Ultimate Guide to MMA Fighting Styles

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The four cornerstones of MMA are Muay Thai, boxing, wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu. These styles all have proven their worth in combat sports and have contributed to the development of mixed martial arts. By combining all four disciplines, an MMA fighter can excel in all areas of the fight, and an ultimate fighter will dominate every fight.

The most popular MMA promotion, the UFC, includes boxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Karate, Kickboxing, Kung Fu, Taekwondo and wrestling as their major fighting styles. These can break down into fighting styles that have derived from these. You can see this when you look at fighters’ styles. Below, we will go into the main fighting styles from a high level then will slowly zoom in all the way down to meta archetypes. By the end this article you should have a good idea of what is meant by fighting styles and be able to explain it to a friend.

3 Main Fighting Styles in the MMA

1. Striking (Boxing, Muay Thai, Karate)

Fighters who specialize in striking typically like to keep the fight standing and use their hands, feet, knees and elbows to defeat their opponent.

Fighters who use boxing will throw jabs and cross punches at a rapid speed in order to damage their opponent. These fighters need powerful arms in order to generate enough power for such quick shots. Some examples of boxing champions are Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Muay Thai fighters use their shins, knees, elbows and fists to defeat their opponent. These strikes can be used at a close or mid-range distance in order to keep the fight at the Muay Thai fighter’s preferred fighting distance. Some famous people who practice Muay Thai include Buakaw Por Pramuk, Saenchai Sor Kingstar, and Yodsanklai Fairtex.

Karate fighters typically like to keep the fight at mid-range distance. They will use their fists, elbows, shoulders and knees to deal damage. The reason why this fighting style is so popular is that the techniques are simple but effective. Some famous Karate fighters include Lyoto Machida, Tarec Saffiedine, and Hatsu Hioki.

2. Takedowns (Wrestling, Judo)

Fighters who rely on takedowns like to bring the fight straight to the ground. They will use their superior grappling technique in order to score points and eventually win the fight via submission or decision.

Wrestling fighters need strong legs (for takedowns) and arms (for lifting). Some famous wrestlers include Dan Henderson, Cain Velasquez, and Ronda Rousey.

Judo fighters need to be powerful and athletic in order to score takedowns and slam their opponents on the ground. Some famous Judo fighters include Ronda Rousey, Karo Paryisyan, and Satoshi Ishii.

3. Submissions (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Catch Wrestling)

Fighters who rely on submissions typically have an excellent ground game. Their goal is to get the fight to the mat and then use their superior grappling technique in order to lock in a submission hold that will force their opponent into submission or unconsciousness.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters need to be athletic, flexible, quick thinking, confident and have superb grappling technique. Some famous Jiu-Jitsu champions include Rickson Gracie, BJ Penn, and Roger Gracie.

Catch wrestling fighters need to be able to dictate where the fight takes place; either standing or on the ground. Catch wrestlers typically rely on their superior-top game (for pinning their opponent) and superior submissions in order to get the victory. Some famous wrestlers include Brock Lesnar, Josh Barnett, and Kazushi Sakuraba.

Brief Intro to MMA History

Pankration was a hand-to-hand combat sport that MMA evolved from. There were only two regulations: no eye-gouging and no biting. Champions in ancient times were revered as heroes, similar to today’s champions.

The history of mixed martial arts can be traced back to Vale Tudo, in which a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner named Carlos Gracie accepted an invitation by the Japanese sumo wrestler Rikidozan to fight him at the Tokyo Bay Festival.

During the 1990s, Modern MMA grew in popularity. The first UFC event was held in the United States, and PRIDE FC was selling out stadiums in Japan.

10 Major Martial Arts in MMA

1. Boxing

Boxing was one of the first martial arts to be implemented into MMA. Some famous boxers who competed in MMA include Muhammad Lawal, Royce Gracie, and James Toney.

2. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

BJJ is arguably the most important martial art to be implemented into MMA. The sport was almost exclusively an American sport until Brazilian fighters began to excel in this sport. Some notable BJJ figures in MMA include Royce Gracie, BJ Penn, and Demian

3. Muay Thai

Muay Thai was another extremely important martial art in the early days of MMA. Some famous Muay Thai fighters include John Wayne Parr, Yodsanklai Fairtex, and Buakaw Por Pramuk.

4. Judo

Judo is another grappling martial art that has been implemented into MMA. Many Judo practitioners have had a lot of success in MMA, including Ronda Rousey, Karo Paryisyan, and Satoshi Ishii.

5. Karate

Karate was the last of the traditional martial arts to be included in MMA. This is simply because Karate’s Kumite (sparring) aspect has never been very popular outside Japan. Some notable Karate fighters include Lyoto Machida, Tarec Saffiedine, and Tenshin Nasukawa.

6. Kickboxing

Kickboxing is a stand-up combat sport that allows strikes with all parts of the body, except for the groin. Some famous kickboxers are Gokhan Saki, Alistair Overeem, and Zelg Galešić.

Recommended: Best Women’s Kickboxing Shoes

7. Kung Fu 

Kung Fu is an umbrella term for Chinese/Oriental martial arts. Some notable Kung Fu fighters are Cung Le, Stephen Thompson, and Kailash Satyarthi.

8. Sambo

Sambo is the only martial art that originates from Russia. It’s an acronym for “self-defense without weapons” (SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya). Some notable Sambo fighters include Fedor Emelianenko, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and Khusein Khaliev.

9. Taekwondo

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that involves powerful leg kicks and a variety of other striking techniques. Some high-level Taekwondo fighters are Angela Lee, Donald Cerrone, and Paige VanZant.

10. Wrestling (submission and collegiate)

Wrestling is the only purely grappling martial art that has been included in MMA. It allows for takedowns and throws, as well as submission holds. Some famous wrestlers who have competed in MMA include Kurt Angle, Dan Henderson, and Kevin Randleman.

Martial Arts that Aren’t Allowed in the MMA

Over time MMA rules have progressed through trial and error. At some points in time, specific fighting styles were banned due to specific techniques but then later brought back with rules against dangerous techniques in the given fighting style.

In general, all fighting styles are allowed throughout all MMA promotions; however, specific moves tend not to be allowed.

Muay Thai was not included in the original UFC events because it involved groin strikes. Judo wasn’t included because Rickson Gracie refused to fight Royce Gracie in UFC 1 because he felt that his Jiu-Jitsu would be no match for the Judo fighter.

Some of the current UFC Unified Rules of MMA include:

  • Headbutting
  • Eye gouging
  • Biting or spitting
  • Fish hooking
  • Hair pulling
  • Pile-driving
  • Strikes to spine or back of the head
  • Throat strikes or grabs
  • Downward pointing elbow strike
  • Groin attacks
  • Kneeing or kicking head
  • Stomping
  • Small Join Manipulation
  • Clawing, pinching, twisting

Martial Arts Variations

There are one-many variations to that fighting style within each of the major martial arts. Within each of these variations, there are schools that teach their own variation of the martial art they teach.

1. Are there different variations of boxing styles?

For the most part, boxing has only one variation that is taught throughout the world. There are two commonly mentioned variations though, American boxing and International boxing. There are many different techniques and theories to how to throw a punch or how to defend yourself, but they are all considered part of boxing. There are two notable

2. What are the different styles of Jiu-Jitsu?

Within Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu there is Sport BJJ and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. For each type, there are variations depending on the school. For example, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, there is Renzo Gracie’s school, Rorian Gracie’s school and Pedro Sauer’s school. As a result, each of these schools teaches their own variation of the art and their interpretations will slightly vary from one another.

It is important to note that while no two schools teach the same exact thing, they are both still Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. To be clear, when referring to a martial arts variation, one must state the originator of said martial art. For example, when someone speaks about Kyokushin Karate, they are speaking about the original school’s variation which is Kyokushin founded by Mas Oyama.

3. Are there different variations of Muay Thai styles?

There are many different variations of Muay Thai. There are somewhere the practitioners go heavy on certain areas while light in others. For example, there is a variation of Muay Thai where the practitioners go light on the shins and knees and heavy on punches and kicks. There is another version where practitioners go heavy on kicks and light on punches.

4. Are there different variations of Judo styles?

Yes. There are many different styles of Judo with varying differences that are taught in various countries around the world. Some styles teach everything done on the ground while others do not. Some utilize a lot of throws and pins, while others don’t. In general, there are two main styles of Judo: Olympic Judo and Grappling/Throwing Judo.

5. Is Karate the same everywhere in the world?

There are many different variations of Karate and they vary from one school to the other. For example, Kyokushin and Wado-Ryu Karate are very different within themselves. Kyokushin is similar to kickboxing whereas Wado-Ryu tends to go for full contact karate. Here are a few different types of karate: Kyokushin, Wado-Ryu, Seidokan, Shotokan, Goju-Ryu, Kyokushinkai, Enshin, Shorin-Ryu, Uechi-Ryu, Goju Ryu, and Yoshukai.

6. Are there variations of Kickboxing?

Yes. Variations of Kickboxing include Savate, Muay Thai, Kun Khmer, Bando, Yaw-Yan, and Sanshou.

Savate is a French form of Kickboxing that was started by the Parisian students as a way to practice self-defense. Savate also included the use of footwear, hence its name which is French for “old shoe”. While most forms of Kickboxing are full contact, Savate is a semi-contact sport.

Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand and has been around for thousands of years. The combatants wear shinguards and sometimes groin protectors, but they also wear large wraps around their knuckles.

Kun Khmer is a form of Kickboxing from Cambodia. It can also be known as Pradal Serey.

Bando was developed in the 1970s by Joe Hamilton, a Tennessee State Boxing Champion. It is an American version of Kickboxing that uses only punches, kicks, elbows, and knees. Bando has no rounds or time limits. It is also the only form of Kickboxing to have a weight division system.

Yaw-Yan is the Filipino Style of Kickboxing developed by Alexander Barrius, a student of Doc and Master Romana. Yaw-Yan means “The way of the Intercepting Fist,” a reference to the style’s emphasis on leg kicking.

Sanshou is the Chinese form of Kickboxing developed by the People’s Liberation Army in China. Sanshou competition includes punches and kicks, but no strikes below the belt. Also, throws and trips are not permitted.

7. Are there different variations of Kung Fu?

Yes. The most notable styles of Kung Fu are Wing Chun, Chen-Style Tai Chi, Hung Gar, Liu He Ba Fa, 5 Animal Style, Southern Praying Mantis, Tiger and Crane, Choy Lee Fut, Northern Shaolin, Bak Mei Pai, and White Eyebrow.

8. Does Sambo have different fighting styles?

Sambo is a Russian martial art and combat sport. It was derived from various fighting styles such as Kabaddi, Judo, Wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, and Systema. Sambo competition rules allow the use of submission holds to make it more effective.

9. Are there different variations of Taekwondo?

Yes. There are six major variations of Taekwondo: Chung Do Kwan, Jido Kwan, Moo Duk Kwan, Oh Do Kwan, Song Moo Kwan and Chang Hun Kuk. The major difference between these variations is the way of their teaching and the patterns used.

What are the MMA Fighting archetypes/styles?

You might have heard the term “archetype” before. An archetype is a typical example of a certain thing and represents an idea, a construct, a motif or a symbol. In the context of MMA, Archetypes are predefined notions on what a fighter should ideally look like and fight like. There are a few different types of MMA Archetypes that you’ll come across in the community and on this blog:

1. The Specialist

2. The Jack of All Trades

3. The Assembler

4. The Arm Collector

The Specialist

The BJJ specialist, the Kickboxing specialist, and so on. These guys are truly great at one thing and that’s what they’re good at. They have one, maybe two fights in the bag but if they manage to transition from being a specialist to being an assembler, they might become great fighters. A good example of a fighter who fought as a specialist but managed to make the transition to an assembler is Jose Aldo. He fought as a Muay Thai specialist and made the transition to an assembler (at least for a short while) and won the UFC featherweight title.

The Jack of All Trades

This is the fighter who’s pretty good at everything but not great at anything in particular, primarily due to the fact that he’s training in too many disciplines. He could be a great striker with an extraordinary ground game but no endurance or just doesn’t have the proper conditioning to make it through an entire fight. A jack of all trades is one who never specializes in anything but could turn out a very dangerous opponent for a specialist in a short burst due to his superior conditioning.

The Assembler

This is the fighter who knows a bit of everything and has great conditioning to back it up. He’s a fighter who is capable of transitioning from pretty much any style and it makes him a very dangerous opponent. He knows a thing or two about striking, BJJ and wrestling – hence the name assembler – and usually has a good gas tank to go the distance. A few examples of assemblers are Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva, and Jon Jones.

The Arm Collector

This type of fighter has an almost eerie ability to submit his opponents with ease once he gets them on the ground. They usually have great BJJ and good top control, which is the key to their success. A prime example of this archetype would be Fabricio Werdum, who was able to submit heavy hitters such as Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Alistair Overeem. Another example of this archetype is Demian Maia who has submitted men such as Chael Sonnen, Rick Story and so on.

Some other archetypes may include tall/long fighters, position grapplers, clinch fighters, ground and pound(utilizes offensive wrestling), lay and pray(prioritize dominant positioning), sprawl and brawl (prioritizes defensive wrestling to maintain standing position), counter striker (makes opponent strike first), aggressive strikers, wall and stall(tire through dirty boxing), guard player(seek submission from guard), brawlers, and many more.

There are several types of MMA Archetypes that you’ll encounter in the fighting community and it’s important to realize what your weaknesses are and work on them. That said, it’s more important to understand your archetype so you can fight like a boss with what you’ve got.

Meta archetypes in MMA

Within each fighting style, there are also generalized characteristics that can be pulled from more than one archetype/style. The major meta archetypes include temperament, output, risk aversion, and body type.


This is the characteristic that defines how aggressive or conservative you are. A meta temperament would include aggression, patience/tempo, pressure, and defense.


This is the speed that you work. This can be as fast as hard and as slow as soft. A meta output would include high-output, low-output, and medium-output.

Risk Aversion

This is the characteristic that defines when you go in for a finish. This can be aggressive or conservative. A meta risk aversion would include high-risk, low-risk, and medium risk.

What are the different Body Types in MMA?

There are three major body types in MMA. Ectomorphs, endomorphs, and mesomorphs. Although many fighters possess dynamic combinations of each (e.g., tall and lanky or short and stocky), these are three basic fighters that make up the majority of MMA athletes around the world.


Long and lean, with narrow shoulders and hips. They can be tall, short or of any weight. This is the most common body type among MMA athletes.

As a generalization, ectomorphs have more endurance and a lower propensity for storing fat. They also generally recover from intense workouts at a faster rate. However, they are not as strong as endomorphs and not as powerful as mesomorphs.

Ectomorphs: Anderson Silva, Georges St Pierre, Nick Diaz, Frankie Edgar, Jose Aldo


Generally short and round. Their body tends to store more fat than the other body types. Generally, endomorphs are strong individuals with heavy bones and powerful muscles. Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Mickey Rourke are examples of celebrities with an endomorphic body type.

Endomorphs: Kimbo Slice, Jerry Lawler, Junior Dos Santos, Cain Velasquez


Generally taller than average and possess a larger bone structure. Their muscles tend to be large and well-defined. Mesomorphs are naturally strong, explosive athletes with quick reflexes. They recover quickly from intense workouts and can lose fat rapidly.

These individuals tend to excel at any physical activity they try but may need to watch their diet carefully in order to stay lean.

Mesomorphs: Frankie Edgar, Jon Jones, Georges St Pierre, BJ Penn.

Is MMA a distinct fighting style or a combination of different styles?

That depends on who you ask.

For instance, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is sometimes considered to be an individual style within MMA, just like Muay Thai is considered to be an individual style within MMA. Some people also call Brazilian jiu-jitsu a collection of grappling styles, much like how Muay Thai is considered a collection of striking styles.

In this sense, MMA can be said to be an umbrella term that includes several individual styles.

On the other hand, some people claim that MMA is a distinct fighting style. This argument comes from the fact that most successful MMA fighters have been cross-trained in at least one other fighting style.


MMA is a sport that encompasses several fighting styles. Although no two MMA fighters are alike, most successful athletes have cross-trained in at least one style. Overall, MMA is a sport that combines several different combat sports into one very unique and exciting combat sport.


Best MMA Promotions (Organizations) – World Wide

Below is a list of the top MMA promotions from around the world. UFC is the largest and has the most events, but there are other strong competitors. A lot of fighters will start in other promotions before moving to UFC. In addition to MMA promotions, many fighters will have success in other fighting styles before moving into MMA.

akaPromotionHome BaseEvents heldFounded
UFCUltimate Fighting ChampionshipLas Vegas, Nevada, USA500+1993
BellatorBellator Mixed Martial ArtsNewport Beach, California, USA250+2008
ACAAbsolute Championship AkhmatGrozny, Russia115+2014
FNGFight Nights GlobalMoscow, Russia100+2010
ONEONE ChampionshipKallang, Singapore130+2011
Rizin FFRizin Fighting FederationTokyo, Japan30+2015
InvictaInvicta Fighting ChampionshipNorth Carolina, USA50+2012
PancrasePancraseTokyo, Japan300+1993
M-1M-1 GlobalSt. Petersburg, Russia220+1997
LFALegacy Fighting AllianceTexas, USA120+2017
KSWKonfrontacja Sztuk WalkiWarsaw, Poland50+2004
CWFCCage WarriorsEngland, United Kingdom100+2002
PFLProfessional Fighters LeagueVirginia, USA75+2017
Caged SteelCaged SteelDoncaster, England25+2011

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