of time and thus absorb much more trauma than a mixed martial arts fight. This claim is reasonably arguable but not certain, as MMA as a sport has not existed long enough nor have enough studies been conducted on MMA fighters to perform conclusive analyses and comparisons.

There are still voices of criticism, although fewer in number than at the introduction of the sport, perhaps due to the quickly-growing popularity of the sport.

Professional MMA fights are still not legal in many states in the USA and in some countries.

Various martial arts versus MMA

A number of professional boxers and proponents of boxing have claimed that a good boxer could beat a MMA fighter by means of his superior striking skills. This is perhaps due to the decrease in popularity of professional boxing at the same time of the increase in popularity of MMA, and it has been speculated that such outspoken criticism of MMA is more to draw attention to boxing rather than to denigrate MMA. MMA proponents argue that although generally professional boxers are better stand-up strikers than even professional mixed martial artists fighters who specialize in stand-up striking, in a match between a pure boxer and a mixed martial artist, the boxer would be relying solely on one set of skills. They argue that no matter how good a boxer is, he is unprepared brought into a range that they have not prepared for. In particular, boxing focuses on striking in the stand-up range, leaving significant gaps in striking and grappling in the clinch and on the ground. In fact, striking versus grappling and striking versus mixed martial arts matchups have taken place before. Typically, match-ups between pure strikers and pure grapplers or mixed martial artists have ended with the striker being taken to the ground and losing there.

There have additionally been claims from the boxing community in line with criticisms from the media and politicians as described above, that MMA is not a test of skill or athleticism but rather brute strength, and is not a true sport. This is somewhat ironic, as boxing itself has been prone to the same criticisms itself for centuries.

MMA has been criticized by some proponents of some martial arts, characterizing MMA as a degradation of martial arts in general, as well as being against the "spirit" of martial arts. MMA proponents typically characterize MMA as the synthesis and evolution of martial arts.

Implications in unregulated fights

The relatively unrestrictive ruleset of MMA is sometimes said by proponents of the sport to simulate an unregulated environment very closely while still protecting the long-term health of the fighters. If this statement is accepted, the effectiveness or lack thereof of specific martial arts as well as specific training methodologies in their ability to help a fighter succeed in an MMA fight can be said to be also true for their effectiveness in self-defense.

This claim has been disputed hotly by critics of MMA and practitioners of martial arts not well represented among successful MMA fighters, and several arguments and counter-arguments have sprung up in this debate.

  • Existence of rules and regulations:
  • Multiple opponents:
  • Weapons:
  • Street vs. Sport: