Mixed martial arts is the fastest-growing sport in the world, and the fact it’s the closest thing to real fighting has a lot to do with that. People love watching fights, and MMA is the least restrictive combat sport.
Competitors can punch, kick, knee, elbow, wrestle, and use submissions in mixed martial arts. This allows fighters from different fighting styles to compete against each other. That’s the spirit that led to the development of mixed martial arts: a desire to allow martial artists with different styles to test their skills against each other.
MMA has been so successful as a sport that it has become a unique fighting style that incorporates effective techniques from many martial arts.
The Most Popular Striking Styles In Mixed Martial Arts
Striking specialists struggled during the early days of mixed martial arts as grapplers like Royce Gracie dominated most events. The grapplers showed how deficient most striking-based martial arts were in basic ground fighting. Strikers typically found themselves getting taken down and submitted early in their fights. How accomplished these strikers were in their respective domains didn’t do much for them inside the cage. Even world champions like boxing’s James Toney found themselves woefully unprepared when they stepped inside a cage.
Things started to get better for strikers as they added Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling to their training. Suddenly, taking them down wasn’t guaranteed, giving strikers more time on their feet to showcase their striking skills. This led to the era of strikers as fighters like Mirko Cro Cop, Anderson Silva, and Chuck Liddell dominated their respective divisions.
Nowadays, it’s crystal clear that striking-based martial arts can be excellent bases for mixed martial arts, with champions like Israel Adesanya, John Lineker, and Xiong Jingnan dominating their divisions.
The striking-based martial arts that have proven to be the most effective for mixed martial arts include:
1) Muay Thai
The art of eight limbs is arguably the best striking base for mixed martial arts. It prioritizes using punches, elbows, knees, and kicks to attack opponents. It also covers how to fight in the clinch, including throws and trips to send opponents to the canvas.
Muay Thai fighters also have the honor of having the most powerful kicks in all martial arts. This is because of the way Muay Thai fighters throw their kicks. They generate power with their feet and hips and throw their legs as if they were baseball bats. Other martial arts like Karate teach students to snap their legs when they kick, leading to faster but less powerful kicks.
Muay Thai is the official sport of Thailand, and it has a gentle sparring culture that makes it great for learning the technical aspects of fighting. Instructors teach students to focus more on technique than power and strength when sparring to fine-tune their skills.
Learning Muay Thai prepares you for virtually anything you might encounter when standing inside a mixed martial arts cage. MMA fights start with both fighters standing, so it’s only prudent to understand the striking game. Examples of MMA fighters from Muay Thai backgrounds include Edson Barboza, Anderson Silva, and T.J. Dillashaw.
Boxing is another effective striking style for mixed martial arts. It is much more restrictive than Muay Thai since it only allows you to use your fists as weapons, but it’s more refined given the billions of dollars the sport generates yearly. Even governments like the late Fidel Castro’s administration in Cuba have dedicated resources to refining the sport of boxing, leading to what’s now known as the Cuban boxing style.
Boxing covers the science of fighting to a greater extent than any other striking-based martial art. Students learn advanced footwork and head movement techniques that make them tricky targets to hit. They also learn advanced combinations that would leave the most advanced kickboxers confused.
Boxing only allowing you to use your arms as weapons has its advantages in mixed martial arts since fighters are vulnerable to having their leg caught any time they throw a kick. Boxing’s most significant disadvantage in mixed martial arts is not being used to defending against kicks, elbows, and knees. Boxers who transition to mixed martial arts will have to learn how to defend against kicks (including checking and catching them), elbows, and knees.
Boxers also have to change some of their habits since it can lead to disastrous results inside the cage. For example, weaving and ducking under punches can be dangerous in mixed martial arts since it leaves you vulnerable to knees and roundhouse kicks. A real-life example of this is former UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman’s rematch with Leon Edwards. Usman weaved to his right to avoid a jab feint thrown by Usman, which left him open to the roundhouse kick that followed, ending his reign as the champion.
Examples of boxers from boxing bases in mixed martial arts include Nate Diaz, Cody Garbrandt, and Holly Holm.
3) Dutch Kickboxing
Dutch kickboxing is a style developed in the Netherlands that incorporates Karate, Muay Thai, and boxing techniques. It uses many of the same techniques used in other kickboxing styles like Muay Thai, but the rules of competition have some significant differences.
For example, in Dutch kickboxing contests, elbows and repeated knees in the clinch are typically not allowed. Clinch work is generally discouraged, and fighters are typically broken up quickly. Dutch kickboxers also use their hands much more than Muay Thai fighters, and it’s a generally more aggressive fighting style. Examples of Dutch kickboxers in MMA include Alistair Overeem, Bas Rutten, and Gegard Mousasi.
Karate is one of the few traditional striking-based martial arts that have been effective at the highest levels of mixed martial arts. Lyoto Machida was the first karateka to win a championship belt with a major MMA promotion when he knocked out Rashad Evans at UFC 98.
Karate fighters pose an awkward challenge for many MMA fighters since they are used to going against fighters from kickboxing or striking backgrounds. The accuracy and powerful striking techniques used in Karate have led to some of the most impressive knockouts in MMA history, like Machida’s front kick finish of Randy Couture. Other karate fighters in MMA include Stephen Thompson, Kyoji Horiguchi, and Michelle Waterson.
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