What is Mixed Martial Arts: All You Need to Know

MMA has quickly become one of the most popular sports in the world.

In this page, we'll cover every detail of MMA including its history, the different styles used, rules, judging, weight classes, the several MMA professional organizations, equipment needed, and even the notable famous fighters.

what is mixed martial arts

The History of Mixed Martial Arts

Mixed Martial Arts, commonly referred to as 'MMA', is a combat sport that allows full contact throughout the match.

It has exploded in popularity over the last 10 years and has recently reached mainstream status with the public.

The sport was created to figure out which martial art was the best one when one individual fought another, within a set of rules that didn't hinder any individual from using their best skills and tools.

What does this mean? Boxing for example, contains a rule set that only allows fighters to use their hands inside of a ring, while sporting large gloves that are specifically made for punching (grabbing occurs but it is more difficult to do).

MMA features disciplines from a range of martial arts and Olympic sports including boxing, kick-boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, karate, tae kwon do, muay thai and judo. We'll go over what all of these specialize in below.

judo mma

Types of Martial Arts in MMA

You'll often hear the following terms (Stand up, clinch, groundfighting) by commentators as well as MMA fanatics. If you're a newbie, don't worry we'll hook you up with a crash course, and if you're experienced you'll probably still learn something new.

Stand Up: As the name suggests, the fighters are standing up prepared to strike, clinch or shoot for a takedown.

(That's how we were able to create a Hardest Punchers in MMA list)

Specialists in this area include: boxing, kick-boxing, jiu-jitsu, karate, tae kwon do, muay thai

striking mma 

Clinch: In a clinched position, the fighters are standing but have a hold of each other.

mma clinch

Specialists in this area include: wrestling, muay thai, judo, sambo

Groundfighting: As the name suggests, fighters are on the ground in close distance grappling.

Specialists in this area include: wrestling, jiu-jitsu, judo, sambo

jiu jitsu

Rules in MMA

Believe it or not there are actual rules in MMA implemented for the safety of the fighters during the bout as well as their long term health.

The following is not allowed:

  • Strikes to the groin
  • Strikes to the back of the head
  • Biting
  • Eye gouging
  • Grabbing or striking the throat
  • Pulling hair
  • Grabbing the inside of the opponent's gloves
  • Head butting
  • Throwing opponent outside of the cage

Different Ways to Win

  • Knockout: When a fighter completely loses consciousness due to a slam or strike

  • Submission: When a fighter taps or loses consciousness due to a choke or a hold

  • Decision: When neighter fighter was finished during the fight and the fight goes the distance of the bout.

  • TKO: When a referee steps in to stop a fight as the fighter is no longer actively defending himself.

  • No Contest: When the fight must be ended for a reason deemed out of the control of both fighters. Neither a winner or loser is declared.


  • Judges Decision: If the contest goes the distance, the three judges shall combine the points they have awarded competitors for each round to determine the winner. If the scores are tied, then the match shall be declared a draw.

  • Judges Decision & Scoring

    3 judges are assigned from a specific commission and they judge each round separately. At the conclusion of the fight, they turn in their score cards.

  • They assign 10 points to the fighter they deemed to have won the round. 9 points are reserved to the person losing the round.

    However the person losing the round can also receive 8 points or even 7 points depending on how close the fight was to being stopped.

    A 10-8 round is an extremely dominant round for one fighter.

  • Weight Cutting in MMA

  • MMA is not without its own issues however.

  • Weight cutting has been a massive problem since the beginning of the days where weight classes were implemented.

  • Fighters will cut an extraordinary amount of weight to reach a weight class, and then re-hydrate themselves before a fight in order to have a size advantage.

  • Fighters only need to be at that certain weight for 1 hour (to weight in).

  • One of the modern day examples of this is UFC fighter Paulo Costa. He fights in the middleweight division and is known for being a giant 185'er.

  • He has been recorded weighing in at 185 lbs during weight ins, and according to the California State Athletic Commission, he was 213.8 lbs during his fight vs Yoel Romero.

  • That means he rehydrated 28.8 lbs. Let me rephrase that. From the time Costa stepped off the scale, to the time he stepped into the octagon to fight, he was able to rehydrate almost 30 lbs!! He was able to make this work and get the victory, but you can see how other fighters who attempt this can easily have something go wrong in the process of cutting that much weight.

  • Every once in a while catchweights are made as well.

  • Drug Testing

  • USADA - The US Anti Doping Agency was brought to the UFC in July 1st, 2015. Prior to this the UFC had standard drug testing but not to the level that USADA brings.

  • Once USADA was implemented, most of the UFC roster went through a 'physique change', and there were a lot of positive drug results as well from fighters, as well as drop off in performances from previous dominant champions.

  • USADA is known for having cleaned up the sport.

  • USADA is used by the Olympics and is known for being the top of the line drug testing company in the world.

  • They will randomly drug test fighters in and out of competition, and fighters have to update their locations using an app so that USADA will know their whereabouts.

  • Failure to update their location will initially result in a warning and can result in a suspension.

  • USADA not only tests current samples that they collect, they will test past samples as well.

  • As their drug testing is always improving, they can only test for 'what they know' at the time.

  • Meaning once they've found something new (a new way of beating the drug testing system that is being used) and they're now able to test for it, they'll test past samples as well to catch those who had been using that method previously. It is a very intricate system.

  • Professional MMA Organizations

    There are a multitude of MMA organizations all over the world that each offer a unique twist to the fans. We've detailed each one below.


    The UFC is a powerhouse in MMA and are known as the the 'end goal' for professional fighters as the largest MMA company in the world.

    This is equivalent to football players reaching the NFL, or basketball players reaching the NBA despite there being lesser known organizations.


    The UFC strictly features MMA fights.

    MMA is actually commonly referred to as UFC, and for good reason. The Ultimate Fighting Championship has been the biggest player in bringing the sport mainstream.

    They're praised for (most of the time) having the 'best fight the best'. This means the champion will fight the #1 contender, and also avoids 'padding records' which is something that occurs in other sports.

    A fighter is considered to have a padded record if their record is composed of beating other fighters with losing records, unknowns, journeymen, or all of the above.

    In the end the fans get what they want, and the fighters' legacies improve and are sealed in history.

    It was founded 28 years ago.

    In the early days, the UFC had to adopt stricter rules to convince commissions that they were an actual sport, and not just human cockfighting.

    Another challenge they had to overcome was 'humanizing' the fighters to the public.

    Naturally, when the public saw blood caused from a fight, they would pass judgement on the fighters thinking they were just barbarians.

    In fact, the UFC did a great job of eventually showing the public that their fighters were intellectual, well spoken, friendly, and just happened to be good at fighting through increased media exposure.

    ONE Championship

    Founded 9 years ago, ONE championship is a Singapore based MMA company. It is an up and coming company, and their popularity has surged over the last couple of years.

    one championship

    ONE features MMA, kickboxing, muay thai, and jiu jitsu matches.

    One (no pun intended) of the unique features they offer that is also popular among fans is their weight cutting hydration test.

    They've essentially banned weight cutting (a massive issue in MMA) by having fighters fight at the weight they actually walk around at.

    How'd they do this? They implemented a hydration test.

    A fighter is tested multiple times throughout fight week on not just their weight but their hydration levels as well.

    If a fighter is unable to pass the hydration test, they will be unable to fight.

    This inevitably causes fighters to fight at a heavier weight class than they typically would when they're able to dehydrate their bodies.

    In fact, a great example of this is none other than Demetrius 'Mighty Mouse' Johnson. Known as the greatest flyweight (125 lbs) of all time, he spent the majority of his career at that weight in the UFC having an incredibly successful run.

    However, when he was traded to ONE championship.

    He began and continued fighting 10 lbs heavier at Bantamweight (135 lbs) due to the hydration test.


    Bellator sticks out for their Grand Prix bracket styled tournaments.

    Typically in organizations such as the UFC and ONE, fighters fight once and aren't scheduled their next opponent for months later.

    In a Grand Prix, it is a bracket where one fighter fights another, and if he wins, he will fight the next fighter in his bracket, immediately knowing who his opponent will be (and at worst case knowing it'll be one of the 2).

    The fighter continues until he reaches the top of the bracket, fighting for the world championship, and the fighter that wins the Grand Prix becomes champion.


    Known as the little brother of the UFC for quite some time, Bellator has recently become a player for mainstream media.

    Founded 13 years ago, Bellator initially was known to the public for hosting fights that didn't make the most sense with fighters past their prime, Kimbo Slice vs Dada 5000 & Shamrock vs Gracie II come to mind.

    However over the last few years they've gradually developed and rounded out a very high level and competitive roster.

    Part of it is homegrown Bellator talent, and the other part is acquiring former UFC fighters who are still in their prime who have become Bellator Champions such as Ryan Bader, Gegard Mousasi, Cris Cyborg, Sergio Pettis.

    Bellator's arrow is definitely trending upwards and it's very likely that they will make a push to compete vs the UFC in the upcoming years.

    Professional Fighters League (PFL)

    Founded only 3 years ago, PFL takes a more modern approch to MMA.

    They're the first organization where the fighters compete in a regular season, post season (playoffs), and championships instead of on a yearly basis.

    Similarly to Bellator, they do a tournament bracket style of fights.

    They use a scoring system depending that prioritizes a win (loser gets 0 points) and fighters are able to receive bonus points for finishing a fight, the amount of additional points depending on which round.

     The top 4 fighters from the standings will move on to the post season.

    The winner receives the championship belt and a $1 million prize.

    Past Organizations

    Pride Fighting Championships

    Founded in 1997 and ending in 2007, Pride was a japanese MMA company.

    Famously known for featuring legends of the sport fighting each other with no weight classes, Pride was must watch TV at that time.

    Legends such as Chuck Liddell, Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Dan Henderson, Anderson Silva and Mirko Crop Cop competed here.

    Pride matches featured a 10 minute first round

    Rule Differences: One of the biggest differences in rules at Pride included being able to kick, knee and stomp the head of the opponent while they were down on the floor. Another difference was being able to piledrive an opponent on their head or neck. The most surprising rule was despite allowing the above, they were not allowed to use elbows.

    Judging Differences: Rather than what is traditional now as judges scoring each round, in Pride the judges would score the entire fight.


    An American MMA and Kickboxing company, Strikeforce was one of the best acquisitions in history

    The UFC acquired Strikeforce in 2011 and with that brought along cream of the crop talent including: Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez, Luke Rockhold, Fabricio Werdum, Ronda Rousey, Yoel Romero, Gegard Mousasi and Nick Diaz.

    World Extreme Cagefighting - WEC

    Founded in 2001 and ending in 2010, WEC was an integral part of history.

    They were known for sporting fighters in the lighter weight classes (135 lbs, 145 lbs, 155 lbs) during a time where it was perceived that only heavier fighters could have entertaining fights.

    The WEC helped bring positive exposure to smaller fighters as they proved that not only could they have entertaining fights, they possessed knock out power as well.

    The biggest aspect that fans immediately noticed however, was the lighter fighters were much more well rounded than the heavier fighters. Another notable aspect was due to their smaller frame, they could fight at a much higher pace than larger fighters.

    The WEC was eventually acquired by the UFC and fighters such as Jose Aldo, Urijah Faber, Dominick Cruz and Anthony Pettis joined the organization.

    Evolution of MMA

    There has been a massive evolution in MMA in the last 20 years.

    Weight Classes in MMA

    Something of note, weight class names can vary by organization.

    We've listed out the weight classes that the UFC knows them by to prevent confusion.

    Strawweight: 115 lbs

    Flyweight: 125 lbs

    Bantamweight: 135 lbs

    Featherweight: 145 lbs

    Lightweight: 155 lbs

    Welterweight: 170 lbs

    Middleweight: 185 lbs

    Light Heavyweight: 205 lbs

    Heavyweight: Up to 265 lbs

    There is also a Super Heavyweight class that is over 265 lbs but this class does not exist in the UFC, and rarely ever occurs in any other organization.

    If you're interested in learning more about weight classes, we've created a UFC Weight Classes Guide that clearly explains every single weight class, why weight classes are important, the future of weight classes and more.

  • MMA Equipment

    A good MMA headgear can provide you immense protection vs a lot of different types of risks including cauliflower ears.

  • We've compiled a list of the best headgears available on the market.

  • MMA Mouthguards are devices built to protect your teeth, cheeks, gums and even tongue from the potential trauma that can occur during a sports event. Luckily for you we've created a list of the best mma mouthguards you can choose from.

  • best mma mouthguard


  • The first time that you are accidentally hit in the groin region, you'll surely make sure that it's the last. We've listed out the best MMA cups available in the market along with the pros and cons of each.
  • best mma cup
  • You'll want to have MMA gloves to train to protect your hands during training. Our Why do MMA Fighters Wear Gloves page explains it.

    If you're wearing any sorts of gloves, you'll want to make sure you wrap your hands and wrists for maximum protection.

  • For those that want to get in the extra work at home vs a dummy that doesn't fight back, a MMA grappling dummy is perfect for you.

     If you're doing any amount of sparring whether it is kickboxing, karate or muay thai, you'll want to protect your shins with shinguards. It's not the initial contact that hurts the most without shin guards, it's the bruising that can last days.

    If you're doing any amount of boxing, you'll want a nice pair of boxing shoes that will last you.

    If you box frequently, you'll want to have additional ankle support as boxing requires constant footwork.

    MMA Shorts - Believe it or not, typical shorts aren't the best to train in. Do yourself a favor and get a quality short, or two.

    Heavy Bags - Get some extra work in at home with a heavy bag. Perfect your technique while improving your cardio.

  • heavy bag

    Pads - If you're lucky enough to have someone that wants to train with you outside of the gym and you can hold pads for one another, make sure to get the best pads.

    Gym Mats - Whether in the garage or in a spare room, if you're training you're going to want to protect yourself as well as the floor.

    Weights - Not only have weights been proven to improve performance, they can also make you feel good as your physique improves over time.

    Karate Gloves - Not everyone is training at a MMA gym. If you train at a traditional Karate dojo, make sure to have quality gloves for your sparring session.

  • MMA Attire Options

  • A fighter's attire consists of:
    • A pair of shorts (different styles available)
    • Open-fingered gloves
    • Mouth guard
    • A cup
    • No shoes, fighters compete barefoot
    • No gi tops or pants
  • Female attire is very similar to the male attire with a few additional options.
    • Everything male attire includes
    • A shirt is allowed
    • Chest gear is allowed
  • Cage Used in MMA

    The UFC cage is an octagonal cage containing metal chain link. The biggest benefit having a cage rather than a ring, is being able to grapple or wrestle against it.

  •   ufc cage

  • Ring

    In the early days, organizations such as Pride used the ring rather than the octagon.

  • Notable Famous Fighters

    Conor McGregor

  • The polarizing Irish fighter known for bringing the UFC to the spotlight. He was the first fighter who could talk the talk and walk the walk.

  • His rise to stardom was an incredible feat as he became the first double champ in UFC history winning both belts through knock outs in spectacular fashion.


  • George St. Pierre

  • The traditional martial artist who always wore his uniform during his walk to the cage and after the fight, GSP is known as one of the all time greats.

  • He was known as one of the most well rounded fighters in history going a staggering 26-2 while avenging both losses.

  • Prior to the McGregor era, GSP was the most marketable athlete due to his dominance, physique and temperament.



    Khabib Nurmagomedov

  • The Russian fighter who nobody could seemingly touch, the multi time Sambo champion is regarded as the most dominant UFC champion of all time.

  • Sporting an incredible 29-0 record, not only has he never lost a fight, he has barely even lost a round! Khabib is a unique story as he retired in his prime after his father's death.


    Jon Jones

  • Regarded as one of the best of all time, he has amassed a 26-1 record and the 1 loss is debatable as he was dominating the fight before being disqualified.

  • Jones won his first UFC title at 23 years old and hasn't lost since.

  • Unfortunately his own worst enemy is himself as he's had several run-ins with the law (and drug use).


    Demetrius Johnson

  • Also regarded as one of the best of all time, Mighty Mouse was most famous for being so dominant, that he cleaned out his entire 125 lbs division in the UFC multiple times.

  • In fact, so cleanly that he was eventually traded to ONE championship and after the trade, the 125 lbs championship began growing (see Henry Cejudo).

  • Ronda Rousey

  • Widely known for being the female UFC fighter to bring Women's MMA to the spotlight, Rousey was known for her immaculate submissions.

  • Everyone who tuned in wanted to see who Rousey would submit next and if they would even last a round.

    Amanda Nunes

  • Known as being the Great of all time in women's MMA, Nunes has dismantled every fighter put in her path convincingly.

  • She also became a double champion and actively defends both titles. 

  • Anderson Silva

  • Known for having one of the most dominant primes in history, Silva seemed unstoppable for a period of 7 years.

  • Fight after fight, Silva finished opponents in spectacular fashion. He is also known for having one of the most terrifying leg breaks ever seen in the octagon vs Chris Weidman.

  • Best MMA Gyms

  • Check out our list of The Best MMA Gyms in the World.
  • American Top Team: Primarily located in Coconut Creek, FL. However they have different locations throughout the US.

    American Kickboxing Academy: Primarily located in San Jose, California. They also have recently opened a location in Thailand.

    Team Alpha Male: Primarily based in Sacramento, California.

    MMA Masters: Located in South Florida.

    Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA: Located in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

  • Related Articles

  • Unluckiest MMA Fighters

  • 5 Best MMA Entrance Songs