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Which MMA Style Is The Best? The Top 5 Martial Arts For MMA

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Published: September 23, 2021
Updated: September 23, 2021

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Modern MMA began as a sport to test which martial art was the most effective in a fight. While it started out with fighters who were highly skilled in one discipline, fighters today have blended many disciplines to create an optimal style of combat. Since each fighter has their own strengths, which MMA style is the best?

Despite MMA fighters usually learning a few different martial arts to stay unpredictable in the cage, they usually have a dominant fighting style that stems from their primary martial arts training. Choosing the right primary style can give some fighters an advantage.

If you are looking to start MMA, you are likely trying to figure out which martial art you should focus on as your primary fighting style. This will determine the kind of fighter you will become in the cage. While you should choose a style that elevates your strengths and minimizes your weakness, you should also look at the styles which are the most effective.

Let's look at the top fighting styles that are effective in an MMA match. 

The Basic Elements Of MMA

As many fans know, the practice of fighting using mixed martial arts was started over 2 000 years ago in Ancient Greece. Fighters participated in pankration, which was a combat sport with only two rules; no eye-gouging, and no biting. The no-holds-barred sport was rather rough and fighters fought to the death in some instances.

Throughout the years, the sport developed, and later on the popularity of modern-day MMA was evident in the 1990s when strict rules were put in place. This was to protect fighters and to create a more structured sport for all to enjoy.

While certain elements are now barred from MMA, the basis is still fairly similar. Fighters aim to end the match as quickly as possible by using effective fighting techniques. In any given match, you are likely to witness three main elements. These are essential if you want to start a career in MMA. 

The Three Main Elements Of MMA

MMA fighters practice and develop varying levels of expertise in striking (stand up fighting), takedowns (clinches), and submission (ground fighting). These techniques are crucial to master before you even think of stepping into an MMA cage.

This means you will need to learn more than one martial art to be successful in the sport.

Each martial art has its own strength, whether it is striking techniques in boxing, takedowns from judo, or grappling moves in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). Knowing what you want your strength to be in the cage, will help you choose your primary martial art.

You will notice many MMA legends and current fighters being dominant in a certain area. However, they are also fairly competent in the other elements to protect themselves against fighters who are more proficient in those areas.

Watching Conor McGregor in a fight, you will notice his expert boxing techniques but also his possible shortcomings when he is up against a good grappler. Royce Gracie was the master of BJJ but could get knocked out quite easily when faced with a striking opponent. 

Then, fighters like Ronda Rousey are experts at takedowns but will struggle against a striking opponent who also has good knowledge of takedowns. Understanding the other elements is also essential to learn how to defend yourself against them.

Illegal Fighting Styles In MMA

Due to the rules and regulations implemented in the early days of modern MMA, certain techniques have been banned by the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF). In addition to the illegal moves, some lethal martial arts such as krav maga and Hapkido are rarely seen in these fights. 

The 5 Best MMA Fighting Styles

During the start of top MMA promotions such as UFC 1 and Pride FC, BJJ was the dominant style of fighting. You just have to look up Royce Gracie, the very first UFC 1 champion, to understand why the fighting style was so effective. 

Let’s have a look to see if this fighting style which is dominated by ground fighting is still effective in the cage today. Here are the top fighting styles for MMA based on the skills that will prove useful during an MMA fight.

#1 Wrestling

Wrestling is one of the few martial arts that are included as an Olympic sport and is devoid of striking techniques. The martial arts discipline comes from Ancient Greece and has evolved into various styles. 

two men diving on floor

Many soldiers were trained with wrestling techniques including throws, takedowns, pinning techniques, and holds. The aim of wrestling is to subdue an opponent without the use of any striking with hands, feet, knees, or elbows. 

Fighters need to take down their opponent and subdue them on the floor in a hold to win the match. This style provides MMA fighters with a good understanding of takedown techniques and defensive moves to prevent takedowns.

Throwing an opponent to the ground is beneficial as it gives you an advantage in controlling the fight. Knowing how to prevent the other fighter from taking you down is also essential. The downfall of wrestling is the lack of striking techniques, which will need to be learned from another martial art.

Well Known Wrestling Fighters In MMA

Many MMA fighters have strong wrestling skills, but here are a few prominent names; Khabib Nurmagomedov, Henry Cejudo, TJ Dillashaw, Yoel Romero, Stipe Miocic, Daniel Cormier, Brock Lesnar, and Carla Esparza.

#2 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Next on the list is BJJ, which can be seen as the original fighting style of modern MMA since the very first champion of UFC 1, Royce Gracie, was a master of BJJ. The Gracie family are known to have created BJJ after a traveler who stayed with them taught them the principles of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu.

man in white button up shirt

As a result of these teachings, two brothers in the Gracie family developed this combat style with a heavy focus on grappling techniques. After challenging and beating top martial artists from around the world, the brothers took the sport to America. 

As Royce won the championship, BJJ became very popular as many of the fighters could not fight on the ground. Later on, the lack of striking techniques in the discipline became evident and BJJ fighters looked to other disciplines to gain those skills to pair with their BJJ techniques.

BJJ is a good style of fighting to learn, especially for smaller fighters, as the ground grappling techniques are effective in subduing much larger opponents. For this reason, BJJ has become a popular self-defense technique to learn. 

Since almost all MMA fighters know at least the basics of BJJ, it is essential to learn these skills before entering into a competition. You will need to couple it with another discipline that consists of strong striking techniques, such as Muay Thai.

Well Known BJJ Fighters In MMA

A few notable fighters who are well-versed in BJJ are; Cris Cyborg, Brian Ortega, Ronaldo Souza, Jose Aldo, Rose Namajunas, Amanda Nunes, Tim Sylvia, and Anderson Silva.

#3 Boxing

Boxing is another necessary discipline to learn for MMA as it not only teaches expert striking and hand techniques, it also teaches fighters strong footwork and head movements. Since MMA fights usually start standing up, you need to have a strong striking game as well as defensive moves.

two men inside boxing ring

Even if you are better on the ground with grappling techniques, knowing how to stay in the fight before you manage to take down your opponent or at least defend against their strikes, is essential. 

While many people may view boxing as a predominantly striking sport, it is the footwork that elevates this discipline into a championship-winning fighting style. 

The fast movements give fighters the ability to dodge attacks, deflect hard knocks, and set themselves up in an attacking position. The added head movements help with defense and positioning, which are crucial during an MMA fight.

Due to the quick reaction times of the sport, boxing is not only a great workout, having it as a basis of your MMA fighting style makes boxing an effective technique for self-defense. The ability to expertly control distance and move quickly to land strikes is a good enough reason to take some boxing classes.

Due to its strengths, while standing up, boxing should be coupled with a discipline that teaches strong ground fighting skills.

Well Known Boxing Fighters In MMA

Most MMA fighters have had some sort of boxing training, but a few well-known fighters who base their career on boxing are Conor McGregor, Nick Diaz, Holly Holm, Stipe Miocic, Carlos Newton, Cody Garbrandt, and Junior dos Santos.

#4 Kickboxing

Just as boxing is popular in MMA, so is kickboxing due to the inclusion of strong kicking strikes taught during training. While some people will see kickboxing as more important than boxing, it falls short in the stagnant stances. Kickboxing does not include quick footwork and movement as boxing does.

woman in green and black stripe tank top and black shorts carrying black and red boxing bag

The discipline is still a strong martial art to learn for MMA as it teaches speed and strength while teaching fighters to use their hands and feet along with their knees and elbows to strike opponents. Since it focuses heavily on striking, it is good to learn along with a discipline strong in grappling techniques like BJJ.

The explosive strikes taught in kickboxing can help fighters land heavy blows that render opponents incapable of continuing the fight due to the intense damage caused. 

Well Known Kickboxer Fighters In MMA

While not as popular as other disciplines, there are still some notable fighters, such as Quinton Jackson, Frank Shamrock, Holly Holm, Robbie Lawler, and Bas Rutten.

#5 Muay Thai

Muay Thai, which is also known as Thai boxing, was developed during the war in Siam, which is now Thailand, as a method of combat when soldiers were disarmed. The techniques are effective in self-defense scenarios as well as during an MMA fight.

two person doing mix martial arts on white and blue stadium

The sport involves rigorous training that teaches practitioners how to expertly use their knees and elbows in addition to their hands and feet. The discipline is often called “The Art of Eight Limbs” and practitioners are taught how to use their whole body as a weapon.

The full-body workout will prepare fighters for the extreme physicality they will experience during a match and the discipline teaches essential skills such as self-awareness and confidence, which are also important during an MMA match. 

Muay Thai also teaches clinching techniques to extend your abilities beyond only striking. This helps you learn two of the essential elements of MMA in one discipline. 

Well Known Muay Thai Fighters In MMA

A few fighters with a strong Muay Thai background include; Miesha Tate, Cris Cyborg, Anderson Silva, Zhang Weili, Dave Menne, Jon Jones, and Valentina Shevchenko.

The Best MMA Style FAQs

Which fighting style is the best for MMA?

MMA requires a mix of different martial arts styles to become a winning fighter, although the best styles to begin your training include Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling. These two disciplines teach strong grappling and throwdown techniques.

What is the hardest style of fighting to learn?

Arguably, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is one of the hardest martial arts to master and includes difficult ground fighting techniques. However, it is a highly effective style to learn as it includes good self-defense and MMA techniques.

Is Krav Maga banned in MMA fights?

No, there are no martial arts banned from MMA fights in their entirety, although some of the key moves are banned. Since Krav Maga is a deadly combat style designed for the military, it includes many moves that are illegal in the MMA cage.

The Final Round

Becoming a skilled MMA fighter requires in-depth knowledge of several martial art forms, including the foundational philosophies and fundamentals of each discipline. When learning MMA, it is a good idea to choose a primary martial art to lead your fighting style while including several other techniques within your training to gain a strong advantage over your opponents.

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