What is the difference between MMA and boxing? Understanding the two contact sports better

What is the difference between MMA and boxing? Understanding the two contact sports better

Lenah Ann
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:22 PM

Around the world, Mixed Martial Arts, MMA and boxing are well regarded to be the most popular combat sports. With years of traditions in the sports sector, boxing is older and has more fans around the world compared to MMA. So, what is the difference between MMA and boxing?

What is the difference between MMA and boxing rules
What is the difference between MMA and boxing? Understanding these contact sports better. Photo: David Herraez (Modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

Although most believe boxing and MMA share many similarities, these two sports differ in most things, including their rules, styles, size and shape of the rings.

The difference between MMA and boxing

Mixed Martial Arts incorporates many martial arts, and different fighters use different combinations. In contrast, boxing uses a variety of punches, arms and hands only to knock out or disable an opponent.

MMA uses various techniques, such as arm and hand strikes, whereby the fighter might also incorporate boxing skills. Boxers are allowed to punch, while in MMA, they can punch, kick, grab, and wrestle.

According to various online sources, here are the significant differences between the two games in details.

What is MMA?

What is the difference between MMA and boxing rules
Sean Strickland kicks Jared Cannonier in their Middleweight fight during the UFC Vegas 66 event at UFC APEX on 17 December 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States. Photo: Louis Grasse
Source: Getty Images

Mixed Martial Arts, MMA, also known as cage fighting or ultimate fighting, is a hybrid combat sport that incorporates techniques from boxing, wrestling, judo, jujitsu, karate, Muay Thai, Thai boxing, and other disciplines around the world.

It was initially referred to as Vale Tudo. It mainly includes grappling, striking and ground fighting.

What is boxing?

Boxing is a unique fighting style, with specific rules for competition that allow fighters to compete to determine which fighter is the best. It is also considered a stand-up style that only allows hand striking.

The difference between MMA and boxing gloves

Boxing gloves are designed for punching only, thus allowing fighters to hit as hard as possible without hurting their hands. On the other hand, MMA gloves are designed to be flexible and allow athletes to use their hands while fighting.

The difference between MMA and boxing stances
Melvin Jerusalem knocks out defending champion Masataka Taniguchi of Japan in the second round to capture the WBO minimum weight crown in Japan on 6 Jan 2023. Photo: Kyodo News
Source: Getty Images

The gloves used in boxing are heavier than the ones used in MMA, and MMA gloves are much lighter and more flexible with exposed fingers.

All boxers must wear padded gloves that protect their knuckles and opponents from sustaining bad head or body injuries. In contrast, MMA fighters wear open-finger gloves to grab their rival in the grappling exchanges.

These MMA gloves are less padded, with a small area of protection. They are considered reasonable protection as they usually include stiffer and more stable padding.

What is the difference between MMA and boxing rules?

Every sport has rules expected to be followed by its particular athletes to ensure a harmonious environment for every present member. MMA and boxing are no exceptions.

MMA rules

MMA fights have been regulated by the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts since the early 2000s. Some rules may vary between countries and promotions regarding weigh-ins, anti-doping policies, and strikes. But the general rule set is the same for all.

  • MMA fighting rules are different from boxing in so many ways. For instance;
  • When a fighter gets knocked down, the action does not stop, and there is no 10-second count.
  • The fighters can follow the knocked-down rival to the ground and finish them with more strikes to submission.
Difference between MMA and boxing rings
Amir Albazi punches Alessandro Costa in their flyweight fight during the UFC Vegas 66 event at UFC APEX on 17 December 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada, Photo: Louis Grasse
Source: Getty Images
  • The referee can make a subjective decision to stop the fight if they determine that the fighter is not intelligently defending themselves.
  • Most strikes are good if they do not land on the opponent’s head.
  • The fighters cannot land a knee to the head of the opponent while they have one or both knees on the ground.
  • Fighters cannot poke eyes or grab the fence or ropes since they wear open-finger gloves.
  • A disputed stand-up rule is applied when both fighters are passive on the ground.

Boxing rules

Here are some rules every boxer must adhere to before any encounter in the ring.

  • Boxers can use only their hands to strike.
  • Boxers are not allowed to hit their rival below the belt area.
  • Strikes such as elbows or spinning strikes are forbidden as well as strikes in the back of the head.
  • When a boxer gets knocked down, the rules allow them to recover and get up within the standing count of 10 and continue to fight.
  • In some states, a fighter that gets knocked down three times cannot continue.
  • Boxers are not allowed to hold and use ropes to gain an advantage over opponents.
  • Boxers are forbidden to hit their opponents once they are knocked down.

The difference between MMA and boxing stances

Difference between MMA striking and boxing
Boxers seen fighting at Bangmot sports training center. Photo: Varuth Pongsapipatt
Source: Getty Images

MMA fighters often use open stances to avoid kicks or takedowns from their opponents, while boxers stand side-on to minimize the target area.

MMA fighting requires the athlete to consider attacks by many different methods, whereas boxing mainly comes from a particular zone.

MMA stances consider that since most people are right-handed, they will naturally lead with their left foot and hand while the mighty right hand and leg remain in the rear. This is known as the orthodox stance.

Boxing stances used to define boxers include swarmer, out-boxer, slugger, and boxer-puncher.

The difference between MMA and boxing rings

All boxers fight in a ring, whether they are amateurs or professionals. A modern-day boxing ring consists of 16-20 feet, or 488-610 centimetres raised squared platform with poles at each corner. Four ropes connect the bars, which keep the fighters in the ring.

MMA fighters fight inside a steel cage or ring, depending on the promotion. Cages vary in shape and size depending on the promotion. For instance, UFC uses the famous octagon-shaped cage with a diameter of 30 feet or 914 centimetres and 6 feet or 183 centimetres walls.

Difference between boxing and MMA punching
A general view of the Octagon during UFC 242 at The Arena on 7 September 2019 in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Photo: Jeff Bottari
Source: Getty Images

Bellator, however, uses a more rounded and bigger cage that is 36 feet or 1097 centimetres in diameter with 1018 square feet of the fight area.

The difference between MMA striking and boxing

Boxing only allows punches such as jabs and uppercuts, while MMA allows a broader range of strikes that include using elbows, knees, kicks, and spinning back fists.

MMA fighters can incorporate a variety of fighting styles, such as Tae Kwon Do, Muay Thai, and Karate, to win, unlike boxers.

The difference between boxing and MMA punching

The intensity of the actual punching force of a boxer is 10-35% more effective than that of an MMA fighter. This is because of the increased force capacity brought about by the tactics and muscle strength built by extensive experience and practice.

Boxers punch more effectively, thus increasing their disparity over a given duration. In terms of damage caused, boxers range from 25-200% more than a fighter.

Difference between MMA and boxing rings
A general view of the boxing ring ahead of the heavyweight unification rematch between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on August 20, 2022. Photo: Ayman Yaqoob
Source: Getty Images

The difference between fighting rounds and time limits in boxing and MMA

In boxing, each professional match lasts about 9-12 three-minute rounds with a one-minute break in between the rounds. Professional matches provide 36 minutes of action.

Professional MMA fights consist of 3 five-minute rounds with a one-minute break in between. There is a 15-minute action during a regular match and 25 minutes when there is a title on the line. This applies to both men and women.

As of 2023, MMA and boxing have amassed significant fan bases who pay to watch the action as it goes live. Famous professional boxers like Floyd Mayweather Jr and Conor McGregor have led successful careers in the boxing arena.

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Lenah Ann
Lenah Ann is a Kenyan-based content creator with 2 years of experience. She graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Media and Communication from Dedan Kimathi, Kenya in 2021.