Whether you are a professional or an amateur, if you are engaged in mixed martial arts you must have wondered at least once – which mixed martial art is best for MMA? In this article, we are going to answer this in in such a way that we are going to rank the best martial arts for MMA according to the primary skill of all UFC champions in history.
The best martial art for MMA is wrestling. This art – as the primary fighting skill – has given the most champions in UFC history.
Although this article is going to discuss individual martial arts, remember that if you want to be top-notch in MMA, you must at least partially know all the martial arts.
It should be added that each of these martial arts has its advantages and disadvantages, and a good fighter is one who knows them all well enough to be able to exploit those pros and cons, so he could defend against their advantages, but also to know how to exploit their disadvantages with his primary technique.
How do we rank them? We will rank best martial arts for MMA by the number of UFC champions (we count every champion only once) and their primary style of fighting (some champions have multiple martial arts as their primary).
Best Martial Arts for MMA – Ranked by the Number of UFC Champions
9. Sambo – 2 UFC Champions
Who uses Sambo in MMA
Sambo is a relatively new martial art in world of MMA, because it was “hidden” for a long time during the Soviet era. The most notable fighters that use Sambo as their primary style are Fedor Emelianenko, Alexander Pushnitsa, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Marko Kosev, Andrei Arlovski, Vitaly Minakov, and few others.
Generally about Sambo
Sambo, a martial art of self-defense without weapons, was developed in the USSR where it was practiced by elite units. In the 1990s, sambo – a combination of judo, kickboxing, Thai boxing, and boxing – became popular worldwide.
The most popular sambo practitioner is Fyodor Emelianenko, by far the most successful MMA fighter, whose basic discipline is sambo and who has become a symbol of that Russian martial art. It was developed in the 1920s within the Soviet Red Army and was primarily associated with intelligence and special units. In the late 1930s, it became the official martial art of the former USSR. The fairly closed circle of people who trained it were considered to be of “guards of the Soviet Empire”. Until the collapse of the USSR, sambo was also part of physical education in Russian schools. With the publication of the first manual in the early 1990s, sambo gained worldwide popularity.
Sambo has multiple disciplines. Sports sambo is reminiscent of judo as opponents compete without hitting. Self-defense sambo is based on jiu-jitsu and aikido and can be trained with sports sambo. Combat sambo is a more demanding discipline, intended primarily for the military and the police, which allows almost everything, head, elbow, knee strikes … Special sambo is a special variant of combat sambo whose techniques are kept secret for members of special units. Freestyle sambo has developed in America as a civilian variant that is not practiced in classic sports clubs.
Why is sambo a good martial art for MMA?
Even though it is on the last place on our list of best martial arts for MMA ranked by UFC champions, it is still a very good martial art. Combat Sambo has a very effective base for the transition to MMA. It uses throwings, striking (while standing) and grappling, and techniques to submit your opponent.
UFC Champions Who Use Sambo
Andrei Arlovski, and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
8. Judo – 3 UFC Champions
Who uses Judo in MMA
Judo, just like Karate, is one of the rearest used martial arts in the UFC. There were only a few quality fighters who used it, most notably Fedor Emelianenko, Ronda Rousey, Hector Lombard, Karo Parisyan, Antonio Silva, Rick Hawn, and Hidehiko Yoshida.
Generally about Judo
Jiu-jitsu was a common name in Japan for all martial arts (striking and wrestling). The founder of Judo – Jigoro Kano (1860 – 1938), who mastered several styles of jiu-jitsu, decided to take and keep the best of each style and discard unnecessary.
There are three basic categories of waza (techniques): nage-waza (throwing techniques), katame-waza (grappling techniques), and atemi-waza (striking techniques). Judo is mostly known for nage-waza and katame-waza. Parterre is rather neglected in competitive judo because, for the sake of attractiveness, fights stop very quickly unless one of the contestants makes significant progress.
Why is judo a good martial art for MMA?
Judo is great for the transition to MMA, uses leverages to throw your opponent to the ground, and to be in a good position when you do that. There are not many MMA fighters that use Judo, which is actually a plus because opponents are usually not ready for it.
UFC Champions Who Use Judo
Ronda Rousey, Carlos Newton, and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
7. Taekwondo – 4 UFC Champions
Who uses Taekwondo in MMA
There where many great Taekwondo fighters in MMA, and here are just some of the best – Anthony Pettis, Anderson Silva, Yair Rodriguez, Rose Namajunas, Valentina Shevchenko, Benson Henderson, etc.
Generally about Taekwondo
Initially restricted to Asia and, to a small degree, North America, the art of Taekwondo reached global prominence after the 1988 Olympic Games held in Seoul, South Korea. Taekwondo was only a demonstration sport back then, but it was presented to a larger audience and had been an official Olympic event since the 2000 Sydney Olympics; it is, since 2000, the only Asian martial art alongside judo that is included in the official Olympic program.
Why is taekwondo a good martial art for MMA?
Even though its stand is not good for MMA (with your hands down), it learns it fighters some of the best kicks in all martial arts. If a fighter is a striker and has good knowledge of taekwondo and its kicks, he will offer some big surprises for his opponent. Taekwondo fighters are also great at switching stance.
UFC Champions Who Use Taekwondo
Rose Namajunas, Anderson Silva, Anthony Pettis, and Valentina Shevchenko.
6. Karate – 7 UFC Champions
Who uses Karate in MMA
Karate is similar to judo in the way that is one of the rarest used martial arts in the UFC. There were only a few quality fighters who used it, most notably Guy Mezger, Robert Whittaker, Bas Rutten, Chuck Liddell, Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, George St. Pierre and Lyoto Machida.
Generally about Karate
Karate is a Japanese martial art that uses all body parts for self-defense. Karate comes from Okinawa Island located south of Japan in the Ryu Kyu Islands.
Karate was discovered when an unknown military doctor noticed that soldiers from Okinawa were extremely physically fit. When he inquired about this, he learned that they were training a martial art called Te.
Naha-te is defensive in nature, with circular movements and throw techniques and reminiscent of Chinese martial arts schools. Shuri-te is of an offensive character, with straight movements and direct techniques, it included nunchaku (mallet for corn), tonfa (handle for millstone), and kama (sickle). Tomari-te takes on elements of both previous fighting styles.
Why is karate a good martial art for MMA?
Karate is a great martial art for MMA because its fighters have very precise strikes, even thou not so strong. In combination with some other martial arts, Karate can be a very efficient technique. That lack of power is the main reason why not so many MMA fighters practicing Karate.
UFC Champions Who Use Karate
Rose Namajunas, Tim Sylvia, Lyoto Machida, Chuck Liddell, Robert Whittaker, Georges St. Pierre, and Pat Miletich.
5. Muay Thai – 13 UFC Champions
Who uses Muay Thai in MMA
Donald Cerrone, Darren Till, Joanna Jędrzejczyk, Gaston Bolanos, Jose Aldo, Edson Barboza, Cris Cyborg, Paul Felder, Anderson Silva, Max Holloway, and many many more.
Generally about Muay Thai
Historically, Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, was a martial art created during the migration of Thai people from southeast China to present-day Thailand.
According to the rules, striking and kicking with the use of knees, elbows, and holding, pushing, and throwing (without the use of levers) are allowed in Thai boxing, which makes it different from other similar sports (K1, Kickboxing).
As a martial art that requires strength, endurance, balance, and coordination, Muay Thai is a sport that makes significant progress in an individual’s general physical condition, developing a range of motor skills, but also having a positive impact on mental health, self-esteem, self-awareness, and security.
During Thai boxing training, the leg muscles are continuously activated, both in striking and kicking movements, and in constant movement throughout all training segments. This type of activity increases muscular endurance, force production, agility, and forms the legs and buttocks that are continuously involved in the movement.
Why is Muay Thai a good martial art for MMA?
Muay Thai as a martial art uses punches, elbows, kicks, and knees. It also focuses on the clinch technique. So as you can see, it is one pretty complete technique, great for MMA.
UFC Champions Who Use Muay Thai
Zhang Weili, Jéssica Andrade, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Valentina Shevchenko, Miesha Tate, Cris Cyborg, Germaine de Randamie, Cain Velasquez, Jon Jones, Maurício Rua, Anderson Silva, Rich Franklin, and Dave Menne.
Check out deeper analysis of best Muay Thai fighters in the UFC.
4. Kickboxing – 14 UFC Champions
Who uses Kickboxing in MMA
Some of the best fighters that use kickboxing in MMA are Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Holly Holm, Andrei Arlovski, Bas Rutten, Maurice Smith, Quinton Jackson, Chuck Liddell, Frank Shamrock, Israel Adesanya, Michael Bisping, and many, many more.
Generally about Kickboxing
Kickboxing is a modern martial art that spans multiple sports/disciplines: Semi contact, Light contact, Kick light, Full contact, Low kick, K-1, Thai kickboxing (similar rules to Thai boxing), Music Forms and Aero-kickboxing. Except in disciplines where knock-out competitions are permitted for the world and European professional titles, they are held in semi and light contact.
Kickboxing is based on boxing, karate, taekwondo, kung fu, and other more or less well-known oriental and western martial arts. The main goal of every fighter is to overcome the better technique, speed, and strength of his opponent with the maximum safety, tolerance, honesty, and honor of each competitor. In a word, Kickboxing is a Western sport – a unique response to many Eastern martial arts.
Why is kickboxing a good martial art for MMA?
Kickboxing has provided the foundation for much of modern MMA’s striking game and is a necessary form of training for many MMA and UFC fighters. It builds technique, speed, and strength both with your hands, as well as legs. Same as Muay Thai it uses punches, elbows, kicks, and knees.
UFC Champions Who Use Kickboxing
Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Holly Holm, Andrei Arlovski, Bas Rutten, Maurice Smith, Quinton Jackson, Chuck Liddell, Frank Shamrock, Israel Adesanya, Michael Bisping, Robbie Lawler, Anthony Pettis, Jens Pulver, and Max Holloway.
Be sure to check out our list of best kickboxers that have ever stepped foot inside the Octagon.
3. Boxing – 23 UFC Champions
Who uses Boxing in MMA
Conor McGregor, Cody Garbrandt, Anderson Silva, Nick Diaz, Georges St. Pierre, TJ Dillashaw, Jorge Masvidal, Holly Holm, Nate Diaz, and many, many more.
Generally About Boxing
Boxing is a martial arts in which opponents of similar body weight punch each other wearing padded gloves.
Due to the fact that boxing is not allowed to hit the opponent while on the floor, and that there are strict rules in which part of the body and how the opponent is allowed to hit, boxing is often called a ‘noble art’.
Today, there are two basic areas of boxing: amateur (often called Olympic) boxing practiced at the Olympics, and professional boxing, managed by several different boxing federations.
There are several basic ways of boxing. The basic boxing stance envisions standing in a gap, arms raised at shoulder height with fists in front of the head as a shield. This arm set is called a guard.
There are also several types of punches such as uppercut (downward strike, often in the opponent’s beard), then straight, crouch, half-stroke, etc. When fighting, fighters take different positions depending on the style of each fighter, so it is known fighting technique from a distance when fighters are away from each other by arm lengths or more, or eg a clinch fight when fighters are in close proximity to each other. Fighter, depending on the position, select the most effective shots and methods of defense.
In the boxing technique, the work of the legs is also important, with which the fighter can be quickly moved to a more favorable position, and the defensive skill of avoiding blows is also very important. However, the basis of each boxer must first and foremost be the speed and power of the punch that he is able to direct towards the opponent.
Why is boxing a good martial art for MMA?
Boxing refines your motor skills, it is great for endurance (utilizes a smart combination of aerobic and anaerobic to stimulate all your muscle groups), it toughens you up, and it is one of the best striking bases for MMA.
UFC Champions Who Use Boxing
Stipe Miocic, Jéssica Andrade, Nicco Montaño, Miesha Tate, Holly Holm, Germaine de Randamie, Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos, Tim Sylvia, Kevin Randleman, Vitor Belfort, Tito Ortiz, Georges St. Pierre, Rich Franklin, Murilo Bustamante, Matt Serra, Carlos Newton, Pat Miletich, Conor McGregor, Eddie Alvarez, Frankie Edgar, Jens Pulver, and Cody Garbrandt.
Check out who are the best boxers in the UFC history.
2. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) – 36 UFC Champions
Who uses BJJ in MMA
Almost everybody, but, some of the most notable fighters are Brian Ortega, Fabrício Werdum, Ronaldo Souza, Tony Ferguson, Charles Oliveira, Demian Maia, Luke Rockhold, Joe Lauzon, Jussier Formiga, Nate Diaz, Cain Velasquez, Cris Cyborg, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, and many, many more.
Generally About BJJ
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a martial art and martial sport focused on grappling and especially ground combat with the aim of gaining a dominant position and using ankle bones and choke to force an opponent to surrender. The system evolved from a modified version of Judo practiced before World War II, including some techniques from classic Jujutsu and a focus on non-waza (floor techniques).
It promotes the principle that a smaller, weaker person, using balance and technique, can successfully defend himself against a larger and stronger attacker. BJJ can be trained for self-defense, sports grappling tournaments (gi and no-gi) and mixed martial arts (MMA). Sparring (popularly called “rolling”) with an opponent plays an important role in coaching.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu emphasizes ground-holding and submission-holding techniques, including ankle and suffocation, already present in many other martial arts, with or without an emphasis on ground combat. The premise is that most of the benefits of a bigger and stronger opponent come from longer reach and more powerful shots can be negated if the fight is on the ground.
BJJ incorporates many techniques of throwing and sweeping down opponents to the ground, based on the main foundations of the human body: hips and shoulders. Such crashes are hard to avoid without training.
When the opponent is on the ground, a number of attacks (and counter-attacks) are available to manipulate the opponent into a convenient position to apply the grip. Obtaining a dominant position on the ground (in the sense that the opponent is on someone’s back and facing the floor) is a sign of BJJ style innovation, and involves effectively using the guard position to defend themselves from the bottom position, and pulling them out of the guards to gain a dominant position from the top position with flank control, mount and back mount position.
This system of attack and manipulation can be compared to the form of kinetic chess if used by two experienced practitioners. The submission grip is equal to a Checkmate.
Why is BJJ a good martial art for MMA?
It is maybe the best grappling martial art for competitions. BJJ has some of the best submissions and techniques in all martial arts. On the other hand, it has to be learned with other techniques, because, on its own, it learns almost nothing about striking. It is a great technique in combination with Muay Thai, those two martial arts just go naturally together.
UFC Champions Who Use BJJ
Zhang Weili, Jéssica Andrade, Rose Namajunas, Carla Esparza, Nicco Montaño, Miesha Tate, Amanda Nunes, Cris Cyborg, Fabricio Werdum, Cain Velasquez, Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski, Frank Mir, Ricco Rodriguez, Maurício Rua, Forrest Griffin, Chuck Liddell, Vitor Belfort, Georges St. Pierre, Michael Bisping, Luke Rockhold, Anderson Silva, Rich Franklin, Evan Tanner, Murilo Bustamante, Matt Serra, BJ Penn, Carlos Newton, Pat Miletich, Eddie Alvarez, Rafael dos Anjos, Anthony Pettis, Jens Pulver, Jose Aldo, Renan Barao, and Demetrious Johnson.
Be sure to check who were the best BJJ practitioners of all time in the UFC.
1. Wrestling – 37 UFC Champions
Who uses Wrestling in MMA
There are many fighters that use wrestling in MMA, but some of the most notable are Carla Esparza, Henry Cejudo, Sara McMann, TJ Dillashaw, Chad Mendes, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Johny Hendricks, Yoel Romero, Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez, Stipe Miocic, Brock Lesnar, and many, many others.
Generally About Wrestling
Wrestling is a martial art as well as a standard Olympic sport. It is a fight between two opponents, the aim of which is to defeat the opponent using different procedures, but they are forbidden to strike of any kind. Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in general, practiced in ancient Greece, and has been in the program of the modern Olympic Games from the earliest days to the present.
As a traditional sport, wrestling has evolved in a wide variety of styles and rules, from sumo wrestling, judo to various freestyle variants. It is often used in soldier training, so-called chest to chest fights. All these styles have in common that it is forbidden to hit an opponent with their hands, feet, elbows or head, as well as unsportsmanlike moves such as scratching, bites, genital strikes, etc. The difference between individual styles is the duration of the fight (number and duration of the period), scoring of individual actions, the list of permitted actions, etc.
The goals of wrestling are to bring opponents to the floor and into a subordinate position, topple opponents to the floor, bring the opponent’s body into a subordinate position in any allowed manner. It involves takedowns, throws, holds, tilts, and pinning combinations.
Why is wrestling a good martial art for MMA?
Takedowns and defenses against takedowns are some of the most important techniques for MMA. A good wrestler can turn the whole match in his own favor if he has those two techniques mastered. Its main disadvantage is similar as BJJ, they don’t use strikes. So, better practice those parts of your skills well, or you have to be really good and fast in taking your opponent down to the ground.
UFC Champions Who Use Wrestling
Daniel Cormier, Stipe Miocic, Carla Esparza, Miesha Tate, Cris Cyborg, Cain Velasquez, Brock Lesnar, Randy Couture, Tim Sylvia, Josh Barnett, Kevin Randleman, Mark Coleman, Jon Jones, Rashad Evans, Quinton Jackson, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Georges St. Pierre, Chris Weidman, Evan Tanner, Dave Menne, Kamaru Usman, Tyron Woodley, Robbie Lawler, Johny Hendricks, Matt Hughes, Carlos Newton, Pat Miletich, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Eddie Alvarez, Benson Henderson, Frankie Edgar, Jens Pulver, Alexander Volkanovski, Henry Cejudo, TJ Dillashaw, and Dominick Cruz.
Here is our list of best wrestlers that have competed in the UFC.
It was a tough battle for the number one spot on our list of best martial arts for MMA, ranked by the number of UFC champions. The difference of only one UFC champion decided it. We also have an article that talks about Wrestling Vs Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), and which one of these martial arts is better.
As you can see, it is almost impossible to learn only one martial art and to be good at MMA. There were few fighters in history and UFC that could do it, but it was mostly in its start. Now, when fighters learn more and more fighting styles and techniques, it is more important than ever to know as many martial arts as you can master.