Bodybuilders look intimidating with all those jacked muscles. But can they put them to use in a real fight? Is having big muscles and a massive body frame enough for a bodybuilder to beat an MMA fighter?
Skilled MMA fighters would beat a bodybuilder in most street fighting scenarios or any freestyle combat. The main reason is – MMA fighters train for a real fight and have superior skills, instincts, reactions, and athleticism than bodybuilders who train for aesthetics.
On the other side, bodybuilders would surely beat MMA fighters in a fitness competition.
But many people still wonder, is bodybuilding training good for MMA? Is it beneficial to cross-train between these two sports? Let’s find out.
MMA Fighter vs. Bodybuilder: Who Wins in A Fight?
MMA fighters are superior to bodybuilders in every single aspect of fighting. Apart from sheer physical strength, all other important factors go in their favor.
Even if the bodybuilder is twice as big and strong, they would still lose. They lack the fighting skills, body mechanics, instincts, and experience to deal with a skilled MMA fighter for whom fighting is second nature. Here is a more detailed explanation.
Two conceptually different sports
These are two totally different sports. It is like questioning whether an elite NBA player can beat an elite tennis player in a match. Of course not. Yes, bodybuilders are big, strong, look intimidating, and can rely on utilizing these elements to beat other people.
There is a chance they can win against amateur martial artists as well. But they will all lose in freestyle combat against an experienced fighter.
MMA is a hybrid mix of striking and grappling and covers most places and scenarios you may face on the streets. But above all, it trains you to beat a person relying on high-level technique, footwork, angles, head movement, and other skills bodybuilders are unfamiliar with.
Next, even if a bodybuilder manages to close the distance, get a hold of the cage fighter and secure a strong grip, this still means nothing.
Technique beats sheer force
Bodybuilders may be superior in strength, but that’s just one of many aspects of fighting. Take striking as an example. The force of the punch or kick is generated from the rotation of the foot.
Then, it travels up through the hips and upper body to the fist and the opponent’s face. Not to mention the complexity behind the kicking techniques.
Or in other words, having big muscles means nothing if you don’t have a high-level technique to generate the force. You must be flexible and trained to time the body rotation perfectly to generate momentum.
As a result, MMA fighters with twice as less muscle mass may have greater striking power than most bodybuilders due to their ability to use body rotation to create momentum. And the same concept applies to grappling as well.
Besides relying on strength, MMA athletes know how to utilize leverage, re-direct energy, and manipulate the opponent’s weight to take them down. Relying on sheer force to defend against the advanced grappling attack is not enough to stop a takedown. No matter how big or strong you are.
Not to mention the ground fighting aspect. Once the fight hits the ground, MMA fighters would need a couple of seconds to secure a dominant position and submit bodybuilders with one of many chokes or joint locks.
Bodybuilders can’t muscle their way out back to their feet easily, and they surely can’t do that once they get caught in a submission. It takes years to learn the defensive procedures and how to apply them in a real fight.
MMA fighters have superior cardio
Most bodybuilders will gas out minutes into the fight. All those big muscles burn a lot of oxygen, which forces the heart and lungs to work harder, resulting in you gassing out quickly.
MMA athletes, on the other side, have an ideal type of muscle that provides enough strength but does not burn much oxygen. More about this is in the next section of this article.
In conclusion, MMA fighters are superior in any fight. But this just explained what each sport brings to the table.
Street fighting includes infinite variables and possible scenarios, including the ones in which a bodybuilder can win. For instance, they can grab a chair or a bottle, blast an MMA fighter with it, and knock them out.
MMA Fighter Physique vs. Bodybuilder Physique
Bodybuilders have more muscle mass and bigger body frames. MMA fighters, on the other side, prefer to look lean and ripped. Throughout history, there have been some jacked UFC fighters, like Brock Lesnar, for example.
But these are rare exceptions as there is a clear contrast between the way bodybuilders and MMA fighters’ physiques, and here is why.
MMA is an intense combat sport where athletes must strike on the feet, inside the clinch, and wrestle and grapple on the ground continuously. Each round is 5 minutes long, and there are between 3–5 rounds, which means 15–25 minutes of intense fighting.
Fighters must be flexible, agile, fast, and have high-level functional strength and cardiovascular ability to perform at a high pace over an extended period.
As a result, most MMA fighters prefer to stay lean, agile, and flexible. They train to develop an ideal balance between fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers.
On one side, they need strength and sheer power to execute certain grappling moves (fast twitch), muscle their way out, or generate force in a strike. But on the other, these muscles burn a lot of oxygen and will make them tired after a few minutes.
So they also must focus on the aerobic aspect and improving endurance and slow-twitch muscle fibers. These muscles burn less oxygen but take much away from strength.
And above all, it enables them to perform at a high pace over the entire length of a match. So the key is to find an ideal balance between fast and slow twitch muscle fibers.
Bodybuilding is a sport where athletes train for aesthetics. The main goal is to look better than other competitors on stage.
They don’t have to worry about intense physical exchanges, endurance, body mechanics, and all other things related to fighting. No, they focus on developing big muscle mass, symmetric and proportional bodies, and learning to pose on stage.
This does not make bodybuilding easier than MMA by any means. It is a demanding sport that also imposes a lot of risk to your health in the long run. But simultaneously, it makes you understand why bodybuilders cannot beat a trained MMA fighter.
They look intimidating and strong, which may give the general public a wrong perception they have high-level fighting abilities as well. They surely can have, but only with proper MMA training.
Can You Train in MMA and Bodybuilding At The Same Time?
Training in bodybuilding and MMA is possible and has certain benefits, but only a few. You have to prioritize one aspect and adjust cross-training to that specific sport. It all comes down to what you want to achieve.
If your goal is to be a pro-MMA fighter, you should avoid bodybuilding and focus on strength workouts. But if you want to approach it as an amateur to enhance your fighting abilities and look good, then cross-training will do the work.
However, MMA fighters still look like bodybuilders and focus on significant muscle mass. These fighters prove that you can succeed by combining these two workouts. But you must be careful and have a systematic approach, as the margin between gains and ruining your performance is small.
Overall, cross-training between these two sports has more downsides than advantages. If you focus on bodybuilding, training in MMA will limit your ability to recover to build muscles, and it also burns more energy.
On the other side, bodybuilding does the same and adds extra fatigue to your MMA training. But more about that in the next section.
Is Bodybuilding Good For MMA?
The key downside of bodybuilding training for MMA is the focus on developing fast-twitch muscle fibers and significant muscle mass.
First, having jacked muscles can limit your range of motion, making you rigid, which impacts how you execute techniques and generate power. And fast twitch muscles burn a lot of oxygen, which takes away your endurance and cardio.
Overall, you should avoid intense bodybuilding workouts if you are serious about making it in MMA. Apart from taking away from recovery time, putting a lot of stress on your body, and adding further fatigue, bodybuilding also messes up your diet.
Burning more energy forces you to eat more food, and the diet plan significantly varies between these two sports.
Do bodybuilding and MMA complement one another to a certain degree -yes. But not enough to say bodybuilding will improve your MMA game and make you a better fighter.
Does MMA Training Build Muscles?
MMA training increases muscle strength but does not build muscle mass. To build muscles, you have to perform exercises with mechanical tension, a combination of generated force, and stretch of the muscle.
The key is to focus on workouts that increase mechanical tension, and MMA does not include these types of workouts as a concept.
MMA training does include some mechanical tension, notably during the hand-to-hand grappling exchanges, but not enough. To increase muscle mass, you must focus on weight lifting outside your training and find an ideal balance between these two workouts.
This is the main reason why the majority of elite UFC fighters look lean and ripped. They have excellent muscle tone and low-body fat but lack big muscles. Of course, there are exceptions and let’s see who they are.
MMA Fighters Who Look Like Bodybuilders
Throughout MMA history, there have been many fighters who looked like bodybuilders. Following is a list of some of the most famous ones:
Lesnar came into MMA from WWE looking like a jacked monster. Standing 6’3″ tall and weighing over 280 pounds, with all solid muscles, Lesnar was probably the scariest fighter of all time.
But despite carrying so much muscle, Lesnar was agile, fast, and an outstanding fighter. You don’t beat Randy Couture to win the UFC belt without proper skills.
Overeem is synonymous with muscular physiques in MMA. During his famous “ubereem” days between 2009 and 2015, he looked like a Greek God with exceptional fighting skills.
How he got so big remains an open debate, but he managed to win three world titles in Dream, Strikeforce, and K-1 kickboxing during this time.
Costa is among the most jacked middleweights of all time and one of the most tested fighters by USADA.
Before he got into MMA, Costa was heavily into fitness and weight lifting, and he also participated in some competitions. Combine this with incredible genetics, and you get an MMA fighter looking like a bodybuilder.
Romero is a former UFC title challenger and the scariest middleweight of all time. He is often praised for having the most beautiful and proportional physique of all time.
But his game is not all about jacked muscles and power as Romero is the former Olympic wrestling silver medalist and a very talented fighter.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, Kerr was a force to be reckoned with and one of the sport’s pioneers. During his prime, he looked like he could easily walk into any bodybuilding competition, including Mister Olympia, and win it straight away. That’s how muscular he was, and the world hasn’t seen such a jacked fighter ever since.
MMA vs. Bodybuilding and who would win in a fight is not a fair comparison. MMA athletes spend their careers learning how to fight on the feet and the ground, training their instincts and automatic reactions, while bodybuilders train for aesthetics. So, in conclusion, it is reasonable to assume MMA athletes will win most of the time.
Bodybuilding workouts are also not ideal for cage fighting. Still, there have been more than a few successful MMA fighters who looked like bodybuilders. Whether combining the two sports would benefit you is based on your physical attributes, talent, and many other factors.