In the last two decades, MMA and boxing have competed fiercely for the attention of fight fans. MMA burst onto the scene with a bang and quickly grew into a multibillion-dollar industry. While not quite at the level of boxing, MMA is not far behind in terms of popularity and financial investment.
But in a direct fight, MMA is the more effective fighting system compared to boxing. The sheer variety of techniques and scenarios available to MMA is too much for the limited ruleset of boxing.
But we will dig deeper into both combat sports and see what sets them apart.
What Is MMA?
MMA, or mixed martial arts, is a combat sport that aims to be close to a real fight. It’s one of the few combat sports that allows fighting in all three different realms- striking, wrestling, and grappling.
Strikes with hands, elbows, knees, and feet are allowed, and with any other body part except the head. Strikes on the ground are also permitted, as are most throws, sweeps, and takedowns. Aside from a knockout, a fight can end if a fighter applies a submission that forces the opponent to tap or incapacitate him.
Forms of mixed rules combat can be traced to antiquity, but the sport’s modern form takes its roots mainly from Vale Tudo in Brazil. The UFC was the first to organize a big tournament that clashed martial artists from different styles in a fight with almost no rules in 1993.
The result was too violent for mainstream success. By the year 2000, MMA had turned into a regulated sport with many rules in place and multiple sanctioning bodies. The unique blend of technique, competition, and pure brutality has turned MMA into the fastest-growing sport globally.
What Is Boxing?
Boxing is a combat sport in which two competitors fight each other using only their fists. Boxing allows only punches with the padded part of the mandatory boxing gloves.
The permitted targets are the head and body above the waist. Almost all modern martial arts, including MMA, have adopted the boxing ring, round system, and judging.
Competitive fist fighting has been around since early civilizations. We have many sources proving such contests in ancient Egypt and Greece. After a few centuries without boxing after the fall of the Roman Empire, it was picked up again in England in the 17th century.
A century later, the bare-knuckle brawl became a more respectable athletic endeavor. In the 19th century, it grew exponentially in England and the USA. Today, the sport we largely know took form by accepting the Queensbury set of rules in 1867. With varying degrees of popularity and acceptance, boxing has been an inseparable part of mainstream sports ever since.
Key Differences Between MMA And Boxing
The rules of combat sports are what determine everything else. Boxing’s rules are clear and have generally remained unchanged for nearly 150 years. Only punches with the outer parts of the gloves are allowed on targets above the waist.
The back of the head and kidneys are off-limits. Fights are fought in multiple 3-minute rounds with 1-minute rests in between. If the fight goes the distance, the winner is declared based on accumulating the scores from each round.
MMA takes its general structure from boxing. Fights are also separated into rounds, but here the length is 5 minutes. At the end of each round, each is scored individually. If no finish was achieved, the sum of the scores determines the winner.
The fight can end in multiple ways, however. Aside from a knockout, submissions can also be applied. A fighter can tap or be incapacitated, in which case the referee stops the contest.
In MMA, all punches are allowed, including kicks, elbows, knees, and any body part (like the shoulder strike), as long as the target is not prohibited. Throws, trips, and sweeps are allowed, and joint locks and strangulations. Of course, there are some restrictions, like eye gouging, hair pulling, fish hooking, small joint manipulation, and groin strikes, amongst other subtler rules.
The presence of grappling and wrestling necessitates gloves that allow for free finger movement. On the other hand, boxing gloves keep the fist clenched and have padding on all sides.
The smaller MMA gloves are primarily intended to aid in grappling, but they also significantly alter striking. Professional MMA matches are fought with 4-ounce gloves (sometimes 6 ounces can be found, but it’s rare), and they cause much more superficial damage.
The overall size of the glove is also smaller. The “shield” formed by the gloves, which is especially popular among kickboxers, becomes much less effective as the smaller gloves easily find gaps in the guard.
Another big difference that has seen some heavy debate in recent years is fighter pay. Boxing has been around for a century and a half. Naturally, all the business mechanisms are well oiled, and the fighters have earned the right to take a hefty part of the fight purse.
In MMA, things are not the same. Although the UFC is losing its monopoly on the sport of MMA, they are still the biggest and best promotion.
As a result, they have an opportunity to offer less-than-ideal terms to fighters. If we compare UFC fighters to other major sports, you will quickly see the difference. All major sports in the USA, like the NBA, NFL, NHL, and others, allocate roughly 50% of the revenue to the athletes. In the UFC, this percentage is merely around 20.
The biggest MMA stars still make serious cash in the millions, but this is only the sport’s biggest draw. If both are in a similar position in the sport, the mid-tier MMA fighter earns less than his boxing colleague.
MMA vs. Boxing For Self Defense
Boxing is excellent for self-defense, but in comparison with MMA, it’s almost always on the losing side. Punches are fast and relatively safe, so they are very good on the street.
But a quick overview of videos of real-life altercations will show the regularity of clinches and wrestling in a street fight. And these are positions that MMA deals with all the time while boxing doesn’t.
An often overlooked aspect when comparing the self-defense capabilities of MMA and boxing is the gloves. A boxer relies on his gloves both for offense and defense. Boxing gloves keep the hands safer and allow the fighter to throw punches more recklessly.
The MMA glove does not offer the same level of protection, and fighters are more used to picking their strikes. So, in a real fight, a boxer has a good chance of breaking a hand.
Is Boxing Harder Than MMA?
Both sports are challenging and demanding at the professional level. The determination, willpower, and mental and physical fortitude needed to compete are enormous, even at a lower level.
Boxing may seem easier for the casual observer because of the limited ruleset, but this is not the case. The narrow set of strikes permitted in boxing increases the importance of other aspects of fighting, like footwork, positioning, and timing. Boxing is an intricate game, and elite boxers take their craft to perfection.
On the other hand, MMA requires a vast array of skills and physical attributes. You need to know how to move and strike, defend takedowns, and survive in the clinch. Once the fight hits the ground, you are in a different world with even more rules and intricate details.
Both sports are strenuous but also rewarding. Boxers learn fewer skills but take them to a much higher level. A successful MMA fighter needs to be a jack of all trades, even if he excels at one aspect of the game. You decide which of the two is more brutal.
MMA vs. Boxing – Who Would Win?
In a straight fight, MMA wins hands down. We can write a hundred scenarios, but nothing beats the real-world evidence. Many boxers have tried their hands against MMA fighters and even kickboxers. Their skillsets are usually not enough to handle kicking and ground fighting.
A few MMA fighters have crossed the fence to try and beat a boxer in their own game. In one of these instances, Connor McGregor even convinced the public that he had a good chance of defeating one of the greatest fighters of all time, Floyd Mayweather.
Still, when the first bell rang, we quickly learned that even the best MMA strikers have no chance in the square ring.
MMA vs. Boxing – Which Should You Choose?
You and no one else can answer this question. The gentlemanly art of pugilism still draws a lot of admirers and practitioners for its deep strategic and technical form of violence.
On the other hand, MMA offers unparalleled realism while maintaining a balance between a real fight and a sporting contest. To choose which combat sports are better for you, you must first decide what skills and type of training you want to have. Regardless of which you choose, both offer great rewards for those willing to put in the time and effort.