PUNCH! KNOCK HIM OUT! COME ON, KILL EACH OTHER! These were the words that boisterously came out of my mouth back when I was an MMA noob. Watching long bouts of endless grappling seemed boring as my heart yearned for a highlight reel knockout. Most of us with no background in martial arts have been there, haven't we?
As time passed on, the true beauty of MMA unveiled itself in its own complicated way and slowly yet steadily, I began to understand what mixed martial arts truly meant. MMA is equivalent to an All-Star team; it's a potpourri of the best from the best categories. MMA brings together the most elite combat disciplines to have been in existence since the beginning of time and owing to a human being's natural survival instincts, the number of these disciplines that make the overall list is predictably high. They may all seem intertwined and influenced by each other in some technical aspect but individually stand out for their distinctive specializations.
The sport of MMA has evolved over the years and has borrowed various styles that are best suited for a freestyle fight where one can experience his or her creative peak without worrying too much about a particular combat style. There are hardly any fights where the fans get to witness a single martial art in full glory as it's always a melting pot of different art forms.
So which are the most used martial arts in the UFC then? Let's take a look, shall we? Note that the martial arts in this list are mentioned in no particular order.
#1 Muay Thai
The very first exponent of Muay Thai can be traced back to the 18th century when a Thai fighter named Nai Khanomtom was captured by the Burmese. Konbaung Dynasty Khanomtom knocked out ten Burmese fighters in succession and was awarded freedom as a result of the respect he had gained for his inhuman feat. His style of fighting later came to be known as Muay Thai, which transcended to greater heights after King Chulalongkorn came to power in the 19th century.
The national sport of Thailand attained global fame after Thai fighters took their martial arts form to Kickboxing matches around the globe. As time passed by, Muay That became the cornerstone of striking in MMA and the reason behind is its comprehensive nature.
Known as the 'art of 8-limbs', Muay Thai incorporates punches, elbows, kicks, and knees by using the different points of the body such as shins, knees, elbows, and fists. Muay Thai fighters like to mix it up with unpredictable striking combinations which include jabs, hooks, uppercuts, spinning backfists, straight and roundhouse kicks, horizontal elbows, straight knees and of course, the flying knee.
However, in addition to the diverse striking capabilities of Muay Thai, the martial art is known for its clinch which is a definite feature of MMA. Boxers are separated during a clinch in boxing bouts but in Muay Thai and MMA fights, the bout is thankfully not stopped. Thus, Muay Thai fighters are known to be exceptionally dangerous in the clinch as they have an arsenal of elbows and knees that can be used to great effect in the clinch. The different variations in the clinch make Muay Thai is a must-have quality for fighters who wish to be successful in MMA.
Muay Thai should not be confused with Kickboxing as the latter is a two-point system which employs only punches and kicks. Muay Thai is far more advanced and well-suited for MMA (both have relaxed rules), which is why almost every UFC fighter trains to integrate a Muay Thai base in their game plan.
Popular Muay Thai Fighters in the UFC:
Rafael Dos Anjos
The list is endless...
Many iterations of Muay Thai have cropped up in recent years with Greg Jackson's Gaidojutsu being one of the most popular ones of the lot. Gaidojutsu takes elements from Muay Thai, wrestling and Judo to form a tailor-made style for MMA. Look at Jon Jones, a black belt in Gaidojutsu and you would realize the effectiveness Jackson's highly inventive brainchild.
Boxing needs no introduction, does it? To become a mixed martial artist you first have to learn how to box. We're talking about the basics here folks.
Every fight begins with a traditional boxing guard which has of course been altered to suit the needs of MMA. MMA guards are longer and looser compared to the higher and more stiffer ones used in boxing and rightfully so, mixed martial artists have to deal with kicks, takedown attempts and what not!
While the different aspects of Boxing are used as a potent weapon to finish off fights by both counter attackers as well as volume-centric pressure fighters, the different elements of boxing are often used to set up a transition into another style, most notably the takedowns for grappling on the ground.
However, Boxing serves as the perfect foundation of a fighter's striking. MMA, at the end of the day, is fundamentally about striking and none better than the good old fashioned jabs, crosses, hooks, uppercuts, and the overhands taken from the time-tested book of Boxing.
Whether it is the smooth head movement or the seamless footwork, Boxing helps MMA fighters tremendously in fights and is a necessary skill in order to be known as a complete fighter. While not all boxers may be successful in MMA, many MMA fighters do become really proficient pugilists.
Here are some of the best boxers in the UFC who use one of the oldest forms of striking to good effect inside the Octagon:
Junior Dos Santos
It should be noted that a majority of the Muay Thai fighters mentioned in the earlier slide also warrant inclusions on this list as their boxing skills are right up there with the aforementioned names.
Created by Jigoro Kano in 1882 in Japan, Judo is one of the most underrated martial arts in MMA. The Olympic sport has often been overlooked over heavyweights such as Muay Thai and Jui Jitsu, but the fact of the matter remains that Judo plays an important part whenever used smartly in its rudimentary form.in MMA.
Especially in the clinch, Judo can be the most combative answer along with Muay Thai. The eye-catching hip tosses and throws can be used to take opponents down in a matter of seconds and once on the ground, high-level Judokas are equally adept at finishing off fights by using a plethora of submission maneuvers. In addition to being a great way of executing takedowns, Judo is also used as a means to avoid going to the mat.
Ronda Rousey made a career out of using Judo to its highest degree in MMA. The Armbar queen utilized the greatest techniques of Judo to dominate her opponents until she realized the importance of striking. Nonetheless, when infused with other grappling and striking styles, Judo can be exploited to the fullest.
From leg trips to foot sweeps, Judokas are considered to be the masters of takedowns. Judo also teaches MMA fighters the importance of balance in a fight which goes a long way in making a well-rounded fighter.
While the number of Judokas jumping ships to MMA is relatively lesser in number, the martial art is quite prevalent in MMA in some shape or form. For what it's worth, Brazilian Jui-Jitsu is a by-product of Judo.
Fighters who use Judo Techniques in UFC:
Antonio 'Bigfoot' Silva
MMA can be broadly bifurcated into two major categories: striking and grappling. We may all love to see the explosive strikers stand and bang in the center of the Octagon, however; grappling is just as important as the stand-up aspect of the sport.
In its earlier days, UFC picked up the most savage athletes from the collegiate wrestling scene and put them inside a cage. This UFC tried something new to counteract the growing popularity of MMA in Japan and it worked wonders. Wrestling has since been given great emphasis in training as it the bedrock of MMA.
There is a reason why many accomplished wrestlers thrive in MMA as it embodies fighting in its ruthless alacrity. Everything about MMA today has the imprints of wrestling all over it. Wrestling enables fighters to execute different types of takedowns and get into dominant positions on the ground for submissions. Wrestling is all about overpowering your opponent and MMA is all about being imposing inside the Octagon. Case in point; Khabib Nurmagomedov, and Daniel Cormier.
Additionally, a wrestler who has good hands is probably the scariest proposition for any fighter. Thus, wrestlers who transition to MMA are encouraged to improve their striking as it helps them in not getting caught on the feet. Using Muay Thai and boxing to set up single and double leg takedowns while also adopting a combination of various wrestling forms such as Greco Roman, Catch, Folkstyle and Freestyle to command the fight on the ground would be a wrestler's perfect gameplan in an MMA fight. It may be boring to watch at times but it can extremely brutal to the eye if the ground and pound get intense.
Wrestling also increases the endurance levels of fighters as it's a physically exhausting activity. Fighters with a wrestling background are known to have an inexhaustible gas tank which easily lasts for the entirety of a five-round fight.
Popular UFC Fighters with the best wrestling:
George St Pierre
While wrestling is one of the core facets of MMA, there is another grappling form that supersedes wrestling in terms of popularity and lineage in MMA...
#5 Brazilian Jui Jitsu
Brazilian Jui-Jitsu is considered to be the father of all martial art forms with reference to contemporary MMA. Created by legendary Judoko Mitsuyo Maeda and later popularized by the Gracie Family, Brazilian Jui-Jitsu was the foundation stone which the UFC was built upon.
UFC was founded by Rorion Gracie and the first three of the first five tournaments organized by the promotion were coincidentally won by the prodigal Royce Gracie. This helped in making Jui-Jitsu a phenomenon across the combat sports community, and till this very date, is an integral part of MMA. It was a gamechanger in more ways than one. Brazilian Jui-Jitsu underlined the significance of groundwork in fighting. It made everyone realize that fighters of smaller stature can beat larger opponents by using the labyrinthine grappling techniques of BJJ.
BJJ focused on the fact that the size advantage can be taken out of the picture when the fight is taken on to the ground. BJJ revolved around the aspect of fighting to one's strength but more importantly, it revolutionized fighting on the ground in terms of positions and submissions.
The knowledge imparted regarding various positions on the ground such as side control, full mount, closed guard, half guard, and open guard served as the substratum of MMA while also opening up new avenues in the constantly evolving sport. The passing of guards and the subsequent setups for submissions that include a wide range of chokes, holds, and locks are practiced thoroughly till this very day.
Everyone knows that fighting against a seasoned BJJ practitioner is tricky as they can submit you from anywhere on the ground. Wrestlers seem one-dimensional in comparison to elite BJJ fighters and thus, traditional grapplers train in BJJ to expand their horizons.
As is with Muay Thai, Kick Boxing, and Wrestling, every UFC fighter is taught BJJ as it inexcusably a mandatory skill set needed in a resume.
Here are some of the best popular BJJ practitioners in UFC:
Ronaldo Jacare Souza
The number of UFC fighters with Black Belt are relatively less as it takes years to get the coveted grade. However, most other fighters barring the ones mentioned above have lower belts and continue to hone their BJJ skills with the aim of getting the black belt someday.
I'm sure you may have thought of many martial art forms that you feel were missed out on the list. Feel free to mention them in the comments section below.