You are here:  

Martial Arts Styles

Mixed Martial Arts is the fusion of two or more styles of fighting. Every UFC fighter trains in various systems to create the perfect blend of skills to compete in The Octagon™.


Boxing is a combat sport in which a fighter uses his fists to throw strikes in an attempt to knock out his opponent. Boxing can be traced back as early as 675 BC in Greece, and was acknowledged as an Olympic sport in 688 BC. Nearly every UFC fighter has some boxing training in order to develop his striking skills and some techniques have been modified in MMA. Because boxers stand up straight and fight with their hands, they are not protecting their torso to prevent a take down. UFC fighters have to keep their arms closer to their torso to prevent such vulnerability.

Interesting Facts

  • Georges St-Pierre has trained with renowned boxing coach, Freddy Roach, who also trains Manny Pacquiao.
  • A boxing fight consists of three-minute rounds
  • A fight that goes to decision is said to "go the distance"
  • Boxers cannot hit below the belt (those high-waisted shorts aren't a fashion statement)

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) was developed in the early 20th century by Mitsuyo Maeda, and focuses on grappling and ground fighting. BJJ is considered a combat sport and a self-defense system and uses submission holds, joint locks and choke holds to subdue the opponent. It is a very effective style in which a fighter can use little to no strength to subdue a much larger opponent. Many MMA fighters train in BJJ to prepare them for grappling and ground fighting, which can be useful when a fighter is up against a wrestler with his back to the mat. The fighter on the bottom can use BJJ to do a sweep (or reverse) to gain the dominant position or to end the fight with a submission.

Interesting Facts

  • Royce Gracie practiced BJJ and won UFC 1
  • Maeda taught Carlos Gracie, who then taught his brothers
  • Some BJJ teachers work with their students for 5-10 years before awarding them a black belt.

Freestyle Wrestling

Originating in Great Britain, this style of amateur wrestling was deemed an Olympic sport in 1904. Wrestlers are scored on their performance and are allowed to use their legs or the legs of their opponents in offense and defense. The ultimate goal is to get the opponent's shoulder to touch the mat (known as a fall) for an immediate win. MMA fighters use freestyle wrestling for its effective take downs, predominantly the single leg and double leg take downs. One of the most practical defenses in Freestyle Wrestling is the sprawl. For fighters that like to keep the fight standing, learning how to effectively sprawl is beneficial because it keeps the fight off the mat.

Interesting Facts

  • UFC Champs Tito Ortiz, Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman all came from a Freestyle Wrestling background
  • Derived from catch-as-catch-can wrestling, which was popular in carnivals
  • Wrestlers are awarded points for touching their opponent's back to the mat
  • The one-piece spandex wrestling attire is called a singlet

Greco-Roman Wrestling

Despite its name, Greco-Roman Wrestling originated in France and was recognized as an Olympic sport in 1896. Much like in Freestyle Wrestling, wrestlers are scored for their performance, but Greco-Roman wrestling forbids holds below the waist. The result is a strong emphasis on throws since they can't use trips to get their opponent to the ground. UFC fighters rely on Greco-Roman Wrestling to get their opponents against the cage and use the clinch to land.strikes to the body and to the head. The Greco-Roman clinch can also help a fighter take his opponent to the ground.

Interesting Facts

  • UFC Hall of Famers Randy Couture and Dan Severn are both well known for their Greco-Roman Wrestling skills
  • Also referred to as Flat Hand Wrestling
  • A match consists of three two-minute periods
  • A wrestler wins the match when he's won two out of three periods

Jeet Kune Do

Many consider Jeet Kune Do's founder, as one of the world's first Mixed Martial Artists. Bruce Lee developed Jeet Kune Do in 1967. Bruce Lee referred to Jeet Kune Do not as a system, but as name he gave his philosophy of freeing yourself from styles and patterns. On the whole, Jeet Kune Do is a philosophy for life, not just combat. Applied to combat, the idea is to use what works and abandon "styles" as they limit your ability to be prepared for a fight. It also noted that what works for one person may not work for another. Jeet Kune Do requires constant training to be ready for anything. Jeet Kune Do is about evolving, and that's what MMA fighters have to do to compete at such high levels.

Interesting Facts

  • Bruce Lee would tell students to "be like water" because they should be as flexible as possible
  • Students are taught to attack when the opponent is preparing to attack you
  • The effectiveness of JKD is dependent on a fighter's ability to react in a split-second


Judo was created in Japan in 1882 by Jigoro Kano. Its main focuses are throws, take downs and grappling. The goal is to immobilize an opponent and force him to submit via joint locking or strangle holds. Judo throws are very effective in the MMA because typically the fighter who throws his opponent lands on top of him, giving him the perfect position to throw punches or elbow strikes. He can also apply a submission hold from the top position if the opportunity presents itself.

Interesting Facts

  • Judo means "gentle way"
  • Judo fighters are called judoka
  • Founder Kano was bullied in his youth and weighed less than 100 pounds at the age of 20

Kyokushin Karate

This form of stand up karate allows kicks to the head, but no hand strikes to the head. Founded in 1964 by Masutatsu Oyama, Kyokushin Karate focuses on realistic combat and physical toughness and its main elements are technique, forms and sparring. UFC fighters benefit from the devastating kicking techniques taught in Kyokushin Karate.

Interesting Facts

  • Georges St-Pierre started Kyokushin Karate lessons at the age of 7
  • Kyokushinkai means "the society of the ultimate truth"
  • Kyokushin Karate originally allowed bare fist strikes and elbows to the head but after many injuries, they changed the rules

Muay Thai

Established in Thailand, the kickboxing style of Muay Thai focuses on both striking and clinching techniques. The eight points of contact in Muay Thai include punches, elbows, knee strikes and kicks. There are several types of clinches used, including arm clinch, side clinch and low clinch. Many MMA fighters train in Muay Thai because the style teaches fighters how to throw elbow and knee strikes with enough force to cut or even knock out their opponent while in close proximity (like the clinch).

Interesting Facts

  • Anderson Silva is one of the most popular Muay Thai practitioners in MMA
  • Muay Thai was used by soldiers on the battlefield when they lost their weapons.
  • Some say that Muay Thai was more deadly than the weapons they replaced
  • Referred to as "The Art of Eight Limbs"
  • Practitioners kick banana trees to harden their shins and make kicks more powerful

Sanshou or Sanda

Developed in China by military officials, this self defense, hand-to-hand close combat system focuses on realistic fighting ability. Competitions are won by knockout or points given for striking and throwing. Sanshou allows knee strikes, kicking, punching and wrestling, but not submissions or grappling. In the octagon, many fighters refer to their throwing skills to get their opponent in a vulnerable position. Sanda and Sanshou aren't commonly taught outside of China, but with UFC's recent acquisition of Chinese MMA fighters, the styles may gain more popularity.

Interesting Facts

  • UFC featherweight Tiequan Zhang has fought in over 100 Sanda bouts
  • Sanshou means "free hand" and Sanda means "Free Fighting"
  • Sanshou does not allow blows to the back of the head, spine or groin
  • Fighters try to keep the fight standing and avoid being on the ground

Tae Kwon Do

Originating from other Asian arts, Tae Kwon Do was developed during Japan's occupation of Korea and is known for its emphasis on kicking techniques. The belief is that the leg is the strongest limb with the longest reach and can produce a powerful strike, lessening the chance of retaliation. TKD also focuses on strikes, open-hand strikes, take downs, throws and joint locks. Many UFC fighters have a background in Tae Kwon Do.

Interesting Facts

  • Anderson Silva started his fighting journey with Tae Kwon Do at the age of 14
  • Loosely translated, Tae Kwon Do means "the art of kicking and punching"
  • Korean martial arts schools are called kwans
  • Only TKD sparring is recognized in the Olympics
  • Lightweight fighter, Anthony "Showtime" Pettis holds a third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do