MMA Vs. Boxing for Training, Self Defense, Street Fights & More!

Often touted as the best martial arts for self defense, both MMA and boxing have a great reputation among professional and amateur fighters. Both fighting styles include no-nonsense techniques and plenty of sparing required to make excellent fighters.

MMA as the name suggests has a bit of everything. Punching, kicking, grappling, takedowns, ground game, joint locks.. it’s all there. So you’re equipped for dealing with any fighting scenario, except for those involving a weapon. Having said that, it takes longer to develop adequate skill in multiple techniques than it does to become good at delivering punches, which is the main route that boxing takes.

So in comparison to MMA, boxing is one-dimensional, as your ultimate weapon are lightning fast and brutal punches combined with adequate footwork and stability. This one-dimensional approach isn’t necessarily bad for self defense. Because, if you can land a KO worthy punch in those first few critical seconds of a fight, you can eliminate the danger altogether. If you can avoid getting punched, you’re also at a great advantage, especially if the attacker is slow and untrained.

Overall, MMA provides greater versatility and that’s a big advantage that it has over boxing. For example, you can utilize takedowns and fight on the ground. You can neutralize an attacker with a joint lock instead of breaking their jaw. You can also use kicks and attack their groin, knee or calf as they approach you.

Boxing doesn’t prepare you for grappling and ground fights and that can be a big problem. You can see this whenever a boxer enters a cage to fight with an MMA fighter. The MMA fighter simply takes him down and it’s game over from there.

In this article we’ll examine the pros and cons of both arts in greater detail. We’ll compare their techniques, explain whether you’d better off training one or the other, how they’d fare against each other, how effective they’d be in different real life scenarios, against one or multiple opponents. So if you’re unsure if you should join an MMA or a boxing gym, this article will make the job easier for you.

What is MMA like?

Mixed Martial arts is the most violent form of fighting. Called the art of the eight limbs, MMA uses punches, elbows, kicks, knees, and one could even use shoulders. And not just that, it uses grappling and ground game alongside clinch work. No wonder it is regarded as the most complete form of fighting.

MMA goes even further to be the most evolved form of fighting. The fighting style employs techniques from other martial arts (literally any martial) combining them to make its own form of fighting system. It is not a real martial art and there is no particular sets of martial arts that constitute MMA. Basically, it mixes elements of striking (like boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai), grappling (like Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling, judo, and sambo), and clinching. So, a mixed martial arts practitioner trains these different aspects of fighting to become the ultimate fighter.

When compared to boxing, MMA is significantly younger. It was first coined in 1993 and in its little span, it has gone on to become one of the biggest martial arts in the world.

But MMA has always been in the making. Its history is traceable from ancient Greece to modern pioneers like Bruce Lee and the Gracie family all down to UFC 1 being the first MMA event. And today, it is the fastest-growing martial art.

Although MMA is great for self-defense, it is also practiced as a sport and has its own set of rules. Here, a fighter can win by knockout, submission (chokes and joint locks), decision, or by disqualification. In addition, MMA uses thinner gloves (4 – 6 oz padding).

What is boxing like?

In the world of combat sports, boxing is without a doubt the most popular. Unlike MMA, boxing as a sport has been practiced by people from different regions of the world for centuries. But only in the last century did boxing go mainstream.

Boxing is basically about landing punches on your opponent using a combination of punches to knock them out or to score points. But boxing is not only about offense, it lays a strong focus on defense and awareness.

Unlike MMA, boxing has a limited tool set. Some major punches used in boxing are the jab, the hook, the cross, and the uppercut. Also, some stances employed are the up-right stance, semi-crouch, and full crouch.

In boxing, you’d learn how to deliver powerful punches that can knock your opponent out in the ring or on the streets. Boxing as a sport involves the use of 12 to 16 ounces gloves for competition. This is to lessen the impact on the opponent and protect the boxer’s fist. And on the streets, you wouldn’t be using gloves, so your punches would be more devastating.

Since every fight begins on the feet, boxing is useful in self-defense situations and could be used to finish fights quickly. Some even refer to it as ‘the manly art of self-defense’.

But unlike MMA, boxing is one-dimensional. It relies on punches while neglecting other aspects of fighting like kicking, grappling, and clinching.

Ahead of your first class, some pieces of equipment you’d need are boxing gloves, mouth guard, boxing shoes, and hand wraps.

MMA and Boxing similarities

  1. They both involve the use of similar equipment. Boxing and MMA involve the use of gloves (although different sizes), mouth guards, and groin cups. Boxing goes further with boxing shoes, but MMA athletes are always barefooted during matches. Also, they both use similar equipment for training like punching bags. Also, ahead of competition, MMA and boxing athletes go through similar experiences like the rigors of training camps and weight cuts.
  2. They are both excellent for fitness. They offer core strength, weight loss, muscle building, and cardiovascular strength & conditioning. Boxing tends to build the upper body more while MMA trains the whole body equally well. In competition, boxers compete for 12-15 rounds for 3 minutes each round. But in MMA, fighters compete for 3-5 rounds, 5 minutes each. This sort of high intensity exertion requires excellent cardiovascular capabilities.
  3. They can both be used to take on multiple attackers: MMA and boxing can be useful against multiple attackers. With the use of powerful strikes, they teach you how to end fights quickly and accurately. Boxing uses punches and footwork to control the distance and land strikes, while the ‘art of the eight limbs’ includes kicks as well.
  4. Sparring: To become a fighter, you need to spar – and both these martial arts do this intensely. From soft to hard sparring, MMA and boxing instill skills and fighting instincts into athletes by engaging them in sparring sessions where they can pinpoint their strengths, weaknesses, and go-to moves.

Differences in the techniques

Despite some apparent similarities, MMA and boxing are largely different. MMA striking doesn’t translate well to boxing and boxers are handicapped in the cage. This has a lot to do with the different punching techniques, range, footwork, etc.

Punching techniques

A major difference between MMA and boxing punches is that boxing utilizes more volume punches from the inside. For MMA athletes, the addition of grappling has a massive effect on the way athletes move and position themselves.

MMA uses more longer-distance striking. Usually, a boxer in a boxing match has more head movement options from outside, making it hard for the MMA fighter to land initially. Then when he lands, the boxer still counters well with volume punches.

Most mixed martial artists face off at much longer ranges. They’ll either jump in and out of range or apply forward pressure. It’s not uncommon to see fighters charge forward to try and land strikes or press their opponent back for a takedown.

Many times in MMA fights, you’d see fighters throwing looping punches. MMA punching requires a strong jab, throwing combinations rather than one strike at a time, and setting up your attack with feints.

However, the MMA fighter might have success as they break from the clinch and back to distance. But going by the eye test, boxers have more flow when punching.

MMA and boxing utilize similar punching techniques like the jab, left and right hooks, overhand, uppercut, and crosses – the differences exist in the stance and footwork. MMA goes even further with punches like the hammer fist and spinning back fist, among others acquired from other martial arts. Here are some punching techniques used in both fighting styles.

Kicking Techniques

Kicks can be useful for self defense if there’s plenty of space to execute them and your pants aren’t too tight. Tight pants restricting leg movement for kicks is a common issue in unexpected street fights. In that case you’d be limited to shorter range low kicks.

Kicks provide an obvious advantage against opponents who aren’t skilled in defending against them. Since most people don’t train martial arts, a drunkard coming at you could be easily neutralized by a kick to the groin, knee or calf.

Kicks can also be useful at simply keeping distance as you wait for help to arrive or look for the nearest exit. Especially if the attacker has a knife or a similar weapon that makes close-range fighting too dangerous.

Throwing strikes with anything other than a punch would result in a DQ loss in boxing. Although technically, there are plenty of ways to subtly knee and kick your opponent, boxers don’t train kicks at all.

In MMA however, kicks are an essential part of the sport. But for them to be effective, the kicks should not be nakedly thrown. Due to the threat of takedowns, they’d need to be adjusted. Usually, the takedown threat decides the kind of kicks to throw.

There are kicks for the various levels of the body. Kicks to the body and upper thigh are common in MMA but they are at a height where they could easily be caught by grapplers.

Nonetheless, when the opportunity presents itself, make sure to use them. Calf kicks, however, are hard to defend against. The kick is aimed at the calf causing pain and restricting the opponent’s movement.

Some common kicks used in MMA are the roundhouse kick, question mark kick, the axe kick, the front kick, the Up kick, rolling thunders, flying kicks, teep kicks, spinning kicks, oblique kick, knee stomp, calf kicks, thigh kicks, foot stomps, etc.

Besides just kicks, MMA goes even further with knee strikes and elbow strikes – all coming in different varieties. Some elbows are the snap elbow, the cross elbow, up-elbow, and the down elbow.

Grappling techniques

Okay, we know that in boxing grappling is non-existent. But in MMA, it has been a major aspect since UFC 1, so MMA fighters are usually great grapplers. Through takedowns and throws, they take down their opponent and submit them with submissions. Here are 4 major takedowns used in MMA.

1. Single leg

This takedown starts with grabbing a single leg. To shoot, use strikes like an overhand to set up the single leg by changing levels. As you aim to go for a single leg, make sure not to telegraph it, otherwise you could get countered with knees or uppercuts. Also, make sure you have a good grip putting your head in their mid-section, and transferring your weight to theirs.

Once you have good control, pivot inward turning to the corner to bring your opponent down.

2. Double leg

This takedown is one of the most used in MMA, perhaps because it works most of the time. The double leg is used  as defense and offense, or even to get in the clinch. The double leg is more deliberate than the single leg and even if it fails, it allows you to chain your wrestling to guarantee its success.

3. Go behind

The Go Behind is an amazing technique that allows you to take your opponent’s back easily. From there you can apply the RNC or other chokes like the arm bar. But the Go Behind takedown can only be used on a few occasions.

One of the occasions is when in a front headlock. When an opponent shoots for a takedown like the double or single leg, you should sprawl putting him in a front headlock. From there you can transition to the back and get in a body triangle.

4. Outside Leg Trip

This takedown is perhaps the easiest on the list. Even better, it has a high success rate. To perform, get in a clinch and securing under hooks.

It’s important to fight to get the under hooks and keep your chest close to your opponent’s – not giving them any separation. From there, you can carry out the outside leg trip sequence. But make sure you do it with speed and accuracy.

You’d need to snake your leg around the side of where you’re attacking. Using momentum and your body weight pressure, you both fall to the canvas with you on top.

When MMA fighters successfully use takedowns and trips to bring the opponent to the ground, what is next usually would be control and then submissions to end the fight.

Submissions consist of locks and chokes, some of which are the Rear Naked Choke (RNC, Lion Killer or Sleeper Hold), the Straight Armbar, the Triangle Choke, the Bow and Arrow Choke, the Americana Armlock (V Armlock), Guillotine, Kimura Armlock (Chicken Wing), and the Cross Collar Choke.

Fighting stance

Boxing employs several hundreds of stances. The fundamental boxing stance, however, is with both feet at shoulder width. Make sure to keep the dominant hand and leg at back with the weaker one leading. It involves keeping the knees bent and the lead leg pointing 45% or forward. If you draw an imaginary line back from the toes, it should run to the heel of the back foot, which is square.

Here, the hands would be near your head and the shoulders aligned and facing the opponent. This stance allows for powerful strikes and maintaining balance as you strike. Also, it is better for defense as only a smaller area of your body can be targeted. Maintaining a high guard is crucial for defense and from the hand position, it is easy to bring out your punches.

MMA employs quite a different fundamental stance and the stance should be somewhere between the ones adopted in Muay Thai and boxing. Here, the weight is still distributed more heavily on the back leg, making checking leg kicks easier. But still don’t stand on your back foot too heavily, so, you can sprawl easily and defend takedowns.

In MMA, you’d find fighters placing their hands lowered, unlike in boxing. Lowering the hands makes it easier to secure underhooks and reversals to defend takedowns.

Clinching techniques

Usually, boxing doesn’t involve lots of clinching except for defensive purposes or leaning on an opponent to wear them out. Sometimes, boxers strike in the clinch, but those are only done technically.

In MMA, clinching is a major aspect of the fighting style. The major reason for this is because of the smaller gloves used. It makes it easier to control and grip opponents. Clinching in MMA is not done just for defensive purposes as in boxing. Rather, it is done to land strikes and hurt opponents using inside and short-range strikes like knees and elbows.

One type of clinch is the double collar tie and this clinch creates opportunities to drive knees into rivals. The clinch could also be used in favor of grapplers. From clinch positions, they can trip opponents using throws and takedowns in judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling, etc. They could also transition to the back from the clinch, looking for submissions.

Also, clinching with smaller gloves allows you to sneak your fingers into smaller gaps, allowing you to use dirty boxing to deal a lot of damage. One fighter who boxed from the clinch throughout his career was former two-division UFC champion, Daniel Cormier.


Although boxing is one-dimensional, it takes lots of cardio. A standard boxing match is just three minutes long, but fights could be structured to last 3 -12 rounds depending on the level of competition.

World title fights for example can last a total of 47 minutes when you include the 1-minute rests. Boxing commonly employs a quick pace with fighters throwing almost every second. The strikes thrown in a boxing round usually exceed those thrown in MMA rounds (5 minutes). So having great cardio is a major component of being an excellent boxer.

And while boxing is tough cardio-wise, but the kind of cardio needed in MMA is next level. Professional MMA bouts last 3-5 rounds depending on several reasons.

In the UFC, fights between prospects/contenders last only 3 rounds while championship fights last 5 rounds. Where a contender fight headlines a card, however, the fight lasts 5 rounds. Every round in an MMA fight lasts 5 minutes each and breaks take only 1 minute.

Although from time to time, we see fighters who prioritize high output like the Diaz brothers, the bulk of fighters in MMA have a low level of activity, at least, when compared to boxing. The work-to-rest ratio is quite lower than is seen in pure striking combat sports like boxing.

This ultimately means that MMA fighters have more rest time, as the fights require more high-intensity and shorter bursts of energy. But that’s just an aspect of MMA. For grappling exchanges, strength and muscular endurance must be made a part of your training.

Boxer vs MMA fighter: Who’d win in a fair fight?

Well, the answer to this question depends on what kind of fight you mean. Is it a boxing fight? An MMA fight? Or a real-life fight? We’ve seen MMA fighters and boxers clash a lot of times. More often than not, the fights go as predicted, other times, there are shockers. Let us talk about how the ‘Boxer vs MMA fighter’ fight plays out in three different scenarios.

Firstly, let’s talk about who wins a boxing fight. Since both MMA and boxing emphasize the throwing of punches (although one more than the other), it is expected that an MMA fighter would be able to stand his ground in a boxing bout. Well, not so much – at least for the most reasonable reason that boxing is all that the boxer does. The MMA fighter, however, is a jack, and boxing is just one of his trades.

Boxers for one, strike at punching range (a close range where boxers have to rely on technical footwork to create angles and find gaps in their opponent’s guards). Here, they use quick combinations to hurt their opponents. But MMA fighters rather fight from long range. They’ll either jump in and out of range or apply forward pressure. An MMA fighter would need to adjust his short stance, long-range, etc. to stand ground in a boxing match.

Besides, boxers have the advantage in hand speed, power, and accuracy. We’ve seen how this matchup plays out several times in Conor McGregor vs Floyd Mayweather and Jake Paul vs his retired UFC counterparts.

Then in another scenario, ‘an MMA fight’, the MMA fighter unanimously has the advantage, and for several reasons. Number one has got to be the boxer’s limited tool set. MMA fights allow for the use of punches, kicks, grappling, and clinch work. It includes basically all aspects of fighting with some exceptions, like – eye pokes, groin strikes, fish-hooking, and cage grabs, among several others.

A boxer doesn’t have this skill set, so, is at a big advantage. On the feet, the MMA fighter could stay at kicking range – out of range for the boxer’s strikes. Here, he could do some serious damage.

The MMA fighter could also try to take the boxer down. Boxers adopt a wide stance and usually pull a high guard (their hands up). All these features would make it hard for them to stop takedowns, not to mention the typical boxer’s lack of knowledge about grappling. The MMA fighter could take him down, control, then proceed to ground and pound, or finish with submissions.

This has occurred quite a few times and one remarkable moment was when a 2-time boxer of the year, James Toney, ventured into the UFC and fought Randy Couture on his debut. Couture didn’t even care to stand with Toney. After 3 minutes, he took him down with an ankle pick and submitted him with an arm triangle choke. Other boxers who ventured into MMA include Muhammad Ali, Ricardo Mayorga and Ray Mercer.

Boxer vs MMA figher: Who’d Win in a STREET FIGHT?

Finally, who wins in a street fight? It depends on the skill level of the fighters, their size and strength, their preferred fighting style and the amount of space at their disposal.

Both boxers and MMA fighters can benefit from tight and large spaces. A tight space like a bar or a packed night club would prevent the MMA fighter from using long range punches and kicks. It would also prevent the boxer from moving out of range if the MMA fighter decided to go for a takedown.

Vice-versa, in the open field there would be a lot more movement available for both fighters. It would provide the boxer a greater chance at avoiding grappling scenarios and takedowns, but it would allow the MMA fighter to utilize more of his long-range techniques.

As with any street fight, we have to take into consideration that many times the winner is decided with the first one or two punches that take the other person by surprise. Who strikes first with a KO worthy blow has the best chances of coming out on top.

Which is better for self-defense?

Since fights begin on the feet, boxing would keep you secured in stand-up situations. Unlike regular brawling, boxing teaches spacing and range. Staying at range will help you see attacks coming and defend them. Also, you’d be able to get the reading and timing of your opponent. As long as it’s a standing encounter, boxing is arguably the most effective art for self-defense, period.

But since some fights end up in the clinch or on the ground, boxing might not be so effective. One could get beat up in the clinch or get taken down and finished on the ground. Boxing, being one-dimensional, has an obvious deficiency. In fighting systems with no rules, boxing has exploitable weaknesses.

However, MMA is a different story. It is the fighting style that does the best job of replicating real life fighting situations. Although MMA comes with its own set of rules, it is still much more comprehensive.

But do not let the rules used in MMA restrict you from defending yourself to the best of your ability. For example, blows to the back of the head are not allowed in mixed martial arts because of how much damage they can cause. If your safety is in danger, you want to attack weak spots like these. That means illegal techniques like groin kicks, fish hooks, and eye pokes are all fair game when it comes to self-defense.

Training for MMA will no doubt give you a better arsenal to prepare for a street situation. Therefore, if your goal is to defend yourself in street fights, MMA is the better option.

Should you train MMA or boxing?

Both require a lot of technique training, physical conditioning and sparring to truly master.

The diversity of techniques that MMA has makes it a great all-around package for self defense. You will become a more versatile fighter and will pick up on techniques from other martial arts. If you decide to train them separately, you won’t be going into them as a pure beginner, and will progress faster.

However, boxing can be an excellent addition if you’re already skilled at grappling and ground fighting. For example, if you’ve already trained BJJ or wrestling, it can make you a more complete fighter.

Both sports include lighter and harder sparing, and this can lead to various injuries, including concussions and head trauma. Since MMA also includes ground fighting and joint locks, there are more ways to get injured than in boxing.

In any case, both sports are brutal in terms of sparing and can lead to debilitating injuries. It’s important to find a skilled teacher, use protective gear and spar only with mature people who don’t go guns blazing to prove a silly point.

Whichever art choose, make sure to train regularly and stay disciplined. If the gym, the trainer, and the people training there are solid, then you have made a good choice regardless of whether it’s MMA or boxing.

Peter Jerome

A seasoned MMA practitioner and an intermediate in BJJ and Krav Maga. When I'm not knocking heads with someone in a dojo, I like chilling out with my girlfriend and our adorable pug Betsy.

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