Our match-up today is boxing vs. MMA. The battle between boxing and MMA isn’t just a competition of strength; it’s a rivalry. Think of it as you would a singing contest between Aretha Franklin and Taylor Swift. One is classic, the other popular and appealing to the kids of today.
Our defending champion today is boxing; considered by many to be the original and best.
Our challenger is MMA; the new kid on the block that’s out to teach an old dog some cool new tricks.
Boxing and MMA Similarities and Differences
Before we compare the two, let’s take a look at their histories. You might think that MMA is a new sport, but it’s not. One of its most fascinating similarities to boxing is that it’s not just old; it’s ancient.
MMA can be traced back to 648 BCE, though it wasn’t as we know it today. The very first rendition of mixed martial arts was the popular ancient Greek Olympic sport called pankration. It combined wrestling, boxing and good, old brawling. It was brutal.
The only rule was that biting and attempting to gouge your opponent’s eyes out were forbidden. You lost if you forfeit, were knocked unconscious or died. It only faded away in 393 CE, when the Olympic Games were banned and no one bothered to pay attention to it.
MMA took center stage once more in 1925 in Brazil. The interesting thing about MMA is that it was the Gracie family who revived the style. You might know them as the family who pioneered Brazilian jiu-jitsu. As was the case with BJJ, MMA grew in popularity when the family relocated to the USA.
The Gracie family organized the first modern MMA match in 1993. Their aim was to get fighters of different disciplines to fight each other. Staying true to MMA’s ancient origins, the only rules of this tournament were: no biting, and no attempting to gouge your opponent’s eyes out.
Once the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) had been established, MMA grew in popularity once again. With this sudden boom in interest, it became regulated and recognized as an official sport. It’s now one of the most popular combat sports in the world.
Boxing goes much further back in time. The earliest record of boxing is from 3000 BCE in Egypt. Not much more is known about its rules at this time, but there is clear evidence that boxing did exist.
Records of boxing in ancient Greece stretch as far back as 1650 BCE. Boxing became an Olympic sport in 688 BCE, 40 years before the first incarnation of MMA. It was just as brutal. It wasn’t so much a fist fight, as it was two naked fighters trying to stab each other in the face. There were also casualties here, but that didn’t stop people from enjoying it.
Like MMA, boxing faded in popularity with the fall of the Roman Empire. It returned to the world in 17th century England, when it’s modern rules and regulations were put in place. It then spread to the rest of Europe before finding its way to the USA.
Once boxing became mainstream, it enjoyed a long run as one of the most recognizable and viewed sports on Earth. But it’s fame is fading as a new generation rises.
What Makes Them Different?
The most important thing that you have to understand is that technically MMA is not a martial art; it’s a sport that combines all the other martial arts; including boxing.
Boxing only allows the use of your arms to fight above the belt (through punching or clinching). Since MMA makes use of different styles, almost anything goes. Boxing matches take place in a ring, while MMA typically happens in a cage (though rings, arenas and even pits are common too).
To name a few similarities: fighters are both classed by weight and both styles make use of protective gear (like gloves). In MMA, however, it depends on the style being fought. Neither has a graded system, and honors are won (as titles) in both.
So similar, yet worlds apart. So which one comes out on top?
Round One: Muscle
Both of these styles have a reputation for being brutal, manly (no offense, ladies) and tough. But which one is the toughest? This isn’t a battle of who has more muscle, but rather a contest in whose muscles are stronger.
Boxing is actually the most extreme martial art you can participate in, and it’s close to being the most dangerous sport in the world. One can say that boxers put their bodies through hell inside the ring, so they must crank it all the way to ten outside of it.
When it comes to brawn, boxers are the same as Muay Thai fighters. They have to build strength without building muscle because the extra mass could influence who and how they fight. They’re classed by weight, and having massive muscles isn’t worth having to fight someone who is twice your size.
Instead, boxers rely on resistance training, and a crazy amount of cardio, to strengthen their bodies, rather than chisel it.
How come boxers tend to have such defined biceps, then? Because boxing itself builds muscle. If you regularly punched something heavy repeatedly and quickly, you’d build muscle too, whether you like it or not.
It’s possible for MMA fighters to build muscle as they train, but it must be noted that MMA itself is not responsible for this. MMA is focused more on fitness than it is on shape.
The fighter could choose to build muscle outside of it, but this doesn’t come naturally with the package. More importantly, an MMA fighter’s regimen depends on their fighting style.
Because of the variety in MMA, it’s difficult to pinpoint what it does for the fighter’s body. You’d have to look at which styles they train in to determine its effect.
Boxing is the most physically demanding sport on Earth so it wins this round. Besides, MMA’s physical effects are a gray area. You’d need to take into account the individual fighter and which style they train for.
Round Two: Cardiovascular Endurance
I think we all know which will win this round, but for the sake of argument, I’ll explain why. Both boxing and MMA require an immense amount of stamina, and both fighters will have to put effort into staying fit. That’s indisputable.
The media tends to exaggerate, especially in martial arts, but there’s a reason why boxers are always portrayed as Rocky was: superhuman in endurance, and able to scoot up on down a million stairs without panting.
In support of MMA, just watch a fight. These fighters don’t enter a cage expecting to sit down and have a nice cup of tea and a chat. They’re voluntarily attacked, often at a disadvantage because “anything goes.” See for yourself:
It feels somewhat unfair to say that either fighter has to work harder at fitness because cardio will feature significantly in both. So, as a tie-breaker, we’re going with who has to endure more.
Boxing rules state that a professional match consists of 12 three minute rounds, with a one-minute interval between each. MMA rules state that a match consists of three rounds, each lasting for five minutes, with a minute’s rest between each.
Boxing is the blatant winner here. Boxer’s stay in the ring for 36 minutes without an interval. MMA fighters do so for half that time.
Round Three: Self-Defense
Some people believe that boxing is the absolute best for self-defense. What’s a more likely scenario? That someone you get into a street fight with will turn all Bruce Lee on you? Or that they’ll throw an ordinary punch? Most fights are fist fights. Since boxing is the art of fist fighting, it’s got to be the most efficient, right?
Not quite. It’s recommended that you practice boxing if you want to learn how to win a fist fight, yes, but not all fights will start or remain upright. Boxing, absolutely, can be an effective method of self-defense, but it’s limited, and that could work against you.
What if your opponent does turn all Bruce Lee on you? What happens if they attack you with a bar stool or if they knock you to the ground?
MMA takes this point because it’s versatile. If you learn a grappling form, you already have the upper hand. MMA teaches you to be well-rounded. You’ll develop the skills to defend against any (unarmed and lone) opponent, whether it’s standing or on the ground.
Round Four: Ease of Training
This is a tricky one because of MMA’s status as a sport. To participate in MMA, you have to learn the various styles you are interested in and that could influence how difficult it is for you.
Perhaps you struggle with judo but do well in taekwondo. Maybe BJJ is more affordable for you than karate. Though each martial art has its pros and cons when it comes to accessibility and ease of education, MMA as a whole has no such standard.
Boxing, on the other hand, has a protocol. All you really need is access to a boxing gym, an instructor and the required gear, and you’re all set. Beyond that is where complications set in.
Though anyone can learn how to box, since it’s so intense, it’s not suitable for all ages or body types. MMA has styles like BJJ, which are more encouraging. MMA also has the upper hand because you probably don’t need special equipment, unless you’re studying boxing or Muay Thai).
One drawback to MMA is that if you’re learning a grappling form, you’ll need a practice partner. Boxing can be practiced by yourself, using punching bags or even shadow boxing techniques.
MMA also takes the lead in lifestyle. As I’ve already explained, boxing is not for the faint-hearted.
I can’t help but feel that MMA deserves this point, but it wouldn’t be fair to boxing. Ultimately, I can’t determine if MMA is truly easier without specifying an exact style. Since boxing is more specific, though it’s not the simplest to get into, it takes this round.
Round Five: Head to Head
Boxing, as expected, is a favorite to win, although MMA is not far behind.
The two taunt each other, circling the cage, both poised for an opportunity to take the advantage. It’s boxing that strikes first. It’s been taught to be somewhat fearless. Boxing lands a mean punch on MMA, which backs away at first. MMA has a few tricks up its sleeve, but the timing is not right.
Boxing dominates the match, and it looks as though MMA is falling behind. MMA makes an effort to block as many of boxing’s hits as it can take. MMA retaliates, but not many of its hits land.
Boxing is now a little over-confident, and for a second, drops its guard. That’s when MMA takes advantage, by taking boxing to the ground. MMA is on top of boxing, and the strikes are almost relentless. Boxing can’t escape and taps out.
Here’s the thing: boxing would have won if it fought on its home ground under boxing rules. Real-life matches between the two show that there’s not much between them, and a fight between the two could go either way.
In a ring, boxing is stronger. In a cage, MMA is more powerful. MMA won in this hypothetical example because of boxing’s flaw: it’s not versatile. If MMA had to withstand the onslaught of hits in a ring without the option to grapple, it would have lost.
Both boxing and MMA are awesome sports, and I don’t think either is superior. MMA has taken the world by storm and proven itself time and time again. But boxing is just as revered as it was centuries ago, and as far as I can see, it’s here to stay.