What Is the Best Striking Art for MMA? (Top 3 Ranked)

Are you wondering what the best striking art for MMA is?

In this article, we’ll examine the 3 best striking arts for MMA by looking at their strengths, weaknesses, and the UFC champions who’ve successfully used each as their base.

What Is the Best Striking Art for MMA?

The best striking art for MMA is muay Thai, followed by kickboxing and boxing.

As these are the best striking arts for MMA, they can also be considered the best striking arts full stop, because MMA is the truest representation of martial art skill and striking ability.

Let’s take a closer look at what makes these the best striking arts for MMA and overall.

1. Muay Thai

Muay Thai is the best striking art for MMA for three following reasons.

1. The Use of 8 Limbs

Muay Thai is literally what’s used in MMA for striking. The use of 8 limbs: punches, knees, kicks, and elbows, are all essential weapons in MMA. You’ll rarely see an undisputed UFC champion or top 5 contender who isn’t well-versed in effectively using all 8 limbs.

Using all 8 limbs is so important in MMA, that fighters who haven’t trained in Muay Thai must learn and practice elbows and knees regardless. However, those who’ve trained in Muay Thai for years are at a huge advantage as they’ve built the muscle memory to use all 8 limbs effectively under pressure.

Learning how to strike with all 8 limbs gives a fighter a great variety of strikes and the ability to deal damage at any range and any place the fight goes.

2. Muay Thai Clinch

The Muay Thai clinch is another very effective tool in MMA. It’s used to wear on opponents, drain their cardiovascular energy, prevent takedowns, set up trips and sweeps, and mostly as a way to tie up an opponent and land elbows and knees.

This use of knees and elbows in the clinch also translates to their use when ground fighting.

The Muay Thai clinch is another tool in the arsenal of an MMA fighter in making them more well-rounded and with the ability to mix up their attacks. Not only offensively, but the Muay Thai clinch can be used defensively by a fighter who doesn’t want to fight at a distance but wants to bring the fight close quarters.

3. Muay Thai Is Aggressive and Relentless

Muay Thai fighters develop high levels of composure and mental and physical toughness. They’re trained to apply constant forward pressure, avoid taking a backward step, and strike with a lot of power.

They also develop great striking defense as their style of fighting has them blocking and checking strikes before counterstriking.

The best Muay Thai weapons in MMA are:

  • Elbows
  • Calf kicks
  • Oblique kicks
  • Roundhouse kicks
  • Teep kicks
  • Knees 

Negatives of Muay Thai in MMA

  • High variety means they’re lacking an area of specialty
  • Upright and stationary stance is weak against wrestlers
  • Kicking focus means boxing combinations are too infrequent
  • High guard means the body is open, especially for liver shots

UFC Champions who used Muay Thai to win:

2. Kickboxing

Kickboxing has been the striking art of choice for plenty of UFC champions and elite-level mixed martial artists. It comes in at number 2 on this list, but it could quite easily be the best striking art for MMA depending on personal preference for the following three reasons.

1. Specialists at Range

Kickboxing is a more defensive striking art teaching fighters to understand and control the range of an MMA fight, which is mid to long range, and picking opponents off with long-range kicks and jabs while remaining defensively sound.

Kickboxers tend to fire one or two strikes at range, before landing powerful counter shots or combinations when their opponent gets tired of being picked apart and rushes in with strikes or takedown attempts.

2. Specialists in Kicks and Punches

While kickboxers aren’t trained in using elbows, they make up for it with their use of knees and their specialty in boxing and kicking, which are more useful and used much more than elbows.

Kickboxing is geared toward boxing combinations mixed in with kicks, which is effective in MMA because the kicks are knockout strikes and hugely help with feints and setting up the punches.

Kicking-heavy styles can become predictable and the kicks are either caught and the fighter’s taken down, or they’re evaded and countered.

3. Very Applicable Style to MMA

Kickboxers are very suited to MMA as they become skilled with feints and have great fluidity, head movement, and footwork for evading strikes, preventing takedowns, and setting up their kicks, knees, and punches from various angles.

The best kickboxing weapons in MMA are:

  • Low/high roundhouse kicks
  • Question mark kicks
  • Spinning back/hook kicks
  • Kicking and boxing combinations

Negatives of kickboxing in MMA

  • Less variety without elbow strikes and strikes in the clinch
  • Not as aggressive as Muay Thai or boxing so fighters can become tentative and not maximize knockout opportunities

UFC Champions who used kickboxing to win:

3. Boxing

Boxing is the third-best striking art for MMA and outside of it for the following reasons.

1. Punches Are the Most Dangerous Weapon

While knees and kicks are more powerful than punches, punches are by far the most deadly weapon because of their speed, power, combinations, and variety – and boxers are experts with their punches and the ability to evade them. 

Of all the finishes in MMA history, punches far outweigh kicks, knees, elbows, and submissions. Boxing is also the best way to win an MMA fight via decision, as punches landed to the head and body rack up a lot of damage and slow an opponent’s offense down.

2. Cardiovascular Endurance and Footwork

Boxing helps fighters develop insane cardiovascular endurance and the most skilled footwork.

At the highest level, boxing matches are ten 3-minute rounds for a total of 30 minutes of fighting. On the other hand, MMA fights are three 5-minute rounds for a total of 15 minutes, except the main events and title fights which are five 5-minute rounds for a total of 25 minutes.

For this reason, boxers transferring to MMA have the necessary gas tank for success, one of the major tools required. Once a fighter’s stamina is spent, their ability to strike and move is severely affected and they’re highly likely to lose the remaining rounds or get finished. Boxers avoid this issue.

Boxers also have light and nimble footwork for evading strikes and takedowns, but they also know how to plant their feet for the most power in their punches.

3. Boxing Can Be Used in Different Ranges

Although boxing doesn’t include any kicks or knees, boxing can be used very effectively at range if a fighter develops a strong, direct jab.

Boxing is best used in the short to mid-range, where fighters can land punches and use their head movement and footwork to evade and slip shots.

Boxing can also be used in an up-close dirty-boxing style of fighting when mixed with some wrestling skills.

Lastly, boxing translates the best into ground-and-pound used against a fighter on the ground as it uses hammer fists, uppercuts, hooks, and straights.

The best boxing weapons in MMA are:

Negatives of boxing in MMA are:

  • One dimensional due to lacking a variety of strikes
  • Boxing stance is vulnerable to calf kicks and weak against wrestlers

UFC Champions who used boxing to win:

  • Junior Dos Santos
  • Max Holloway
  • Holly Holm
  • Conor McGregor
  • Francis Ngannou
  • Petr Yan
  • Stipe Miocic
  • Jamahal Hill

The Bottom Line

So, ‘what is the best striking art for MMA?’

The best striking art for MMA is Muay Thai, followed by kickboxing and boxing. Muay Thai and kickboxing are both brilliant and are considered equal by many. 

And while both Muay Thai and kickboxing are great striking arts for MMA, they’ll never be enough on their own for a fighter to become elite. MMA is a game of chess and fighters need to train many martial arts to become successful. Many of the best train in Muay Thai, kickboxing, and boxing, just for striking.

Boxing comes in third because while it’s a great striking art for MMA, it’s not as good as Muay Thai and kickboxing because it lacks the variety of strikes which MMA requires.

As great as a boxer gets, to make it to the top level of MMA they’re going to need Muay Thai/kickboxing to develop the essential well-rounded striking.

Outside of these three, a very small percentage of elite karate and taekwondo practitioners can make it work in MMA. However, these make up roughly 0.5% and are a waste of time if you’re serious about developing the best striking for MMA. Go with the 99.5% which is Muay Thai, kickboxing, and boxing.

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