So What Is Mixed Martial Arts Anyway?

Mixed martial arts, also known as MMA, is a term for the combat sport in which two competitors attempt to achieve dominance over one another by utilizing three general tactics: striking, finishing holds, and control.

As the popularity of mixed martial arts (MMA) continues to grow apace, new fans are being attracted all the time. While MMA (in particular the UFC) has moved on dramatically from its early days of mis-matches and freakshow elements to become a legitimate, widely respected and hugely popular sport not everybody fully understands what it’s all about.

The rules allow the combatants to use a variety of martial arts techniques including punches, kicks, joint-locks, chokes, takedowns and throws. Victory is normally gained through knock-out, submission (one fighter concedes victory to the other by tapping the mat or his opponent with his hand), or stoppage by the referee, the fight doctor, or a competitor’s cornerman.

MMA is also alternatively called NHB (for No Holds Barred), but this term is mostly retired. It is no longer an accurate description of the modern competitions which utilize many more rules than before. The first Ultimate Fighting Championship’s only rules were against eye-gouging, fish-hooking and biting. It was not unusual to see hair-pulling, toe-stomping and people being choked with the lapels of their clothing. One infamous early match even featured one combatant repeatedly striking his opponent in the groin. Currently, all of the major promotions have a list of rules and banned techniques.

What is Mixed Martial Arts?

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Sean Whitaker, a Spangdahlem mixed martial arts member from Pittsburgh, fights for position over his opponent during his match at an MMA tournament in Pruem, Germany, March 8, 2014. Fighters have approximately six weeks notice before fighting in an event; Whitaker had only 12 days to prepare due to last-minute changes in the lineup. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gustavo Castillo)

MMA is also used to describe any modern style of martial arts which incorporate techniques and theories from several sportive martial arts. This especially applies to MMA styles which incorporate a mixture of ground fighting, stand-up striking, and takedowns in their training. The main goal of this article is to provide information about MMA as a “realistic, few rules, full contact fight sport” rather than to describe hybrid martial arts that are not typically used in minimal-rules sporting environments.


As a result of these sporting events, martial arts training and the understanding of the combat effectiveness of various strategies have changed dramatically over the last ten years. While the early years included the widest possible variety of styles (everything from Sumo to Karate), modern fighters often train in a mixture of only three styles: Amateur Wrestling (focusing on clinches and takedowns), Submission Wrestling (focusing on submissions and positioning on the ground), and Kickboxing (usually Muay Thai) (focusing on striking). These three distinct styles coincide with the “phases of combat” theory, which suggests that fights can be broken into three distinct phases, each requiring completely different skill sets: stand-up fighting, clinch fighting, and ground fighting. According to the theory, a fighter’s best strategy is to determine the phase in which he has the greatest advantage over his opponent and then to force the fight to take place in that phase. It currently appears that this is mainly correct, in the sense that if you are equally skilled in all phases of combat, you are prepared to take advantage of any weaknesses in your opponent. Well-known examples of MMA organizations are the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Pride Fighting Championships.

What’s next?

So do you want to learn more about mixed martial arts?  If you do, you will want to learn more about What are the Best MMA Styles?  Additionally, you will also want to get the Basic MMA Equipment To Get You Started.