MMA vs. Boxing: The Differences Compared

Whether you’re looking for a fighting sport to watch or interested in starting training yourself, MMA and boxing are two of the most popular options out there. While boxing is a very calculated and tactical sport where each punch matters, MMA allows for far more creativity and variance in one’s approach to fighting.

The main differences between MMA and boxing lie in the rules of each sport. While boxing only allows for punches above the belt, MMA incorporates various martial arts, where almost anything is permitted, including leg kicks. Other minor differences are glove types and round times.

Despite both being combat sports, it’s safe to say that MMA and boxing are very different. Let’s go over the main differences between the two sports and compare them against each other.

MMA and Boxing Have Different Rules

Once you’ve watched an MMA and a boxing match, you realize just how different the rules of each sport are. Just from how the fighters move and the punches they throw, you can see that they need to abide by a different set of rules.

So, let’s explore the rules of each sport individually and compare all of the significant differences.

Rules of Boxing

The main goal of boxing is to secure a win either by way of knockout or through points. There are usually 12 rounds, each lasting for 3 minutes, with a 1-minute rest between each round. There are usually two or three judges that evaluate and score the fight.

During the fight, boxers have to follow a set of rules that can differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and whether it’s a professional or amateur fight. A single referee is assigned for each battle to make sure that the boxers follow the rules throughout the fight.

Despite some differences, the main rules of boxing are consistent, and here are some of the most commonly accepted ones:

  • No hitting below the belt.
  • Fighters are only allowed to punch with their hands.
  • Holding, kicking, headbutting, wrestling, biting, pushing aren’t allowed.
  • No hitting with head, forearm, elbow, or shoulders.
  • No punching on the opponent’s back or kidneys.
  • Once the referee calls for a break, fighting must stop.
  • You can’t use the ropes to gain an advantage.
  • “Floored” boxer must get up within 10 seconds before being declared defeated by knockout.
  • No hitting or punching while the opponent is knocked down.

For more clarity, you can watch the following video by Ninh Ly explaining the rules of boxing:

 

Rules of MMA

Thanks to The Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, MMA rules remain consistent between jurisdictions of different commissions and regulatory bodies. The standard MMA bout lasts for three rounds of 5 minutes each. For most championship matches, the number of rounds increases to 5. There’s a 1-minute rest period in between each round.

The referee is the only one who can determine when a fight is over by knockout, injury, or tap out. Three judges are sitting around the cage who score the contest and decide the winner if necessary.

While MMA allows for far more freedom in terms of fighting techniques, fighters still need to follow some basic rules, which are:

  • The ring or cage must be between 20 and 32 square feet (1.86 and 2.97 sq m).
  • Fighters can’t use their head as a striking instrument.
  • Striking the opponent’s head with your feet isn’t allowed once the opponent is down.
  • No hair pulling, biting, or spitting.
  • No holding of the opponent’s gloves or shorts.
  • Avoiding contact or faking an injury is illegal.

You can read through the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts for a complete list of all MMA rules and regulations.

Ninh Ly also has a very well made video explaining the MMA rules:

They Allow Different Techniques

By having a quick look at the set of rules listed above, you can see that boxers are more limited in what they’re allowed to do inside the ring.

While boxers can only use their hands to punch their opponents, MMA fighters can utilize techniques from various martial arts, including kicking, ground moves, and more. Both sports, however, have a zero-tolerance policy for unsportsmanlike behavior such as biting, spitting, and headbutting.

Avoiding contact isn’t allowed in either sport. However, some boxers, including Floyd Mayweather, play a defensive style of boxing in which their primary focus is to avoid getting hit, tiring their opponents in the process.

A single referee who governs the fight and usually three judges sitting outside the ring/cage who score the fight are present during each MMA or boxing fight. The referee has the power to stop the game in some circumstances, such as a knockout or injury.

Determining the Winner of a Fight

When determining the fight winner, both boxing and MMA use the same terminology and methods, with some minor technical differences.

Here are the main ways in which a boxing or MMA fight can end:

  • Knockout (KO) – fight ends after one of the fighters is knocked down and doesn’t get up.
  • Technical knockout (TKO) – referee ends the fight when he deems that one of the opponents can’t continue due to an injury.
  • Decision – If both fighters are still standing after all rounds have passed, the judges need to determine the winner or declare a draw.
  • No contest – match ends after one or two of the fighters sustain a significant accidental injury.
  • Disqualification – one of the fighters is disqualified for not following the rules.
  • Forfeit – a fighter forfeits the match.

The way one achieves a knockout in boxing is when one of the fighters is knocked down and can’t stand up within 10 seconds. The referee is the one who counts up to 10. In MMA, there’s no counting. Instead, the referee declares a knockout once a fighter loses consciousness.

Additionally, an MMA match can end in submission if a fighter “taps out” after being placed in a hold. If the fighter refuses to submit and loses consciousness, the referee is forced to end the match.

MMA and Boxing Fights Are Not Scored the Same

If there’s still no winner after all rounds end, the judges’ scoring will decide the match’s outcome. Each round is scored individually.

The judges score the fight on a 10-point scale. Most rounds end with a 10-9 score. In the case of an even round, the score will be 10-10.

Judges can deduct points for various reasons, such as being knocked down, displaying unsportsmanlike conduct, not following the rules, or repeated accidental fouls.

Boxing and MMA judges follow different guidelines when scoring the fight.

Scoring an MMA Fight

There are three main areas that MMA officials look at when scoring a fight:

Strikes and Grappling Attacks

Officials mainly judge MMA fighters based on their striking and grappling during the round. A fighter’s effectiveness in this category is the number one factor determining the winner of a round. The fighter who lands more punches or has more grappling attacks is who the judges usually deem the winner.

However, the effectiveness of those punches/grappling attacks is far more critical to the judges, meaning that immediate damage is usually better scored than cumulative damage.

For example, suppose a fighter is being dominated throughout the round but manages to land a significant punch in the last seconds that knocks down the opponent. In that case, judges may reward the round to him.

The reason for this is because judges value risky and potentially match-ending maneuvers ahead of safe and calculated ones over a more extended period.

Aggression

If the two fighters score equally in the first category, judges evaluate their level of aggression during the round to determine a winner.

Aggression is the act of trying to end the fight prematurely by continually attempting to force a knockout or a technical knockout.

However, fighters must be effective with their aggression, as many missed punches and taken hits will negatively impact their score.

Cage Control

If the two other determining factors fail, judges turn to fight area control to determine the outcome of a round.

By fighting area control, fighters are scored based on who had more control of the center of the cage and who dictated the pace, tempo, and place of the fight.

Scoring a Boxing Fight

Similar to MMA, boxing officials have a few key points that they analyze during each round to determine who the winner is:

  • Hard and Clean Punches – To the naked eye, it might appear that a fighter is landing lots of punches and dominating his opponent, when in fact, his punches are constantly being blocked or are barely landing. Judges pay close attention to make sure that fighters are landing hard and clean punches.
  • Defense – Avoiding, parrying, and blocking punches in boxing is just as important as landing them.
  • Ring control – The fighter who controls the fight’s tempo and enforces his style on the opponent is looked upon by the officials.
  • Aggression – Judges award the fighter who displays effective aggression by continually landing and blocking punches.

Scoring Results

Both MMA and boxing officials use the same terminology when determining the outcome of a fight. Here are the possible outcomes that can happen after a fight ends:

  • Unanimous decision – All three judges agree on who the winning fighter is.
  • Split decision – Two judges have one fighter ahead, while the third judge has the other fighter ahead. In this case, the fighter with more judges behind him wins.
  • Majority decision – Two judges have one fighter ahead, while the third judge scored it as a draw. The fighter with two scorecards wins this fight as well.
  • Technical decision – If a fight has to end prematurely due to an unintentional illegal move that causes an injury, such as an accidental knee to the head, judges will have to make a decision based on what they saw up until that point. This happens very rarely in both sports.
  • Draw – Draws are very uncommon, but they do sometimes occur.

Draw

There are three types of draws, these are:

  • Unanimous draw – All three judges agree that the match should end in a draw.
  • Majority draw – Two judges score the fight even, while the third one has a winning fighter. In this case, the contest ends in a draw.
  • Split decision – If two of the judges have different judges ahead, while the third judge has them even, the match also ends in a draw.

Due to the different rules in each sport, MMA and boxing officials adhere to different scoring standards when following the fight. However, the real determining factors of the outcomes of fights are pretty similar.

In both sports, the most important thing is hitting your opponent cleanly and effectively. Of course, MMA fighters can incorporate different techniques to do so, while boxers have to stick to punches.

Aggression is equally valuable in MMA and boxing. Fighters who are more aggressive and effectively attack and dominate their opponent but can also defend themselves when under pressure will score highly with the judges.

Ring/cage control is also something that judges of both sports take into consideration.

The only significant difference in scoring a fight is that boxing officials value defensive maneuvers, like blocking and parrying much more than MMA officials.

Does MMA or Boxing Have Quicker Fights?

MMA has quicker fights than boxing. A major reason for this is that there are 12 rounds in boxing, compared to just 3 in most MMA fights, except for title matches that usually go to 5 rounds that are the case with the UFC.

Even with the longer MMA round times of 5 minutes compared to 3, a full-length boxing match will last for 36 minutes, compared to only 15-25 minutes for an MMA match.

In addition to this, MMA fights are very likely to end in either submission or knockout, which is the case for over 50% of all UFC fights. The high rate of fights that end early brings the average fighting time to approximately 9 minutes.

The average boxing fight lasts for 5.9 rounds, nearly 18 minutes of total fighting time, double the time of the average MMA fight.

With these statistics, we can conclude that an MMA fight is quicker than a boxing fight.

Both MMA and Boxing Have Weight Classes

To make fights fair for fighters of different sizes and weights, most combat sports, including MMA and boxing, incorporate weight classes so that only fighters who are in the same weight class can compete against one another.

Officially, there are 14 weight divisions in MMA and 17 in boxing. The discrepancy comes from the fact that MMA doesn’t subdivide the lower weight divisions as much. There’s also a difference in the listed required weight for the same categories in the two sports.

Here’s a list of all weight divisions and weights so you can better understand the difference:

Name of weight category MMA weight requirements Boxing weight requirements
Mini flyweight Not used 105 pounds (48 kg)
Light flyweight Not used 108 pounds (49 kg)
Flyweight 115 to 125 pounds (52-56 kg) 112 pounds (51 kg)
Strawweight Up to 115 pounds (52 kg) Not used
Super flyweight Not used 115 pounds (52 kg)
Bantamweight 125 to 135 pounds (56 – 61 kg) 118 pounds (53.5 kg)
Super bantamweight Not used 122 pounds (55 kg)
Featherweight 135 to 145 pounds (61 – 66 kg) 126 pounds (57 kg)
Super featherweight Not used 130 pounds (59 kg)
Lightweight 145 to 155 pounds (66 – 70 kg) 135 pounds (61 kg)
Super lightweight 155 to 165 pounds (70 – 75 kg) 140 pounds (63.5 kg)
Welterweight 165 to 170 pounds (75 – 77 kg) 147 pounds (67 kg)
Super welterweight 170 to 175 pounds (77 – 79 kg) 154 pounds (70 kg)
Middleweight 175 to 185 pounds (79 – 84 kg) 160 pounds (72.5 kg)
Super middleweight 185 to 195 pounds (84 – 88 kg) 168 pounds (76 kg)
Light heavyweight 195 to 205 pounds (88 – 93 kg) 175 pounds (79 kg)
Cruiserweight 205 to 225 pounds (93 – 102 kg) 200 pounds (91 kg)
Heavyweight 225 to 265 pounds (102 – 120 kg) Unlimited
Super heavyweight Over 265 pounds (120 kg) Not used

Keep in mind that this is a list of all weight categories in existence. Most MMA and boxing organizations only use a small number of these when categorizing their fighters by having a border weight range for each category.

For example, the UFC only utilizes nine weight categories, while Olympic-styled amateur boxing has ten weight classes.

MMA Fighters and Boxers Wear Different Gear

The standard equipment for MMA and boxing fighters consists of a pair of gloves and shorts. Most of the time, boxers also wear a pair of boxing shoes, while MMA fighters compete barefoot.

Perhaps the most critical piece of gear, though, especially for boxing, is the mouthguard, which prevents injuries to the teeth and lips. MMA fighters also wear a mouthguard.

It’s worth noting that amateur boxing also includes headgear to prevent major trauma or injuries to the head. Professional boxers only wear headgear during practice.

The most significant difference between the two sports when it comes to gear are the gloves and shorts.

MMA vs Boxing Shorts

Compared to other combat sports, boxing shorts are the most easily recognizable ones due to being distinctly long. The top of the shorts comes with an abdominal guard that protects the groin from injuries. The shorts are longer and usually come to the knees. They’re also loose to allow the fighter to roam the ring with ease.

Since boxers don’t use their legs during fights, the shorts, sometimes called boxers or trunks, rarely get damaged. This allows for some pretty slick designs that fighters come up with. The Cleto Reyes Satin Boxing Trunks (available on Amazon.com) are a great option with a cool yet minimalistic look. It also comes with an elastic closure and is made of 100% satin polyester.

Contrary to boxing shorts, MMA shorts, also known as grappling shorts, are lightweight and provide a good fit around the waist, allowing for more leg flexibility that can be crucial on the ground or when kicking. They’re also usually shorter than boxers.

If you’re in the market for new MMA shorts, I recommend the Sanabul Essential MMA Shorts (available on Amazon.com). It’s made to last with its seam protection, and the reinforced stitching will keep your shorts from easily tearing.

MMA vs Boxing Gloves

The gloves are one of the most essential pieces of gear for every boxer or MMA fighter. Just like with shorts, the gloves also differ to accommodate the demands of each sport.

Since boxers strictly use their hands for punching and blocking, the boxing glove is designed with the goal in mind to protect the hands from any injuries. For this, the gloves cover the entirety of the hand and provide extra protection to the fingers via a considerable amount of extra padding.

If you’re looking for some nice boxing gloves to buy, I  recommend the Everlast Pro Style Training Gloves (available on Amazon.com). These gloves have an updated evershield design for advanced wrist protection with hook-and-loop closure.

On the other hand, MMA gloves have to consider that fighters will have to use their fingers to pull off some of the different fighting maneuvers that come with the sport. For this, the gloves are made light and with no foam around the fingers, allowing for more unrestrained movement. There is, however, a smaller padding that sits on top of the hand and slightly over the fingers.

Since they cover the entirety of the hand and come with plenty of foam for finger protection, boxing gloves are a lot heavier than MMA gloves. They can weigh as much as three times more. While the standard MMA glove weighs 4 ounces (113 g), boxing gloves can weigh anywhere from 8 to 12 ounces (226 to 353 g).

During a fight, the boxing glove will tire the fighter quicker if he throws punches in quick succession, while the MMA’s glove design allows for rapid and repeated hits. On the other hand, the heavier boxing glove will usually land harder and more painful hits.

Both Utilize a Similar Fighting Arena

The fighting area is the space where the fight takes place. Boxing matches are played traditionally inside a ring. MMA fights, however, can take place in various fighting areas, such as the Octagon popularized and only used by the UFC.

MMA fights also take place in a Pentagon, a round cage, or a regular boxing ring.

The Boxing Ring

The standard modern boxing ring is a square with a raised platform and a post at each corner. There are four ropes going from one post to the other. It’s between 16 and 24 feet (5 to 6 m) long and is elevated 3 to 4 feet (91 to 122 cm) from the ground. The surface is covered with rubber, felt, or another soft, elastic, and quality-approved material.

Boxers have used the ring for hundreds of years, and with the improved technology and quality of materials used, it has become the go-to fighting ground for boxing and other martial arts.

The MMA Cage

The UFC has popularized the Octagon as the standard cage for MMA. However, since the UFC trademarks the Octagon, no other MMA organization is allowed to use it. Thus, unlike boxing, MMA doesn’t have a standard fighting area, although the cage is considered the common fighting ground for MMA in whatever form it comes.

MMA cages can come in different shapes and sizes, including a hexagon, ring, or circle. For reference, the standard UFC octagon comes with a diameter of 30 feet (9.14 m). The metal fences around the Octagon are 6 feet (1.83 m) high, while the platform is 4 feet (1.22 m) above the ground.

The surface of the cage is padded, preventing serious injuries from falling. The metal fences prevent fighters from being thrown out of the cage.

How a Boxing Ring and MMA Cage Compare

One can’t say that either one is better since they both are great for different purposes that fit additional sports. That being said, there are some pros and cons to both the boxing ring and MMA cage.

First, the boxing ring has been used for so long that even new watchers will have an easier time adjusting to it as it’ll be pretty easy on the eyes. It also provides more visibility. The soft ropes on the ring allow the fighter to circle around it, which isn’t the case with the metal cages. On the other hand, fighters need to be careful not to fall off from the ring.

There’s a clear physical barrier that fighters can’t cross and fall from with the MMA cage. The fence also stops the media or any unwanted guests from entering the cage. Some fighters, especially wrestlers, use the cage as a supporting mechanism to keep their opponent in place while on the ground.

Conclusion

Boxing and MMA are the two most popular combat sports right now. Despite falling in the same category, though, they’re vastly different. While boxing is a slow and tactical sport, where patience is usually king, MMA allows for plenty of fast-paced maneuvers by incorporating various martial arts techniques.

The rules of the sports and the gear used are almost completely different, but there are quite a few similarities when it comes to how a winner of a fight is determined and scored. The use of weight divisions is also very similar.

Sources

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