A geek’s guide to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

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Often regarded as the most dangerous of all forms of fighting competition; Mixed Martial Arts is renowned for its multi-dimensional fighters with their own tactics and rules. MMA is one of the most demanding, brutal and technically demanding sports requiring fighters to have tremendous stamina, determination, skill and a will never to give up.

What is Mixed Martial Arts?

MMA is unintentionally known as Ultimate Fighting, yet the 'sport' itself is proclaimed MMA or Mixed Martial Arts.

The UFC, Ultimate Fighting Championship, is the primary competition that promotes MMA. Much like football has the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, basketball having the or F1 with their Grands Prix. Boxing too has its many promotions including the IBF, WBC, WBA. MMA then has the UFC hence its alternate name.

A brief history of MMA

Modern MMA has evolved since its early days of "anything goes" in the ring. Today the sport has gone global and importantly, gone mainstream with its rules and highly trained world-class athletes.

Originally conceived from Brazil and Japan in the early 20th century as a way of betting which martial art was superior to others. By the end of the century it had reached the USA, and the UFC was formed as a concept to pitch competitors from various martial arts backgrounds against one another to determine which is best.

Throughout the 1990’s, the UFC suffered from securing television deals to promote the sport, plus politicians and media disliked its cliched and brutal nature as role models for younger people growing up. Finally, the popularity of the sport increased due to an investment of capital from sports wealthier enthusiasts, and UFC finally gained mainstream notoriety. By the 2010s the sport was worth over a billion dollars and MMA events are now held each year globally.

Russia's Evgeniy Goncharov (L) and Zelimkhan Umiev fight in their bout as part of the World Fighting Championship Akhmat Russia's Evgeniy Goncharov (L) and Zelimkhan Umiev fight in their bout as part of the World Fighting Championship Akhmat

MMA then is no longer considered the barbaric blood sport of the 90s (although it is still brutal) and is now one of the largest growing sports in the USA and fast entering the Asian audience market.

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What fighting styles are part of mixed martial arts?

There are hundreds of fighting styles within MMA; however, spectators will probably recognise the following being applied:

  • Boxing
  • Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
  • Judo
  • Karate
  • Kickboxing (Both Sanshou and Muay Thai)
  • Sambo (Russian combat art specialising in submission holds)
  • Tae Kwon Do
  • Wrestling (Freestyle and Catch Wrestling)

Team GB Taekwondo Athlete Michael Harvey (right) during the media day Team GB Taekwondo Athlete Michael Harvey (right) during the media day

Fighters tend to either be specialists in one martial art or adaptable to many. Once again, the original concept of MMA was pitching fighters of different styles utilising their skills against each other. For example, how would a kickboxer do against a wrestler.

As the sport has evolved, most fighters are adept in multiple disciplines and train more for MMA rather than only one martial art.

Rules of MMA

Although UFC used the catchphrase "there are no rules!" in the early 1990s, the UFC has to operate with some rules, banning biting and eye-gouging. Other aggressive 'moves' like head-butting, groin strikes, fish-hooking and hair pulling were permitted yet frowned upon in the ring.

Great Britain's Michael Bisping removes blood from his eyes Great Britain's Michael Bisping removes blood from his eyes

Today the rules separate fighters of different weight, prohibiting illegal moves and following boxing style points scoring to judge who the winner is.

These unified rules of MMA are a widely accepted by most MMA organisations, first adopted and introduced by the New Jersey Athletic Commission.

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Scoring in MMA

MMA scoring is similar to the ten-point system used in boxing, following the criteria as below, and judges scoring fighters on:

Judges are deemed to score the fight on whichever opponent has the:

  • The most effective striking
  • The most dominant grappling
  • The most takedowns
  • Having superiority in the Octagon (meaning a fighter is being the most aggressive or controlling the pace of the fight)

The fighter that the judge sees as the winner of the round receives 10-9 if they are slightly ahead, 10-8 if they dominate the round, and although rarely used, 10-7 if the fighter inflicts colossal damage. Only if there is no clear advantage is a 10-10 draw awarded.

American mixed martial artist Brandon Halsey defeated by Alexander Shlemenko of Russia American mixed martial artist Brandon Halsey defeated by Alexander Shlemenko of Russia

Once the fight has reached its climax, then the scores result in one of the following:

  • Draw unanimous: All judges perceive the fight as a definite draw and no fighter gained an advantage.
  • Majority Draw: Two judges view the fight as a draw whilst one has one of the fighters as a clear winner. The result - no opponent wins.
  • Split Decision: Two judges have one fighter winning while the other judge has their opponent winning. The fighter with the two judges selecting them for a win wins the fight.
  • Majority Decision: One judge believes the fight is a draw, while two judges have one fighter winning. The fighter with two judges selecting them as winning wins the match.
  • Unanimous Decision: All three of the judges have the same fighter winning the fight.

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Mixed martial arts technical moves

Mixed martial arts are more than one individual fight techniques - as fighters begin fighting in the Octagon ring their rhythm and aggressive fighting adapt to their opponents, and thus they will use a variety of methods to win that fight.

Each of those techniques, however, is built on the foundation of the below ten moves:

  1. Jab
  2. Overhand
  3. Round Kick
  4. Knew from the Double-Collar Tie
  5. Double-Leg Takedown
  6. Trip
  7. Sprawl
  8. Guard Pass
  9. Rear-Naked Choke
  10. Ground Striking

Whilst initially, fighters would come in with a single style of fighting like Brazilian Jiujitsu or boxing they quickly realised that to be successful they must be able to counter and react to anything that their opponent uses. Fighters then adapt and begin kicking, grappling, wrestling and evening clinching to obtain an advantage of their opponent.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) competitors fight during the "BJJ East European Open Championship Sarajevo 2017"

MMA then, 'evolves' as a sport because the participants utilise various techniques spanning hundreds of martial arts to better themselves and overcome their opponents.

Hence why it is impossible to list them all in this article!

Mixed martial arts maybe have not hit the heights of mainstream sports however there is no doubting that the sport’s attraction is continuing to grow globally, especially to western audiences. Knowing the basics to MMA mean that you have enough to begin watching and betting on your first MMA or Ultimate Fighter match.

Words: David Bailey-Lauring

Images: PA

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