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What Are The Martial Arts Used In MMA Today | Full Breakdown

We find out what martial arts are used in MMA.

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By its definition mixed martial arts is a combination of any of the martial arts which work in a real combat situation. Like natural selection, over time the weak ones died off, while only the strongest styles remained. This leaves you asking the question of what martial arts are used in MMA.

Since MMA first broke onto the world stage in 1993 back at UFC 1. Over time the martial arts which do work inside the cage have risen to the top. Those include Wrestling, BJJ, Boxing, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Taekwondo, Karate and Judo.

And while in the early days, there were a host of other fringe martial arts that were experimented with. In the end, it was the big names, with the addition of a newcomer who would go on to dominate the evolving scene.

But some twenty years later, I think it fair to say that the core tenants of the sport are now well and truly in place. And over time as MMA becomes ever more refined. We will no doubt see an ever-improving and evolving display of fighting ability inside the cage.

And we can observe from the following diagram which dates back to 2018 what disciplines have shone the brightest. Where once Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was believed to be the sport of the future.

It would eventually be wrestling that would become the single most successful aspect of the MMA skillset. Going on to dominate when it comes to championship win statistics.

So with that knowledge at hand, let’s take a closer look at the key disciplines which make up the intricately woven fabric that is MMA. And see if perhaps there is anything we can learn from its history to date.

The Different Wrestling Styles

Since the first fight took place at UFC 1, American wrestling was the initial bedrock on which the UFC was initially built. And it makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Two wrestling students competing at the 2014 NCAA wrestling finals.
Two collegiate wrestlers.

As it was the first MMA promotion to take root in the US, a country where collegiate amateur wrestling is prolific. It explains why so many of the fighters who participate today have a wrestling background.

Leading the way in the UFC in terms of champions. Wrestling stands head and shoulders above all others in terms of its success inside the octagon. While BJJ did have a huge initial impact, it was wrestling that consistently produced one champion after another, a trend that continues to this day.

And while many may be bigger fans of standup than grappling. In MMA groundwork is considered just as important as striking. Wrestling is foundational to many of the techniques we see executed in the cage.

And when chained together well with other disciplines. It offers the best cornerstone on which a fighter can build their overall MMA game, and the statistics prove it.

Standout Wrestlers in MMA

Below is a list of some past and present athletes who have used their wrestling experience to great effect. Winning championships and proving its dominance inside the cage.

  1. George St Pierre
  2. Mark Coleman
  3. Chris Weidman
  4. Demetrious Johnson
  5. Anthony Johnson
  6. Randy Couture
  7. Brock Lesnar
  8. Ken Shamrock
  9. Mark Munoz
  10. Dan Henderson
  11. Johnny Hendricks

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Since UFC 1

When Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu first burst onto the scene at UFC 1. No one quite knew what they were looking at or what to do to defend against it. And as a result, Royce Gracie was able to dominate in all his first bouts inside the octagon.

Two BJJ players on the ground grappling for position.
Two BJJ players rolling on the mats.

Going undefeated from 1993 until 2000, the effect Royce had on the growth of both MMA and BJJ cannot be underestimated. As a skinny 170 lb man was able to take on fighters who often outweighed him by some 100 lbs.

Taking away their strongest attributes, getting them to the ground. Where he was able to one after another get the submission victory. It wouldn’t be until his bout against Kazushi Sakuraba at Pride Grand Prix 2000 Finals that he lost. That the air of invincibility was finally taken away.

But it was his undeniable run in the sport which spawned a whole generation of practitioners in martial arts. From the gyms of Rio De Janeiro spreading outwards throughout the globe.

Today BJJ is still a major player in MMA and one of the cornerstones of most fighter’s game. And while it has fallen behind its cousin wrestling in terms of overall championship success.

I don’t think anyone can deny the impact it has had on the culture of combat sports. With any and all successful fighters using it in their training regardless of their base.

As of today its submissions, chokes and positional awareness are all an integral part of the MMA skillset. And while some fighters may be white belts in the Gi. Their no Gi skills often more than make up for any lacking.

Standout BJJ Practitioners

With several world champions in their midst. Some of the greatest competitors to ever compete in MMA came from a foundation in BJJ. While today it may not still hold the same leverage as in its heyday. As part of their arsenal, regardless, most fighters will still hold a high level.

  1. Fabricio Werdum
  2. Royce Gracie
  3. Nate Diaz
  4. Nick Diaz
  5. Kenny Florian
  6. Brian Ortega
  7. Demian Maia
  8. Ronaldo Jacare Souza
  9. Anderson Silva
  10. BJ Penn

Boxing Is A Building Block

A boxer wearing red and white shorts lands a hard right hand during his fight.
A boxer lands a solid right-hand punch.

No combat sport that includes standup exchanges would be complete without the use of punches. As one of the oldest and most common of all fighting styles. Since the inception of the sport, boxing has had pride in place.

With so many top athletes have it as the base on which they build their mixed martial arts game. Adding the fact that as a whole, boxing is still a more watched sport than mixed martial arts. There can be little denying its importance in the MMA Mozaic.

Many of the early fighters in the sport came with a boxing background and later added grappling. But it’s equally true that many grapplers had to add boxing to the game in order to be successful.

And while there are some recognisable differences in the execution. Both MMA fighters and boxers use a very similar stance. The main difference is that in the cage you have to be ready for a whole range of attacks.

From kicks, elbows, knees and takedowns. There are far more things that need to be considered when compared to the boxing ring.

And while it has to be said that the level of boxing is not as good as it is in its purest form. There are several mixed martial artists who do excel in taking out their opponents with punches.

And while some have crossed over into opposing sports, none have done it with much major success. The two disciplines exist in very different worlds.

Standout Boxers In MMA

Here are some of the best-known boxers in mixed martial arts. Some had already spent time in the sport before making the crossover into MMA. Managing to combine their style into the rick tapestry for use inside the cage.

  1. Nick Diaz
  2. Nate Diaz
  3. Cody Garbrandt
  4. Conor McGregor
  5. Holly Holm
  6. Max Holloway
  7. Jorge Masvidal
  8. Dominic Cruz
  9. Junior Dos Santos

Kickboxing Is Not As Common

The sport of kickboxing comes in many guises. With the most famous ones being American and of course Dutch kickboxing. And while the sport never quite saw the success that some others did, especially in the US.

A fighter in black shorts lands a hard left kick to the body of his opponent.
A kickboxer lands a left kick to the ribs.

Kickboxing in Europe and Asia has been going strong now for several generations. Harking back to the days of K-1 heavyweight kickboxing in Japan during the 1990s. A time widely recognised now as a golden era in sports history.

Today some of the greatest fighters have a background in kickboxing and especially the Dutch style. With more of a focus on boxing when compared to its Thai cousin.

Kickboxing appears to have transitioned and moulded well into the MMA landscape. With some of the best hands in the world, combined with the refined kicking that has become well suited for the cage.

The position of kickboxers in the upper echelons of the sport looks assured. And with MMA becoming more and more popular, especially across Europe. Who knows where things may stand in the years to come? As more and more elite kickboxers make the transition across.

So as you can see from the following list, many of the elite strikers do come from Holland. Having seen major success in their careers both in and outside the cage.

Some Standout Kickboxers

Here is a non-exhaustive list of fighters who made a successful transition from kickboxing to mixed martial arts. Some became world champions, while others never quite reached those same heights.

  1. Alistair Overeem
  2. Mark Hunt
  3. Pat Barry
  4. Mirko Filipovic
  5. Semmy Schilt
  6. Antoni Hardonk
  7. Melvin Manhoef

Standup Royalty Of Muay Thai

Widely regarded as the most effective standup striking martial art on the planet. Muay Thai was slow to make its way into the world of mixed martial arts.

While boxing and even American kickboxing already had a home. The South Asian discipline would not make an impact until the post-Zuffa takeover some years later in 2003.

Two fighters exchanging during their fight with Burmese landing a kick.
A Muay Thai fighter lands a kick to the body.

But the martial art of Muay Thai has been around for longer than many others. Dating back to well before Thailand was even a nation, in a region formerly known as Siam.

The Art of Eight limbs was used on the battlefields by warriors who lost all their weapons. Going hand to hand with their adversary, they would use their legs arms and heads are their weapons.

It is from here that the term eight limbs first arose. And for this reason, why Muay Thai’s popularity has been so successful in spreading around the globe. Fighters from across the board travelling to Thailand to train and immerse themselves in the culture.

Standout Muay Thai Fighters in MMA

Today so many of the elite fighters in the history of the sport have cross-trained in the art. Integrating it into their game to great success. You can see from the following list that contains some of the greatest fighters MMA has ever seen.

  1. Anderson Silva
  2. Jon Jones
  3. Joanna Jędrzejczyk
  4. Donald Cerrone
  5. Cris Cyborg
  6. Rafael Dos Anjos
  7. TJ Dillashaw
  8. Carlos Condit
  9. Edson Barboza
  10. Jose Aldo

Taekwando Is Used By Some

Not the first standup striking sport you think of when speaking about elite-level full-contact fighters. But Taekwondo too has its place in the MMA of today.

A young Taekwondo fighter sits and listens to her coach in the dojo.
A female Taekwondo student listens to instructions.

If you have ever listened to someone like Joe Rogan who himself was a US champion. As he grew to know more about other combat sports. He found the appeal of Taekwondo’s points-scoring system less and less appealing.

Focusing mainly on spinning kick attacks, more so than punches. It did not seem to fit well into the burgeoning MMA picture, at least initially. But as with most things, over time it too found a home and a successful one at that.

With some of the sports major champions now have it as their core discipline. They were able to take some of the elements that worked and integrate them with the other skills required. And creating some of the most dynamic styles we see today.

Standout Taekwando Fighters

With some of the following fighters have given us some of the craziest stoppages ever seen. There can be little doubting Taekwondo has found a home inside the cage.

  1. Anthony Pettis
  2. Yair Rodriguez
  3. Valentina Schevchenko
  4. Rose Namajunas
  5. Benson Henderson
  6. Edson Barbosa
  7. Bas Rutten

Even Karate Has Its Place

What is the first thing you think of when you think about karate? I personally always default to the karate kid movie. But the art form is so much more than a 1980s Hollywood film script.

As the Japanese martial art has shown that it too can hang with the best in the world inside the UFC octagon. Where once many believed the formulaic techniques had no place in freeform fighting.

Today it has found its niche and continues to do well. With several champions coming to the sport having trained in it during their formative years.

Featuring its low wide stance, coupled with its bouncing in and out of range. Karate too is yet another art that many believed would not be a good fit for mixed martial arts.

It may be something to do with the restrictive techniques. But over time as its fighters have combined their newfound ground and submission skills. They have managed to mix it all together to create a hybrid with Karate at its heart. Which continues to bear fruit inside the cage.

A Karate practitioner working on his form in the dojo.
A Karate fighter performing a technique.

Standout Karate Fighters

And with a growing list crediting it as their base. It looks as though it won’t be going anywhere for now. Regardless of how much more popular MMA might become over time.

  1. Stephen Thompson
  2. Georges St Pierre
  3. Chuck Liddell
  4. Takanori Gomi
  5. Robert Whittaker
  6. Lyoto Machida
  7. Gunnar Nelson
  8. John Makdessi

Judo Works Well In MMA

While there were a number of Judokas in the early years of the UFC. The martial art never caught on as one of the main disciplines to make up the backbone of mixed martial arts.

That was of course until a certain Miss Ronda Rousey came along and changed the fundamental nature of the game. With the UFC president having sworn blind he would never allow women to compete in the promotion.

Just a few short years later the single biggest star in the sport was none other than the Olympic bronze medalist. And from that point on Judo became a major player, receiving additional interest in its application in MMA.

Even the more popular BJJ which swept through the MMA world is actually a derivative. Having its roots firmly set in Japanese art, BJJ’s evolution came as Judoka sought to bring in its own style. Which in turn led to the future adaptation born in Brazil.

But today its importance cannot be underestimated. As more and more fighters have come to realise that many of its fundamentals such as hip throws, sweeps and trips work so well in the clinch.

Two Judoka's drilling their throwing technique in training.
A Judoka performing a throw.

That by all accounts its future in the sport looks good. And no doubt with yet another Rousey not yet being old enough to compete inside the octagon. The day will come when another phenom arrives in the sport from its realm.

Standout Judo Players

Here are some of the most well-known Judoka to grace the octagon. with special mention of one Ronda Rousey who most would agree brought women’s mixed martial arts to the mainstream audience.

  1. Ronda Rousey
  2. Don Frye
  3. Hector Lombard
  4. Oleg Taktarov
  5. Karo Parisyan
  6. Dan Kelly
  7. Yoshihiro Akiyama
  8. Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva

Some Final Words

Mixed martial arts owe their very existence to those disciplines that have come before. While not regarding itself as being a martial art. MMA does bring together the very best elements to create the ultimate discipline in all combat sports.

A hybrid that utilises only the very best techniques. Ever refining, always adapting as each iteration brings new blood and new ideas. As fighters add their own twists and techniques to the melting pot that is mixed martial arts.