Many see MMA is the ultimate combat sport. It encourages a practitioner to use a variety of different techniques and fighting styles to try and overcome their opponent. But even though different styles of martial arts are allowed, fighters still develop their own specific techniques.
Here I’ll go over the three main MMA fighting styles and everything you need to know about them. I’ll also answer some FAQs to give you all the information you need. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
- How Many Fighting Styles Are There in MMA?
- The 3 Main MMA Fighting Styles
- Striker Fighting Style
- Grappler Fighting Style
- Is All-Rounder the Best Style?
How Many Fighting Styles Are There in MMA?
As the name mixed martial arts suggests, MMA is a combat sport that combines all forms of fighting styles to create the most potent combination of techniques and styles. Since many different fighting philosophies determine the fighting styles of the fighters in MMA, it’s hard to give an exact number for the total number of fighting styles.
Any style can work for MMA as long as it’s a balanced style with no glaring weaknesses that your opponent can exploit. In the 1990s, when MMA was relatively new as a sport, MMA bouts were open to all forms of martial artists, including sumo wrestlers.
Every MMA fight can be divided into three core areas of mixed martial arts types:
- Stand-up striking
- Grappling and takedowns
A fighter’s style depends on which of these core areas they feel the most comfortable fighting at. Generally, each MMA fighter can be divided into three main styles of fighting.
The 3 Main MMA Fighting Styles
Modern-day fighting MMA types fall into one of the following three fighting style categories:
A fighter’s base martial art, their comfort zones, and their physique determine what style suits them the best. Each of these styles has its pros and cons and some are easier to adopt than others.
For most fighters, their fighting style comes from the martial art or combat sport they use as their base. I’ll go over all the popular martial arts bases in MMA and their characteristics below.
Striker Fighting Style
The striker fighting style focuses on stand-up fighting using strikes to knock the opponent out. Striking focuses on the following things:
- Elbow strikes
- Knee strikes
The idea behind a striker fighting style is to focus on knockouts and out-fighting. A striker will try to deal as much punishment as they can from a safe distance. The base fighting styles most commonly seen among these fighters includes boxing, kickboxing, Taekwondo, Karate, and Muay Thai.
Muay Thai practitioners (known as Nak Muays) in particular have a high affinity with the striker fighting style since Muay Thai focuses on all striker elements. Muay Thai also covers clinches which is a form of stand-up grappling.
An MMA practitioner with a striker fighting style usually emphasizes speed and power. They are the strongest when they are on their feet and fighting at a comfortable distance. It’s not unusual for strikers to have really strong punching or kicking power.
The best example of a striker in MMA is Conor McGregor whose left-hand punches are nicknamed ‘the touch of death’ by his coach.
The Downfall of Strikers
From looking at Conor McGregor, it might seem like strikers are near invincible in a fight, and it’s true but only as long as they’re on their feet. The strongest advantages a striker-style fighter has is their speed and their incredible stopping power.
However, both require the use of legs. The moment a striker gets pinned to the ground by a tackle or a takedown, they lose their only advantage. Since MMA is a sport that allows for grappling and groundwork, all strikers need to have a good understanding of grappling and groundwork as well to be successful.
Since the time of UFC 1, grapplers and groundwork experts have dominated the MMA game. Pure strikers will have a hard time dealing with MMA opponents who specialize in grappling and groundwork.
Grappler Fighting Style
Grappling has been the go-to skill for MMA since the founding of the UFC. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or more specifically Gracie Jiu Jitsu gained widespread popularity when Royce Gracie became a UFC champion in three early tournaments.
Grapplers focus on tackles, takedowns, submissions, and groundwork in a fight. Many MMA fighters use Judo, Wrestling, Jiu Jitsu, or Sambo as their base. Khabib Nurmagomedov is perhaps the best example of an MMA fighter with a grappler fighting style.
Grapplers are deadly if they get their opponents on the ground or in a hold. They can control the opponent’s limbs while putting them in either painful submissions or putting them to sleep via chokes. Apart from locks and chokes, grapplers can also mount a grounded opponent and subject them to a barrage of strikes from an advantageous position.
Since MMA is a combat sport that encourages solid wrestling and groundwork skills, almost all MMA fighters today either have a grappling martial art base or train for a strong wrestling defense against a grappler opponent.
Although every grappling martial art and combat sport focuses on a slightly different approach to dominate the opponent, the main idea for them all remains the same. Control the opponent’s movement using leverage and weight division rendering them defenseless. Afterward, aim to make them tap out or unconscious using chokes/submissions.
The Weakness of Grapplers
While grapplers have an overwhelming advantage on the ground, they aren’t invincible. Similar to the case with strikers, since MMA allows for both striking and grappling, the grapplers are at a disadvantage against strikers in a stand-up fight.
While in theory the disadvantage can be negated by tackling a striker to the ground, it’s not an easy thing to achieve. This is because strikers are naturally quick on their feet and are constantly trying to rain punishment while keeping a safe distance.
Grapplers have to get close to their opponents to take them down, closing the gap comes with a fair risk of deadly strikes from the striker. It’s not uncommon for a tackling grappler to be knocked out by a well-placed shot by a striker.
All-Rounder Fighting Style
The all-rounder fighting style stresses a balance between striking and grappling skills. All-round fighters sometimes have a hybrid martial art as their base. These include popular martial arts such as Bruce Lee’s Jeet-Kune-Do, the Russian Combat Sambo (slightly different from Sambo), and modern-day MMA.
More commonly though, all-rounders are fighters who start as either grapplers or strikers and then train and develop their skills in the other domain. The best example of an all-around fighter is the UFC legend, Jon Jones.
It can be said that most MMA fighters today are all-rounders to some degree since a level of grappling and striking skills is a must to survive in the sport. However, it is rare to see an MMA fighter with a true balance between their grappling and striking skills.
Is All-Rounder the Best Style?
While the example of Jon Jones might suggest that an all-rounder fighting style is the best, it’s hard to say for sure. That’s because the all-rounder fighting style does not favor the mediocre.
Unless the fighter has a high level of both grappling and striking skills, they will run into trouble with an opponent that can out-strike or out-wrestle them. This weakness is even more apparent nowadays since like I said before, all MMA fighters are all-rounders to some extent.
Hence MMA fighters generally tend to specialize in either striking or grappling fully while training in wrestling or striking defense to minimize the risks when facing other fighting styles.
For the most part, the best MMA style for a fighter can be different depending on the matchup. Jon Jones reportedly studies his opponents ahead of time to analyze their style and adapts his style to counter them.
Khabib Nurmagomedov was known as a grappler but was able to be patient when facing strikers and eventually take them down. He was a good striker, but it was his unmatched grappling skills which led him to an undefeated record. He is proof that you don’t need to be a true all-rounder to be one of the best ever.
What type of fighting is UFC?
UFC is a full body contact mixed martial arts professional fighting. UFC fighting styles combine a wide variety of combat sports and martial arts techniques with minimal rules.
What fighting style does Joe Rogan use?
Joe Rogan is a striker with a Karate and Taekwondo base. He has extensively trained in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for a decade as well. Still, Joe Rogan has never had a professional MMA fight so it’s hard to say what he prefers now after training in BJJ and Muay Thai.
What’s the most dominant fighting style in UFC?
Grapplers have dominated the UFC from the time it was first created back in 1993. While there have been champions across all weight classes with both fighting styles. Grapplers have historically had more success against strikers.
How important is wrestling in MMA fighting?
Wrestling is one of the most popular and effective martial arts bases for MMA fighting. Wrestling or similar forms of grappling such as Jiu Jitsu is a necessary skill in professional MMA fights. Wrestling is an essential skill to have when taking an opponent down and fighting on the ground.
Can a fighter be successful in MMA with only one fighting style?
It is possible to be successful in MMA with only one fighting style as long as you learn and train how to defend against different type of fighters. Having a solid understanding of other fighting styles is a must for a successful MMA career.