The two most popular combat sports of the 21st century are undoubtedly MMA and BJJ. For the better part of the first couple of decades of this century, these two went hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly.
However, both have been growing in slightly different directions, opening the doors to a BJJ VS MMA debate, both in terms of efficiency and training.
If you are one of those people finding it difficult to make up your mind, you’re reading the right article.
What is BJJ?
BJJ stands for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a martial art specializing in grappling. What that means is that the art/sport is based on exchanges that include clinching, throwing, grappling on the ground, joint locks, and chokes.
All types of striking are beyond the scope of BJJ, i.e. you can’t punch, kick, elbow, knee, headbutt, or otherwise use striking while engaging in this sport.
BJJ is a relatively young martial art, having been around for less than 100 years. It is a result of the creative efforts of several family members of the Brazil-born Gracie family to adjust, change and polish a mixture of Judo and catch-wrestling (both grappling martial arts as well) that they practiced so that it fits their physicality (or lack thereof) and needs (self-defense).
After developing the sport for a decade or so, the Gracie family fighters sought out anyone and everyone in Brazil who trained martial arts in no-holds-barred matches (where everything is legal and allowed).
The new brand of grappling easily reigned supreme, mainly to the intricate system of ground-based positions and attacks that the Gracies developed.
After Brazil, conquering the USA was the next step for Jiu-Jitsu. Without the possibility of organizing beach fights like in Rio, the Gracies needed to come up with a different venue, which they did, in the form of the Ultimate Fighting Championship UFC).
What is MMA?
MMA is an abbreviation used for Mixed Martial Arts. The modern version of the sport came together after the Gracies brought together top martial artists from different arts during the first few UFC events, as they looked to promote BJJ.
Fighters interested in
quickly learned that they had to learn what the Gracies were doing. That led to a new approach, where fighters are looking to combine skillsets from different arts in order to be effective in different areas of fighting, like striking, takedowns, ground-fighting, and submissions.
The first UFC events (in the early 1990s) featured no-holds-barred rules, meaning everything was allowed. Quite quickly the Western general public reacted to the televised showings of violence, leading to the introduction of rules which include a referee, weight classes, a long list of illegal moves, specific glove and attire requirements, etc.
The focus of MMA shifted for a while from the USA to Japan, in the early 2000, when PRIDE was the go-to organization, which further helped popularize the sport. After a while, though, the UFC re-took the lead and never looked back.
Modern MMA includes the utilization of BJJ, wrestling, boxing, and kickboxing/Muay Thai as the cornerstones of training, along with the addition of any martial art a fighter deems effective.
While the modern version of MMA was born in 1993 with the first UFC, versions of such contests existed before, like the Brazilian Vale Tudo or the ancient Greek Pankration.
Pros and Cons of MMA
“Every child should learn to swim, ride and fight” – Helio Gracie.
MMA sums up the fighting part really well, with a huge pro of practicing being the ability to defend yourself and fight in virtually any scenario that does not involve weapons.
This is due to the fact that MMA consists of several different disciplines, like wrestling, Muay Thai, boxing, BJJ, Judo, etc. providing a practitioner with a well-rounded fighting skillset.
While no MMA fighter is going to win a professional boxing match (or any other, for that matter) they are more skilled in mixed fighting than any other expert in one particular martial art and that is a unique feature that only MMA offers when it comes to combat sports.
A welcomed side-effect of training MMA is getting in great shape and developing situational and spatial awareness, and an instinct for physical altercations that is second to none.
There is, of course, the chance to turn professional and earn from MMA that we have to consider as a pro as well.
On the downside, a common con of training Mixed Martial Arts is striking, as many people quickly realize that it is not as easy, or as pleasant doing it live as opposed to watching it on TV.
MMA is pretty violent, even in training, and requires a fair amount of strength and athleticism which filters people out, making the sport less accessible to the masses, at least when we compare it to BJJ.
Competition opportunities are also much scarcer for those training in MMA, especially hobbyists, given that competition does not involve tournament formats and requires professional management to set things up.
That leads me to one more aspect of MMA that tends to drive people away – the cost.
MMA is by far the most expensive combat sport to practice, especially if you’re looking to compete professionally. Plus, there’s a lot more gear you need to buy, whether that’s headgear, shin guards, different types of gloves, shorts, mouth guards... the list goes on.
Pros and Cons of BJJ
Jiu-Jitsu is a specialized art in the sense that it is exclusively centered around grappling, which makes it the best art/sport in that domain.
The absence of striking and hard exchanges also makes it very inclusive, allowing people of all ages and backgrounds to practice, without great demands in the realm of athletic abilities.
BJJ also offers an option to compete often and all around the world, without any qualifiers or prerequisites. Practitioners can compete at an amateur or professional level.
The sport itself is fun and very versatile, offering different ways of attaining goals in terms of takedowns, pinning, and submissions. Thinking plays a huge role in Jiu-Jitsu which is also a big reason why people love it so much.
While Jiu-Jitsu is an expensive sport to pursue, it is still cheaper than MMA, and high-level coaching is available worldwide.
Looking at the cons of BJJ, the lack of striking is a big one, in terms of the sport offering the “full package” that MMA offers. The more timid training environment also means Jiujiteros lack the killer instinct that intense and quick MMA sparring develops in people.
Another con stemming from this is that BJJ training does not offer the physical workout that MMA training does.
Also, even though BJJ has its roots in self-defense it is less efficient in a real-world altercation compared to MMA, particularly in scenarios that involve more than one opponent.
Finally, despite the tournaments being available around the globe, only a handful of professional grapplers can make a full-time career of it with even the highest BJJ earnings being on the low end compared to MMA fighters.
Is BJJ Good for MMA?
Aside from the fact that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the root of MMA, there is really no way to practice mixed martial arts without including BJJ in your training.
That said, the era of specialists, whether grappling or striking seems to be on the decline in recent years. While some highly specialized wrestlers might still fall back on their specialty to outscore opponents in MMA, the era of pure BJJ fighters dominating the cage is over.
Kron Gracie’s latest outing at UFC 288 is the perfect example, as he seemed powerless against the new breed of MMA fighters, represented by his opponent Charles Jourdain.
The reason behind this is that the approach BJJ has, of promoting the option of fighting with your back to the ground was new to martial arts back in the early 1990s, hence the success of submission grapplers in the first decade of MMA.
As MMA grew into a sport of its own, the training methodology, tactics, and all aspects of applying the root arts of MMA also changed, giving birth to striking, wrestling, and grappling hybrids, specific to the needs of mixed martial arts.
In that sense, MMA grappling is worlds apart from pure BJJ grappling. Practicing with strikes, especially ground-and-pound is not something you usually see in BJJ-specialized gyms, but you can’t really fight MMA unless you factor in this variable, can you?
There were some attempts to create a hybrid sport by Eddie Bravo via his Combat Jiu-Jitsu promotion (slaps allowed when on the ground), but it didn’t really take.
To sum it up, BJJ is still essential for a well-rounded MMA game, but only if practiced in the form of MMA grappling at either an MMA gym or a BJJ gym that teaches realistic grappling-striking combos. Plus, when training BJJ for MMA, it’s a good idea to train No-Gi, as Gi BJJ will not be as appropriate in its application in MMA.
MMA VS BJJ: Which is Better for Self-Defense?
There is really not much to debate here. Real-life violent encounters are fast, unpredictable, and you never know whether a weapon is going to emerge at some point.
While BJJ does offer immense control over someone in a one-on-one unarmed self-defense scenario, the primate here goes to MMA.
MMA simply has more tools, BJJ being just one of them, to offer someone the skills and abilities to emerge unscathed from a street altercation.
When we factor in the similar long learning curve of both sports, going from understanding moves to being able to apply them on a resisting opponent under pressure, relying on MMA is definitely the safer option when it comes to self-defense.
I am going to go as far as claiming that MMA is the absolute best self-defense combat sport/martial art out there.
MMA VS BJJ: Who Would Win?
As long as there are people training in either of these disciplines exclusively, the BJJ VS MMA debate is going to be alive and kicking.
To be honest, there are many aspects to consider in it, from how long someone has been training, to their competitive experience, age, body type, athletic abilities, etc.
It all comes down to chance, mostly, but I’d say that a modern-day MMA fighter beats a BJJ grappler on most occasions, albeit not at all with ease. They simply have more tools and far more tenacity and work ethics to persevere and push through.
In the case of both having been involved in training for the same period of time, MMA reigns supreme 10 times out of 10.
The only way I see a BJJ representative winning is either by chance (slapping on a quick submission), trickery (submission again), or by having a vast advantage in terms of experience and hours spent on the mat.
Should You Learn MMA or BJJ?
As someone with experience in both BJJ and MMA, I will try to be as objective as I can, but remember that at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal views and how it all fits your needs
I faced this dilemma personally some 10 years ago. I was practicing and competing in both, and it was anything but easy.
For me, given the constraints of daily life and my personal tendencies, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu won the debate, and I walked away from MMA in favor of grappling.
For anyone looking to make the same decision, I’d advise you to first consider how comfortable you are with striking, whether or not you want to be a competitor or simply a hobbyist, and what type of teaching establishments are available in your vicinity.
If the goal is recreation, puzzle solving under pressure, and the ability to show up for work without bruises on Monday, then BJJ should be your pick.
If you do not really care about any of the above, want to test yourself, learn to fight for real, and perhaps feel the urge to experience the spotlights from inside the cage, you won’t go wrong with MMA, especially given that it will scratch that BJJ itch you might have.
BJJ VS MMA is a tricky debate to settle, given the fundamental differences in the philosophies and practical applications of both sports. BJJ has its merits in longevity, availability, chances to compete regularly, and lack of striking.
MMA, on the other hand, offers quick decision-making, a much more strenuous workout, learning different aspects of fighting, and the ability to bring it all together in one of the most effective fighting systems in the history of the world.
Both sports are valid self-defense options, have close intertwined origin stories, and are still infants compared to other much older martial arts.
Picking just one is a hard choice to make (I speak from experience) but since training both is extremely time and energy-consuming, we hope that we helped you make an informed choice with this guide.