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An MMA Fighter vs Boxer Conclusive Analysis On Who Wins

An MMA fighter in the gym putting on MMA gloves.

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It’s a question that has had mixed martial arts and boxing fans debating for as long as I can remember. Who would win between an MMA fighter and a boxer in a street fight?

While boxers are known for their fast and powerful punch combinations. MMA fighters are widely regarded as being less competent in terms of boxing skills. But, they have an additional arsenal of tools to work with and statistically should win in an unsanctioned fight.

MMA is essentially sanctioned street fighting or at least it was as close as you could legally get when it first made its debut in the 1990s. Today around the world Mixed Martial Arts is a fully sanctioned sport. And combines many martial arts into one discipline using the acronym MMA.

Boxing takes one element of combat sports where only hands are used in the fighting contest. This specific focus on hands-only has led to boxers having fine-tuned and conditioned one element in the myriad of offensive and defensive possibilities in a fight.

Boxing is a tightly controlled and restrictive rule-driven sport that dates back as far as 3000 BC in ancient Egypt. And being predefined means that in an uncontrolled environment, where your opponent is not required to play by those rules. Opens the doors to a number of other ways of winning an attacker might use.

Key Differences Between MMA And Boxing

The biggest difference between MMA and boxing is the variety of options open to a fighter who has cross-trained in multiple martial art disciplines. While boxing may or may not be their strongest weapon. Most MMA fighters had previously transitioned to the sport from another main discipline.

The UFC or Ultimate Fighting Championship, the largest MMA promotion in the world, began in the United States. Its highest number of champions with a total of 28, comes from a wrestling-based background in combat sports.

This is followed in a distant second by fighters with a base in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu of which there are 17. Originally introduced to MMA by the Gracie family and for a time dominated the sport, BJJ’s success has somewhat waned in recent years. As more fighters have learned how to avoid many of the technical submission moves.

And in a distant third place with 12 of the UFC’s champions, the main fighting style is that of boxing. So a clear show of dominance from ground fighting-based martial artists is evident in MMA, where the martial art of boxing is taken as just one element. Check out the chart below which shows the breakdown of UFC Champions by fighting style.

Now it is not all sunshine and roses for mixed martial artists if they are unable to use their full set of skills in a sanctioned fight.

A bad example would be when the former WBO world heavyweight champion, Ray Mercer. Took on the former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia in a hybrid MMA-style fight, without kicks.

And although Silvia was regarded as having pretty decent hands, for MMA. The no-kicking rule played right into Mercer’s hands, quite literally. As he knocked out Silvia just nine seconds into their fight.

Showing the gulf in class between two champions in terms of pure boxing ability in the opposing sports when the playing field was somewhat level.

What Happened When An MMA Fighter Fought A Boxer

Probably the most well-known example of a boxer taking on an MMA fighter was when the former UFC light heavyweight champion Randy Couture. Faced off against multiple-time world boxing champion James Toney, inside the UFC octagon.

Toney is regarded as one of the greatest defensive and counter-punching boxers of all time. Standing at just 5 feet 10 inches, Toney fought from middleweight right up to heavyweight, winning boxing world titles in every division.

But at just 14 seconds into his fight against Couture which was held under MMA rules, inside the UFC cage. Toney was taken down and quickly mounted. And at just 3 minutes and 18 seconds, the fight was over via a head and arm choke.

Boxing fans can list off a host of boxers who could literally take a person’s head off with their hands. But an MMA fighter is not going to play to the strengths of a boxer.

While a boxer does have the ability to land the harder punches and stop their opponent in their tracks. What happens if the MMA guy closes the distance, gets a body lock and gets a takedown? Or decides to stay at distance and kick the head, kidneys and legs?

If the fight goes to the ground, as so many real-world fights do? Who wins in the body positioning and grappling department? Ground fighting is truly another world and when you are there, much of the time a smaller fighter can overcome a much bigger opponent, simply based on grappling ability alone.

Boxers In The Early Days Of MMA

If you remember the early hazy days of the MMA, you had fighters who were very much one-dimensional. Back when the sport kicked off you even had a boxer named Art Jimmerson entering the fight wearing just one boxing glove.

Perhaps hoping to strike with one arm and grapple with the other. A terrible decision as he was taken down and quickly submitted by a game Royce Gracie.

In case you have not already noticed, the point that I am trying to get across here is that Mixed martial artists. Have a slew of options when it comes to a fight against a boxer. Not a boxing match, not a standup street fight, but a pure no holds barred street fight.

Two boxers fighting during a boxing competition
Two guys do boxing sparring.

But in a situation where anything can and will happen. After following and training in both sports throughout my life. In my humble opinion, I would have to give the street fighting advantage to the MMA fighter.

For me, it’s a 9 out of 10 times scenario, where the boxer, of course, does have the chance to get the knockout. But for me, the other 9 times, the MMA guy will use their diverse arsenal of combat skills to overcome and defeat their opponent.

How Does A Boxer Win

In a street fight scenario, a boxer’s route to victory is to keep the fight on their feet. To keep the MMA fighter at a striking distance and either incapacitate with some body shots or knock their opponent out.

A boxer will have to use their superior footwork and circle off creating angles. As MMA practitioners are often more squared off in their stance, while they do tend to stand showing less of a target.

They need to be aware that their lead leg is wide open for their opponent to shoot in. And so they need to be aware that they may use a lot of shooting feints to get them overthinking.

All of this must be done while avoiding the offence of the MMA practitioner. Make sure they are not susceptible to takedowns or leg kicks. While also making sure they do not get caught in the clinch.

But inside is also the realm of the boxer who can use what is referred to in MMA as dirty boxing. Short sharp punches with little space on the inside can do plenty of damage.

An MMA Fighters Path To Victory

For the MMA fighter, there can be several different scenarios in which he will win against the boxer. Not afraid of being taken down, they can stay at range and kick their opponent’s legs until they can no longer stand. If you have ever been kicked in the thigh area, you will know how debilitating it can be.

If they attempt to close distance, their opponent can level change and shoot for a takedown. Once on the ground, the boxer loses the vast majority of his ability to punch. Especially if they have never been in the position before.

While on the ground the MMA fighter can land punches and elbows, all the time controlling the boxer’s posture and not allowing them to get up. Once they have made their opponent carry their full body weight for some time, they may attempt an armbar or chokehold to force a submission.

And remember this is a street fight, so when the person on the ground is unconscious. They are very much at the mercy of their opponent who can continue the attack while their opponent is unconscious.

My Closing Argument

In closing, it is my belief that a skilled MMA fighter beats a boxer the vast majority of the time. As anything can and does happen in a street fight. The boxer can of course land that knockout punch.

There are just so many more tools available to an MMA fighter in a no-rules situation for them to be able to take advantage. This is just my two cents, but I feel extremely confident in my assessment and I hope you see value in my argument.

And for the most part, it is not simply based on an opinion. As we have seen from active competition when an MMA guy is allowed to use all their tool, they simply cannot hang with them.

Who has better cardio a boxer or an MMA fighter? Well, this is a pretty broad question. As again, both athletes train some different key aspects of their physique. While a boxer’s main focus of fitness is the upper body, training day in and day out punching pads and punching bags.

While using mainly foot speed drills, skipping and running to build their aerobic fitness. Boxers never train any form of ground fighting or using their legs for anything other than placing their feet when throwing a punch and moving around the ring.

While both sports athletes train with a combination of aerobic and anaerobic fitness drills. The MMA athlete will have a more balanced and all-encompassing approach to their cardio training.

An MMA guy will take certain aspects of boxing training. But will add the additional element of kickboxing and grappling. While ground fighting an opponent who uses their body weight as a tool drains energy significantly quicker from the body’s muscles.

Both sports have their own unique set of physical and mental demands on their competitors. But there is no doubt when that athletes try the other sport. Specific elements of their fitness are indeed found lacking.