HOW TO GET INTO MMA?
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is one of the fastest-growing sports on the planet; captivating the world’s attention with power, athleticism and raw excitement. You, a friend or a family member may find yourself asking the question, “How do I get started in training MMA?”
In what follows we will break down step-by-step how to get into MMA. The process of becoming an MMA fighter is truly unique.
We will break down how to get into MMA by walking through the following 6 step process:
- Understanding the Three Main Areas of Fighting
- Do your Due Diligence
- Train Smart
- Get Amateur Experience
But first, it is essential to briefly explain the history of the sport and how certain martial art disciplines emerged as dominant.
A brief look into the origins of Mixed Martial Arts:
Long gone are the days of the stereotypical bar-room-brawlers competing in MMA. Today, MMA fighters are some of the most disciplined, mild-mannered, hard-working and talented athletes on the planet.
When the sport began in the early 1990’s the fighter pool was widely occupied with large, testosterone-fueled brawlers with no formal training in any combat sports.
Who would win in a fight between a wrestler and a boxer? A Muay Thai fighter and a karate practitioner? Which martial artist would triumph above all others when placed in a fighting arena with no weight classes and only three rules; No groin strikes, eye gouging or biting.
As the sport developed in the mid-1990’s we saw wrestling, boxing/kickboxing and the newly surfacing martial art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu emerge as the dominant forms of fighting.
Never had a man of smaller stature been able to defeat a man much larger and stronger until Royce Gracie came along and won the very first UFC tournament; UFC 1
At only 176 pounds Royce was successful in submitting Kimo, the 240-pound Taekwondo black belt, thus shattering all notions that the bigger fighter would always win.
Royce’s success in the UFC launched Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to the forefront of MMA training. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to this day remains one of the core disciplines of MMA and is a must if you want to become an MMA fighter.
1) Understanding the Three Main Areas of Fighting
If you are someone who is wondering how to get into MMA, getting started in your training can seem overwhelming. There are many martial art disciplines that you can devote your time to learning.
However, let’s break down MMA fighting into its three main areas:
- Stand-up: Fighting that occurs while both opponents are standing on their feet and trade strikes with hands, feet, elbows and knees.
- Clinch: Although both fighters are still standing, the clinch differs from stand-up training in that the fighters are body-to-body, holding one another fighting for position and leverage rather than delivering strikes necessarily.
- Ground: As you can assume, this refers to all fighting occurring on the ground.
What martial art is relevant in each of the three areas of fighting?
Stand-up fighting disciplines:
- Muay Thai
Boxing provides a solid foundation for basic hand and footwork that is necessary to succeed in MMA fighting.
However, MMA fighting is dynamic; elbows, knees and feet are weapons that you must learn to use that boxing won’t teach. Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Karate and Taekwondo are some other martial art disciplines that professional fighters train extensively.
As someone that is just starting out in MMA training, Boxing, Kickboxing and Muay Thai will provide you with the most well-rounded skills and the basic understanding of fundamental foot and handwork.
Classes on these disciplines are offered at most reputable MMA gyms and should be a heavy area of focus for those who want to start training MMA.
Clinch Fighting disciplines:
- Muay Thai
- Jiu Jitsu
The clinch is unique in that it is a middle area or transitional area between ground and stand-up fighting. Those who want to take the fight to the ground will use leverage within the clinch to throw an opponent down and bring the fight into their preferred arena; Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling or Judo.
Those who prefer to stay standing and strike will also utilize the clinch to deliver devastating knees and elbows that can potentially end a fight.
Whether you prefer to keep the fight standing or take it to the ground, a strong understanding of clinch work will be essential in your MMA training.
Ground Fighting disciplines:
- Jiu Jitsu
Judo was popularized by fighters like Ronda Rousey and Karo Parisyan. Although it is an Olympic sport and emphasizes leverage, body control and submissions, as a beginner training Judo is likely unnecessary.
As someone just starting mixed martial arts training, you should spend a large percentage of your time dedicated to Jiu Jitsu and Wrestling. A strong understanding of these will be essential if you want to become an MMA fighter.
Jiu-Jitsu will teach you submissions, body control and defense on the ground. You should devote a large amount of time to this discipline.
Besides, Wrestling is incredibly effective in learning how to control your opponent’s body and how to take opponents to the ground.
It is nearly impossible to survive as a professional MMA fighter unless you are well-rounded in all areas of fighting. However, it’s important to note most professional MMA fighters began training at a young age and are specialized in one of the martial arts listed above.
It is very common to see professional fighters who rooted their foundation with years, even decades, specializing and competing in only one of the above martial arts. It is only after this that they begin to learn the other areas of fighting and become a well-rounded professional MMA fighter.
As the sport continues to develop this trend has begun to change. We now see the next generation of fighters going straight into MMA gyms rather than first competing in High School wrestling or competing in Jiu Jitsu or Kickboxing tournaments.
To summarize the above, the most essential martial arts in Stand-Up, Clinch and Ground fighting for beginners to learn are:
- Muay Thai
- Jiu Jitsu
As someone that is starting mixed martial arts training, it is essential to build a strong foundation in these four disciplines.
So what comes next?
Reflect: Take some time to reflect on your reasons for wanting to become an MMA fighter. Your personal goals to begin training will determine the gym you choose and type of training you will undergo.
Maybe you are incredibly passionate and want to pursue MMA to become a professional fighter. Maybe you love watching the sport and you want to take up training simply to get in shape and work out regularly.
Whatever your reason may be, it’s important to sort this out first so that you can have that discussion with your coach or instructors. If you want to compete and turn pro, your instructors, coaches and teammates will treat you differently than if you’re somebody who just wants to learn Jiu Jitsu and get a good sweat in.
3) Do your Due Diligence
Once you have decided on your end-goal in beginning your training in MMA, get online and research your local gyms.
Each gym will have different martial arts classes at different times. Some may offer a Muay Thai class at 6 am while another at 8 pm. Most gyms will post their current class schedule with time slots online. Take a look and see which gym and its classes best fit your schedule.
Find out if they focus more on one particular martial art. Ask around, speak with the head coach and find out what the foundation of the gym is. Many gyms will be opened by an ex-professional fighter who specialized in one martial art (let’s say kickboxing or Jiu Jitsu).
The gym may tend to put a heavy emphasis on one martial art in particular. If you love Jiu Jitsu and the owner of the gym is a Jiu Jitsu black belt who used to compete, this will make a great fit for you.
However, if your someone looking to become very well-rounded you will want to find a gym that offers a well-rounded class schedule with experienced coaches for each martial art.
Drop in on classes! Before shelling out the $200-$400 per month on a membership, drop in on each class offered. Most reputable gyms will allow you a 1-2 week period where you can try it out free of charge.
Make sure you try out all classes they offer; Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, Kickboxing etc. You want to get a feel for how they teach each martial art and how good the instructors are. You don’t want to only try the Jiu Jitsu class, sign up for a year only to find out the guy/gal who teaches the Muay Thai class never shows up or isn’t experienced enough to teach!
Get to know your classmates and their skill levels. If the instructors are world-class, but you don’t have competitive classmates to train and spar with, this will be a huge setback in your training to become an MMA fighter.
4) Train Smart
As someone who is new to MMA training, it is important to start slow and know your limits. After all, you can’t progress as an MMA fighter if you’re injured and unable to train.
Most gyms preach the philosophy of ‘leaving your ego’ at the door. This is not the time or place to show you are the strongest, toughest, meanest dude on the block. Everybody is at the gym to learn and get better.
Adding value to the comradery within the gym and being a helpful, safe, training partner for others will be greatly appreciated.
Learn to communicate with your training partners, let them know your ability and the tempo you would like to train.
When training on the ground, it is important to learn to ‘tap-out’ or submit in order to avoid injury. Jiu Jitsu submissions can happen fast and going from slight discomfort to an injury or unconsciousness can happen quickly.
When sparring on the feet, the general rule of thumb is ‘only hit your opponent as hard as you want to get hit back’. If you only want to spar lightly, you must communicate this to your partner and act accordingly.
After all, if you say you want to take it easy today and then proceed to throw haymakers, this will not go over well and you can expect to receive them in return.
5) Get Amateur Experience
It is important to never take a fight until you and your coaches agree that you are ready. Mixed Martial Arts is an incredible sport that promotes a hard work and a healthy lifestyle, however, the consequences when competing can be dire.
Never rush into competing. You should speak with your coaches and have a timeline while frequently checking in on your abilities and how you are progressing.
Once you are ready to take your first fight, competing at the amateur level in your local circuit will be the next step. If your goal is to eventually turn pro, take your time. It’s important to get as much amateur experience as possible.
Once you turn pro, you cannot compete again as an amateur. It is not uncommon to see MMA amateur records of 2-2 or 3-0 turning pro. Where an amateur boxer may have 100-200 fights. MMA is not like other professional sports, it doesn’t have the same depth in breeding grounds.
Take your time while climbing up the ranks. You want as much experience as you can get before turning pro to protect both your safety and professional record.
6) Learn to Self-Promote
Being a professional MMA fighter is unique in that showmanship and self-promotion are vital to your career AND pay grade. Your worth as a professional fighter (and in turn your pay) is only as much as the number of butts you can put in seats.
Set up social media platforms to share your life and story with as many people and fans as you can. Leverage social media to call out other fighters and ‘talk’ your way into higher profile fights.
It isn’t so important to get the fans to like or love you. People will tune in just as much for fighters they hate as for fighters they love. Whether they love you or hate you, the important thing is that they care enough to tune in to either see you win or see you lose.
So you’ve read through the information and are no longer wondering how to get into MMA. You’re ready to take the first step and get the ball rolling! Just remember the 6 steps listed above:
- Understanding the three main areas of Fighting
- Do your Due Diligence
- Train Smart
- Get Amateur Experience
Becoming an MMA fighter takes hard work and a lifetime of dedication. If you love the sport, if you love to compete and you’re ready to begin, there’s no better time than right now to get involved in the world’s fastest growing and most electrifying sport!