MMA is a sport that continues to grow year after year, to the point now where it’s one of the largest in the world.
With this increase in popularity, more people than ever are wondering how to start MMA training.
This is why we’ve put together this in-depth beginners’ guide, covering everything you need to know when it comes to starting MMA.
Let’s get to it.
What is MMA?
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a sport that combines aspects from various disciplines into one, unified sport with its own governing set of rules. MMA incorporates aspects of both striking and grappling, allowing competitors a multitude of paths to victory.
An MMA fight takes place inside an 8-sided cage, which for obvious reasons, is referred to as the octagon.
While the idea of mixing multiple disciplines into one martial art has been around for some time, in the form of Vale Tudo and Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, MMA as we know it today first started to hit our screens in the early 1990s with the advent of the UFC.
Since then, the sport has grown in both popularity and in terms of the style and technique used in the octagon. Gone are the days of pitting one specialist against another, with fighters these days most commonly possessing a well-rounded skill set at an extremely high level.
MMA Core Components
As mentioned above, MMA blends aspects from different martial arts into one sport. With that in mind let’s take a closer look at the components that make up Mixed Martial Arts.
At the end of the day, all rounds start on their feet, which is why striking is such a crucial aspect of the sport. Striking means throwing attacks using your body at your opponent.
Given the multiple disciplines incorporated in MMA, there are various types of strikes that you can throw. For example, strikes can be in the form of punches, kicks, knees, and elbows, all of which have different ways that they can be thrown.
Grappling involves taking hold of your opponent and attempting to take them down to the ground. Martial arts/ combat sports such as wrestling, Judo, and Sambo offer a variety of techniques that can be employed in MMA to take your opponent down.
Once on the ground, there are a couple of routes to victory.
Firstly, is gaining a top position and finishing your opponent with ground and pound.
Secondly, is via submissions. This is where you utilize various techniques, such as an arm lock, or choke, that force your opponent to tap, essentially admitting defeat. The majority of these techniques originated from BJJ and have translated well when competing in MMA.
Ok, let’s take a look at the various pieces of gear that you’ll need to get started in MMA. It’s worth mentioning that aside from a cup and a mouth guard, you likely won’t need any other gear straight away.
Most MMA gyms are equipped with spare pieces of gear that you’ll be able to borrow. Yes, they’ll likely be battered and smelly, but there’s no point in buying a load of gear, only to realize MMA isn’t for you after your first few training sessions.
In any combat sport, there’s a good chance you’ll need to wear a mouth guard, especially if you’re going to be punched in the face.
These are required when competing and the vast majority of fighters will wear a mouthguard when training, particularly when sparring.
Not only do they prevent the wearer from receiving any tooth trauma, but they also help to reduce the impact and amount of shock delivered to the face.
There’s a whole plethora of benefits to wearing a mouthguard, so be sure to pick one up before heading to your first class.
Unless you’re competing in a bare-knuckle event (if so, I commend you for your bravery), you’ll need at least one pair of gloves.
When training, most people will opt to wear boxing gloves. These offer the most amount of cushioning, reducing the chance of anyone sustaining any unnecessary injuries in the gym. You can get boxing gloves in an array of different ounces, with the heavier gloves offering the most amount of cushioning.
That said, during light sparring it’s common to wear heavier 8 oz MMA gloves, however, it comes down to the gym and their sparring culture.
When competing, you’ll be expected to wear MMA gloves. These are significantly smaller than boxing gloves and feature an open-palm design. Professional MMA fighters use 4oz gloves, whereas amateurs use 8oz.
While you can wear a regular sports top to the gym, the majority of people you’ll be training with will be wearing a rashing guard.
These tight-fitting tops are great for training, especially if you’re grappling. A regular t-shirt will most definitely get stretched and even ripped when training. Due to rash guards being tight, and often very durable, I’d recommend getting one or two before heading to the gym.
These are often cheap, and can even be worn to the gym or for other sports if you want to get the most out of your purchase.
Similarly to rash guards, you can wear regular old sports shorts to MMA, but again these won’t be designed for the rigorous demands of mixed martial arts. I have ripped multiple pairs of Nike shorts on the mats, which was both annoying and very embarrassing given where the rip was.
Again, you can pick up a pair of MMA shorts fairly cheaply, and as long as you go with a reputable brand, the chances are they’ll last you a good amount of time. There are a couple of different types of shorts to choose from that I’ll discuss below.
Compression/ Vale Tudo Shorts
Much like rash guards, compression-style shorts are tight-fitting, elastic shorts that fit tightly to the wearer’s body. These provide an uninhibited range of motion and also serve to prevent your opponent from using the fabric of your clothes to their advantage.
Of course, they don’t leave much to the imagination, but they are comfortable, and if you buy from the right brand, designed specifically for MMA.
Baggy/ Board Style Shorts
If you’ve ever watched the UFC from 15 years or so ago, back before they locked in a sponsorship deal with Reebok, you’ll probably have seen the baggy board-style shorts the majority of fighters wore.
While these have somewhat gone out of “fashion” and have evolved into loose-fitting, stretchy shorts, they are still a popular choice for those who don’t like the idea of wearing skin-tight shorts when training or competing.
This is one more for the guys reading this and trust me, you’ll be wanting a cup. There are plenty of horror stories out there that I won’t get into here, but let’s just say it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Although groin strikes aren’t allowed in MMA, accidents do happen. A stray knee when passing guard, a miss-placed kick to the body, and you’ll be more than thankful that you decided to wear a cup.
Admittedly they can be annoying to wear, but the level of protection they offer your nether region is worth the slight annoyance in my opinion.
Lastly, we’ve got shin guards, which as the name suggests, protect the shins. A lot of clubs will make wearing shin guards mandatory during sparring, as they protect not only the wearer but their sparring partner as well.
While there are other bits and bobs such as hand wraps, tape, and accessories like that, the above gear should have you sorted and ready to start learning MMA.
A big part of starting MMA is understanding the rule set. Unlike a lot of people’s opinion that MMA is a barbaric cage match where anything goes, the sport is governed by various rules designed to keep fighters as safe as possible.
It’s worth mentioning that different organizations will use slightly different rule sets. For example, ONE FC allows knees to a grounded opponent, whereas the UFC doesn’t. Similarly, the rules between professional MMA and amateur MMA will also differ slightly, again depending on the organization.
Given the fact that the UFC is the premier MMA organization in the world, understanding its rule set will give you a good foundation of the rules across MMA. That said, the below rules are for the UFC, which operates under the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts.
Any of the below actions constitutes a foul, with repercussions varying from a point deduction to disqualification, depending on the seriousness of the infraction.
- Butting with the head
- Eye gouging of any kind
- Biting or spitting at an opponent
- Fish hooking (the act of inserting a finger or fingers or one or both hands into the mouth or nostrils of a person, pulling away from the centerline of the body)
- Hair pulling
- Spiking an opponent to the canvas on his head or neck
- Strikes to the spine or the back of the head.
- Throat strikes of any kind, and/or grabbing the trachea
- Fingers outstretched toward an opponent’s face/eyes
- Downward pointing elbow strike (’12 to ‘6 strikes)
- Groin attacks of any kind
- Kneeing and/or kicking the head of a grounded opponent
- Stomping a grounded opponent
- Holding opponent’s gloves or shorts
- Holding or grabbing the fence or ropes with fingers or toes
- Small joint manipulation
- Throwing an opponent out of the ring/fighting area
- Intentionally placing a finger into any orifice or any cut or laceration of an opponent
- Clawing, pinching, or twisting the flesh
- Timidity (avoiding contact with an opponent, intentionally or consistently dropping the mouthpiece, or faking an injury)
- Using abusive language in the fighting area
- Flagrant disregarding of the referee’s instructions
- Unsportsmanlike conduct that causes injury to an opponent
- Attacking an opponent after the bell has sounded the end of the period of unarmed combat
- Attacking an opponent on or during the break
- Attacking an opponent who is under the care of the referee
- Interference from a mixed martial artist’s corner or seconds
Admittedly a bit of a long list, but the majority of rules are pretty common sense and are rarely, if ever broken.
How do You Win an MMA Fight
We’ve looked at what not to do in MMA, now we should probably discuss how you can go about winning.
In total, there are 5 ways to win in MMA:
KO: This stands for knock out, and is where your opponent is knocked unconscious and is unable to continue the fight.
TKO: TKO stands for a technical knockout, which is when the referee decides that a fighter is not able to effectively protect themselves, therefore ending the fight.
Submission: This is where using various techniques such as a rear naked choke, you force your opponent to submit, essentially surrendering the fight,
Decision: If one of the above outcomes doesn’t happen throughout the fight, the decision will be left to the judges. Each judge will score the fight on a round-by-round basis, with their score determining the winner.
Disqualification: While rare, DQs do happen in MMA (watch Aljamain Sterling vs Petry Yan 1 for a prime example). If your opponent is disqualified, you then win the fight by default. Not the best way to win, but hey, a win is a win.
An MMA fight is made up of rounds. The duration of each round, and the number of rounds varies. Most amateur fights will be 3, 3-minute rounds at most. Whereas a professional MMA fight can be up to 5, 5 minutes rounds.
To keep fights as fair as possible, MMA fighters compete in weight classes. The aim here is to ensure that both fighters are matched against someone of similar weight.
Of course, most people these days “cut weight” before weighing in, essentially starving themselves of water, allowing them to hit the scales at a weight much lighter than they would be normally. The goal here is to get a size advantage over their opponent, but because everyone cuts weight, the advantage is negligible.
Below are the weight classes for both men and women in MMA.
|Weight Class||Weight in LB||Weight in KG|
|Men & Women’s Flyweight||125lb||57kg|
|Men & Women’s Bantamweight||135lb||61.2kg|
|Men & Women’s Featherweight||145lb||65.8kg|
How to Find an MMA Gym
This is all well and good, but to start learning MMA, you’ve got to get down to the gym and put the time in on the mats.
So, how do we find an MMA Gym?
The first method is just to search on Google for an MMA Gym near you. Here you’ll be able to find the gym’s website, and location and be able to read reviews. I’d recommend reading reviews, as there are some lackluster gyms out there, and this should help to give you an impression of the gyms’ overall quality.
If you’re not having much success with Google, you can try the following websites to find an MMA gym.
- Fight Resource (US)
- Find MMA Gym (US)
- Martial Arts Near You (UK)
What to Expect at an MMA Class?
Each gym is different and will structure itsx classes in its own way.
That said, you can expect the gym to split up classes into different sections. For example, a lot of gyms will have a beginners class, BJJ class, MMA class, sparring class, and an open mat.
Given that you’re new to MMA, attending a beginners’ class is recommended. Whenever I’m going to a new gym, I usually call them ahead of time to make sure it’s ok for me to turn up. I have in the past turned up at a gym only to find that it was closed for the coach’s birthday.
Once at the class, you can expect a warm-up, usually orientated around aspects of MMA, for example shrimping along the mat, or forward rolling across the mat. From here, the coach will usually show you a handful of techniques that you’ll practice with a partner.
Towards the end of the class, you’ll typically put these newly learned techniques into practice, either in light sparring or competitive drills against your partner.
Finally, you’ll warm down, stretch, and bask in your newly found addiction to the best sport in the world.
Benefits of MMA
The first, and most obvious benefit to learning MMA is acquiring the ability to defend yourself. While it’s best to avoid altercations at all costs, sometimes, you need to be able to defend yourself, and given the well-rounded nature of MMA, you’ll be well-equipped for such a situation.
This somewhat ties in with the self-defense benefit mentioned above. Knowing in the back of your mind that if the worst should happen, you have the skills and the know-how to defend yourself, is a surefire way to improve self-confidence.
Get into Shape
MMA training is an incredibly good workout and will help tremendously in improving your cardiovascular endurance. While going to a regular gym is great, I find that MMA gives you a workout, without feeling like you’re working out.
This is largely because you don’t have the mundane repetitiveness of lifting weights or running on a treadmill,
Socialise & Make Friends
There is great camaraderie in most MMA gyms. Although it’s a tough sport, everyone is there for the same reason and you’re sure to bond over such a unique shared interest.
Do I Need to Know a Martial Art First?
Gone are the days of pitting one specialist against another.
While it’s true that a lot of professional fighters have a background in other sports, Rhona Rousey and Judo for example, or Khabib and Sambo, this isn’t strictly necessary.
Nowadays, we’re seeing more up-and-coming “next generation” fighters that are incredibly well-rounded and started their journey into martial arts with MMA.
Is MMA Good for Girls?
Of course, MMA is great for both men and women, with an incredible professional scene for women’s MMA.
How old should I be to start MMA?
In short, any age.
The younger you start the better, especially if you’re looking to make a career out of MMA. That said, it doesn’t matter your age, MMA is for everyone, and as long as you know the limits of your own body, it’s worth a try.
Do I need to be in shape?
No, you don’t need to be in good shape for MMA. If you head to training regularly, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your fitness will improve.
Is MMA safe?
With any combat sport, there is of course a risk of injury. In a training environment, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll sustain any broken bones or similar injuries, but of course, accidents do happen.
As long as you leave your ego at the door, tap if you’re in a submission, and don’t mind a few knocks here and there, you’ll very likely be ok.
I also feel like safety ties heavily to the gym and its culture. I’ve been to some gyms where sparring was essentially fight simulation, whilst other gyms were far more relaxed.
How to Start Competing in MMA?
If you want to become an MMA fighter, it’s a good idea to get a good amount of training before you start to compete.
Get a good understanding of the fundamentals, have solid skills both on the feet and on the ground, and speak to your coach about competing.
Competing is a massive rush and incredibly exciting, but take your time and only begin competing when you’re ready.
I started competing at a low level, inter-club competitions that were great, as they gave really valuable cage time experience, with a few safety rules put into place.
How Much Do MMA Classes Cost?
Again this depends on the club and the type of lessons you’re having. If you want to learn as quickly as possible, having one on one lessons alongside regular classes is going to be a big help.
The club will likely have different membership plans, where you can attend X amount of sessions per week, unlimited plans, or pay-as-you-go plans. The cost of this will vary depending on the quality of the club and where you’re located.
That said, prepare to spend a couple of hundred pounds/ dollars a month for a good quality club if you’re planning on training regularly.
MMA Tips for Beginners
Check out the below video for some great tips and techniques for MMA beginners.
How to Start MMA: Final Thoughts
Well, there we have it. A bit of a long post I know, but hopefully you’ve got a better idea of how to start MMA.
It was the best decision I ever made. I’ve made great friends, am in the best shape of my life, and have the best time during training.
If you have any questions whatsoever, please feel free to reach out, or leave a comment in the section below.
Thanks for stopping by.