Becoming an MMA Fighter From

Becoming An MMA Fighter, An Unforgiving Crucible



MMA Cage-fighting- Battle Arena (Leicester)

MMA Cage-fighting- Battle Arena (Leicester)


The Path To Being A Professional MMA Fighter

Before the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Great Britain had taken place, there was buzz about MMA fighter Georges “Rush” St. Pierre possibly not fighting in 2012 to try out for Canada’s Olympic Wrestling Team. In a video interview, GSP brushed off the talk and said he wasn’t going to try out for the Olympic Team. He talked about how it was easier to get into professional MMA than getting into Olympic Wrestling.

In the documentary called The Striking Truth, centering on GSP and David “The Crow” Loiseau, the former talked about how it was relatively easy to get into MMA. But, making good money was completely a different story.

There are many people that want to become professional MMA fighters; however, a handful of those people actually make it. A handful of that handful of people end up fighting for the major promotions such as World Series of Fighting (WSOF), Bellator, and the mack daddy the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC). A fraction of that small number end up making a decent to comfortable living through MMA fighting.

Examples of such fighters are GSP (one of the highest paid MMA fighters before retiring), Jon “Bones” Jones, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Cung Le, Randy “The Natural” Couture, Anderson “The Spider” Silva, Quenton “Rampage” Jackson, Brock Lesnar (another one of the highest paid MMA fighters before retiring), and Ronda Rousey.

These fighters represent the very small number of fighters that can live comfortably in professional MMA fighting.

For most, if not all fighters, choosing to be a professional fighter let alone MMA fighter is one of the biggest decisions you can make. This is not a decision to be made lightly. If you want to pursue that path, you have to think carefully and seriously. Unfortunately, many that pursue that path don’t seriously think about the realities. There are many realities one has to face if s/he truly wishes to be a professional MMA fighter. You have to compare the decision to be a professional fighter to deciding to get married/divorce and/or to have children. Those that don’t seriously think about this usually get the “short end of the stick.”

Before you make that first step, ask yourself this question and answer honestly: “Why?” The right answer is no answer. Meaning, your honest answer is the right answer for you.

Finding And Joining A School

The first thing you need to do is to find a school that specializes in training students to compete in fights. Traditional martial arts schools, in most cases, are not the way to go unless they have a dedicated and extensive curriculum dedicated to MMA. You need to find an MMA school. Be sure to check out a few in your area and observe the classes before deciding which one you want to join. Don’t just join the first school you see right off the bat unless that is the only one in the area.

But, you might live in a place where there are no MMA schools nearby. If that’s the case, give up if you are not serious about being a fighter. If you’re still serious, either move some place that’s close to the school or be prepared to spend a lot of money on transportation costs (gas and bus fare). Once you join the school, understand that training is no cake walk. But, it is also important to understand that the curriculum from one MMA school will be different from another MMA school.

Be prepared for the reality of changing schools if you are not satisfied with the training and/or environment. For example, there are MMA schools that might focus way too much on striking to the point you don’t learn grappling.

If you have trained extensively in the martial arts prior to joining an MMA school, the learning curve’s in your favor. That should put you ahead of the other students. But, there’s still the quality of training you went through prior. Even if you’re ahead of the other students, you still have to take your beatings. Even if you have no prior martial arts experience to signing up, such as scholastic or collegiate wrestling, they’ll mostly likely let you join anyway.

What you need to know is that MMA training is a mixed bag of sorts. You can learn between two to four styles at the same time. That alone is going to be very difficult, especially if you never taken a martial arts class in your life, due to being bombarded with information and each style having its own set of physical & mental requirements.

The four primary styles you’ll most likely learn at an MMA school, in any combination, are: Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai/Kickboxing, and Boxing. These four are the predominantly used martial arts styles in the sport of MMA.

Why? It is best to individually break it down into the four styles.


In the early days of MMA, the beginning of the UFC, Wrestling was the one dominant style. There were many notable examples of fighters with Wrestling backgrounds such as Mark Coleman who is an Olympic-level Wrestler, Mark Kerr who is an NCAA Division I Wrestler, Kazushi Sakuraba who is a professional wrestler (nicknamed the Gracie Hunter due to his victories over members of the Gracie family), Kevin Randleman who is an NCAA Division I Wrestler, Vernon White, Dan Severn who is an NCAA Division I Wrestler, and Ken Shamrock.

Wrestlers were able to efficiently take people, including the most skilled of martial artists, to the ground. It showed how many martial arts were unable to defend themselves on the ground let alone against a very skilled Wrestler. These people were at the mercy of the Wrestlers. In MMA rules, if a fighter can score takedowns and/or keep you pinned, then the judges’ score would be in favor on those opponents. While Wrestling doesn’t finish matches, it does help to win matches when the matches come to judges’ decision.

Even today, most MMA fighters have a background in Wrestling. Examples are John Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields, Cain Velasquez, Brock Lesnar, Tito Ortiz, Daniel Cormier, Dan Henderson, Chuck Liddell, Chael Sonnen, Randy Couture, Phil Davis, Johny Hendricks, King Mo, Jon Jones, Rashad Evans, Bobby Lashley, and Sara McMann.

Wrestlers, in general, are difficult to deal with because they have the strength, durability, and endurance.  Just because you might know how to handle Wrestlers in general, it doesn’t mean you can effectively deal with all of them.  There are different levels of Wrestling.



You’ll most likely learn the fundamentals or basics of Wrestling at any MMA school as a means of knowing how to get an opponent onto the ground. If the MMA school has an instructor that specializes in Wrestling, from a scholastic or collegiate level, you’ll learn more than just the single to double-leg takedown.

Ultimately, if a match ends up going to a judges’ decision, the fighter that better utilizes Wrestling will usually win.

A friend of mine named Cleveland Berto, the brother to fellow friends MMA fighter Edson Berto (who is signed with Bellator MMA) and Professional Boxer Andre Berto (former WBC Welterweight Champion), said that all college wrestlers are good; if not, they wouldn’t be getting college scholarships.

If you have taken scholastic and/or collegiate Wrestling, the learning curve for Wrestling is in your favor. If you have played sports like football or rugby, the learning curve is also in your favor.



Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Until the first UFC match in 1993, not many people had heard of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Before Zuffa Inc. took over and Dana White became president of the UFC, the promotion was founded by Rorion Gracie who is the eldest son of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu co-founder Helio Gracie. Rorion’s vision for UFC was to show which was the best martial arts style in the world; also, Rorion used it as a method to promote the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu outside of Brazil. In the first event, Royce Gracie came up as the victor. That popularized the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

This was back when UFC did not have weight classes. Even today, with the continued development of MMA, being able to effectively fight and defend on the ground still remains important. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, since then, remains a very important style in an MMA fighter’s curriculum. Wrestlers that end up taking up MMA start taking up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to learn how to better fight on the ground. There are many MMA fighters who are strong in both Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. One such example is Jake Shields who holds a 1st Dan in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is an NCAA Division II Wrestler.

While Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is built upon Judo’s groundwork, the style has popularized a number of moves through MMA. Such examples are the rear choke, the armbar, the triangle choke, the omoplata, the Americana, the guillotine, and the ankle lock. Many submission victories made in MMA are made by moves learned in white belt and blue belt BJJ.

With more people cross-training in BJJ, especially wrestlers, more fighters become adept at ground fighting. That eventually led to the addition of weight classes in MMA.

When you factor in belt ranks, a 1st Dan in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the equivalent of a 3rd or 4th Dan in Tae Kwon Do or a 2nd or 3rd Dan in one of the styles of Karate. A blue belt in BJJ has at least two to three years training and experience while a purple belt has at least five years training and experience. The reason I say “at least” is that there are minimal age requirements to hold certain ranks in the style. For example, if the BJJ program was associated with the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF), students have to be at least 16 years old to hold a blue belt or purple belt while students have to be at least 19 years old to hold a 1st Dan.

If you have trained in martial arts styles with a decent to a heavy amount of grappling (Judo, Wado-Ryu Karate, Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, American Kenpo, Hapkido, or Kajukenbo), the learning curve for BJJ is in your favor. If you are naturally flexible and/or agile, the learning curve for BJJ is also in your favor.

MMA Cage Fighting


Kickboxing/Muay Thai

Kickboxing led the way to striking being relevant in MMA once again. Credit goes to Maurice “Mo” Smith for making Kickboxing/Muay Thai relevant in MMA due to his victories over Mark Coleman (taking away Coleman’s UFC Championship Belt) and David “Tank” Abbott. Kickboxing curriculum, nowadays, utilizes techniques from Karate and Muay Thai. The Muay Thai kick is a very common technique in an MMA fighter’s arsenal.

Asides from the Muay Thai roundhouse kick, the clinch and knee has become a useful move. There are a number of fighters that have won matches, via KO and TKO, through the knee strike and the jumping knee strike. The elbow strikes from Muay Thai have proven to be very effective in defeating opponents via TKO by ringside doctor’s judgment.

In most MMA schools, Muay Thai/Kickboxing is one of the primary styles in the curriculum.

The Muay Thai style roundhouse to the leg is very effective as Smith proved it. If you go up against Wrestlers that focused on building up their upper body strength and neglecting lower body strength, will usually have “chicken legs.”

A number of fighters add Muay Thai/Kickboxing to their arsenal to cover their striking game. Examples of fighters are Anthony Pettis, Ben Henderson, Gina Carano (who was the first women’s face of MMA), Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, GSP, David Loiseau, Phil Baroni, and Michelle Waterson.

MMA Cage Fighting



Like Kickboxing/Muay Thai, Boxing is a common part of the MMA curriculum. Even if an MMA school doesn’t have a dedicated Boxing program, fighters might opt to also train at a Boxing gym. What many people tend to get wrong about Boxing that it is about arm strength. It actually isn’t about arm strength; instead, Boxing is about speed, technique, and reflexes. Like Wrestlers and Kickboxers, Boxers should possess good conditioning and endurance. They can last long in a fight and can take a lot of hits.

The fundamentals of Boxing have proven to be effective. For example, many fighters have scored TKO and KO victories through a combination of punches, a hook punch, an uppercut, a jab. A number of fighters have added Boxing to their arsenal. Many Wrestlers, when taking up a striking style, prefer Boxing to Kickboxing due to preferring to fight with their hands than their feet.

If you’re good with your hands, the learning curve for Boxing is in your favor.

After That First Step

Joining up with and training at the MMA school means you have taken that first step. It’s important to understand that many people join such schools but most don’t last long due to a number of factors. Such factors include arrogance (thinking that you’re better than everybody else), the training is too intense, etc. Also, a small number of people that train MMA have backgrounds in the traditional martial arts. But, many people that train in MMA have backgrounds in Wrestling.

Also, there are a number of people that never taken a martial arts class in their life before joining an MMA gym. Two prime examples are fighters Nate Quarry and Jessica Penne.

Quarry, who is now retired, started martial arts when he joined an MMA school when he went through the self-discovery phase after living a sheltered lifestyle due to being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. He was 24 at the time which is pretty late for someone to take up MMA with no background in martial arts. Quarry, at a TED talk, talked about how he joined with no background. Despite that, Quarry moved on and “took his beatings” and eventually got good. He talked about how he learned about MMA by learning about the UFC while at a party. Quarry talked about how watching the fight got him interested in it.

He said very important things such as just keep showing up for training. When you join, you’re going to have your advantages and disadvantages. For your disadvantages, that is what the instruction is for to turn them into advantages. If you’re weak at Wrestling and Grappling, they teach you to be proficient at it. If you’re weak at Striking, they teach you to be proficient at it.

Once you join the MMA school, they’re not going to let you compete in a fight outright.

This is where you understand that the path to being a professional MMA fighter will become very brutal; they will try to get you battle ready as soon as possible. Because of that, the training is physically and mentally difficult.

This is the point where you really need to be honest about yourself and your physical capabilities. If you’re not, you’re not going to get far. On the same note, you need to be open to criticism. If not, you’re not going to get far. I’ve seen a few people that leave the MMA school I train at because they were neither honest with themselves nor would they be open to criticism. Unfortunately, MMA schools will always have to deal with that annoyance. Those people end up wasting their time and everybody else time.

The instructors won’t let you compete if they feel you cannot handle it. Legit promotions, no matter how big or small, won’t let you compete in their fights if you’re not training out of a school or program.

If you’re very much out of shape and no prior martial arts background before joining an MMA school, the realistic goal for you to have your first match would be at least a year and a half to two years. Asides from the training, there are the issues of weight loss, strength conditioning, speed conditioning, cardiovascular conditioning, durability conditioning, flexibility conditioning, agility conditioning, reflex training, response training, etc.

While learning how to strike and grapple, you have to learn how to take hits and how to handle being taken to the ground as well. If you are unable to take a hit and/or unable to intelligently defend on the ground, then you’re not cut out for MMA.

Meatheads that think they can just brute force their way through opponents need to give up and leave. MMA fighters and instructors get some many meatheads entering the gym to the point where it’s just a headache and annoyance.



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