Although similar in many ways, boxing and MMA are two completely different kinds of combat sports with unique benefits and challenges. In this blog, we’re breaking down the differences so you can find the right sport—or sports!—for you.
Boxing vs. MMA: What’s the difference?
Boxing—often referred to as the “sweet science”—is a highly specialized fist-fighting combat sport. There are no kicks, take-downs, or use of knees, elbows, or shins to defeat your opponent.
That means the boxing pros need complete mastery over one specialization: their fists. But it isn’t just about throwing punches. Boxing also requires incredible footwork, full-body strength, and quick reflexes for both offensive and defensive moves.
Take a look at this professional boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana to get a feel of what this looks like in action:
If boxing against an opponent fist-to-fist isn’t your thing, there are other boxing options like shadowboxing and interactive fitness boxing with Liteboxer where you can train your boxing skills right in the comfort and convenience of your own home. At Liteboxer we also offer boxing in virtual reality with Liteboxer VR.
MMA or mixed martial arts is, as the name suggests, a mix of several different fighting disciplines. MMA fighters are often experts in a whole range of martial arts. These include Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, Judo, and/or wrestling, just to name a few.
Whereas boxing requires specialization in one discipline, the top MMA fighters are those that can master multiple disciplines—and defeat their opponent both standing up and on the ground. MMA fights involve more than fists, and can include kicks, knees, elbows, and on-the-ground grappling techniques. It’s essentially a test of who’s the best all-around fighter.
Here’s a professional fight between Conor McGregor and Marcus Brimage to get a sense of what MMA looks like in action:
Boxing vs. MMA: History
Boxing, or the act of throwing fists, has been around since the beginning of human history. There are even carvings of fist fights dating back as far as 1500 B.C. to prove it1. Arguably the sport’s most famous beginning was in ancient Rome where gladiators used boxing techniques as they were forced to fight to the death.
Fortunately, over time boxing became more about fighting as a sport and competing for a title instead of for a life. As boxing grew in popularity, so did the rules and regulations, with the biggest changes taking place beginning in the 19th century.
For example, the use of weight classes to make fights more equitable started in the early 1820s. Then came rules like ring size, round length, and the use of gloves, starting in 1867. The sport boomed in popularity as it made its way to the U.S. in the 1830s, eventually becoming a popular illegal gambling activity1.
Thanks to television, the rise of boxing legends like Muhammad Ali, and famous boxing movies like “Rocky”, the sport catapulted into mainstream popularity throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, becoming what it is today.
The history of MMA begins with martial arts. In Ancient China and Greece, for example, there were sports involving different elements of kung fu, boxing, and wrestling2. Similar to boxing, legends like Bruce Lee and movies like “The Karate Kid” helped to increase the popularity of martial arts heading into the 20th and 21st centuries.
As for modern MMA, it got its start more recently. The first use of the term “mixed martial arts” was in 1993 when the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) hosted their first-ever sporting event2. Today, the sport is gaining in popularity with events like the PFL World Championship—where we brought two lucky Liteboxers!
Boxing vs. MMA: Rules
Boxers fight in what’s called a “ring” using only their fists to deliver punches above the belt. In a boxing title fight, there are 10-12 three-minute rounds (two minutes for women) with a minute of rest in between. You win the fight by points or by knocking out your opponent. In amateur fights, matches are shorter and typically include 3 three-minute rounds for which scoring is only based on points.
Boxing uses what’s called a three-knockdown rule, which is when a boxer falls or takes a knee. If you knock down your opponent three times in a fight, you win3. But, if that doesn’t happen, the decision on the final victor comes down to a complicated scoring of points. In both boxing and MMA, a referee runs the fight, but the judges ultimately make the call on who wins the match.
To an outsider, MMA might look like a free-for-all fight with no rules. After all, unlike boxing, everything from kicks to take-downs is fair game. But it might surprise you to learn that there are quite a few rules and regulations. Like boxing, MMA has weight classes, time limits, and off-limits techniques, like groin strikes, biting, and eye-gouging4.
In the UFC, title fights happen in what’s called a “cage” and last for 3-5 five-minute rounds with a minute of rest in between3. There are three general tactics approved in MMA fights: striking, finishing holds, and control. Fighters can use any martial arts technique to take down their opponent including punching, kicking, takedowns, and more5.
Whereas in boxing there’s the three-knockdown rule, in MMA there’s more than one way to win. You can win by knockout (opponent knocked unconscious), submission (opponent taps out), technical knockout (referee stops play and makes the call), or judges’ decision (when none of the other methods happen and it’s up to the judges’ final call).
Boxing vs. MMA: Which one should you choose?
Both MMA and boxing are high-demanding cardio and strength-building sports. They’re each difficult in their own way. Boxing requires a specialized skill set while MMA requires a mastery of not just your punches, but also your kicks and takedowns.
Both are great for learning self-defense and building strength, endurance, and confidence. They’re also both big mental sports, where you learn to think ahead and read and react to your environment. Unlike boxing, MMA teaches fighters how to defend themselves on the ground, but boxing is a great way to learn proper footwork and striking techniques.
You could argue that competitive boxing offers a greater endurance challenge because title matches typically last 36 minutes instead of 25 minutes for competitive MMA. On the other hand, MMA has stand-up fighting, clinch fighting, and ground fighting, meaning you could argue that those fights are more exhausting than boxing matches, even though you’re fighting for less time.
The debate on MMA vs. boxing is so popular that it even makes its way to the pros, like this match-up between MMA fighter Conor McGregor and boxer Floyd Mayweather. The winner was Mayweather, who ended up beating McGregor in a professional boxing match. But would Mayweather beat McGregor in an MMA bout?
Since both sports offer great benefits and unique challenges, the right one for you ultimately depends on what you’re looking for. (Or, skip the choice entirely and train in both disciplines!)
If you’re new to combat sports, it could be easier for you to start with boxing since MMA is a mix of several different disciplines. You can translate your boxing skill set to MMA, so by training first in the discipline of boxing, you’re helping to train for both sports.
Boxing with Liteboxer
If you’re a current boxer or want-to-be boxer, then Liteboxer could be a great tool for improving your boxing skills from the convenience of your own home. It’s like having a personal trainer right in your living room, coaching you on correct boxing form and technique while pushing you to never give up the fight.
Our Trainers have years of fitness experience and come from a variety of backgrounds including boxing, physical therapy, dancing, and careers as professional athletes. With these pros, we offer some of the best full-body fitness instruction around.
After completing a Liteboxer workout, you can view your force, timing, and accuracy metrics in the Liteboxer app. By tracking your progress and pushing to achieve a personal best, you can get stronger and more confident with every class.
So whether you need dedicated time to work on speed, power punches, strength, or boxing combinations, we’ve got the class for you to improve your boxing skills and technique, all while getting in a great workout.