What Are the Different MMA Stances? (Features and Benefits)

Photo by Matthew Walsh

Are you wondering what the different MMA stances are?

In this article, we’ll examine what the different MMA stances are and the key features, benefits, and drawbacks of each.

What Are the Different MMA Stances?

As MMA is a mix of all martial arts, the different MMA stances come from the most effective martial arts such as boxing, muay Thai, kickboxing, grappling/wrestling, and karate.

Some MMA fighters stay in a particular stance such as muay Thai for a whole fight, some switch between two or more stances, and most blend stances from multiple different martial arts into what today we can call an MMA stance.

The stance an MMA fighter picks depends on what their opponent is doing/using, which is why MMA is often referred to as a chess match.

The Two Main Stances in MMA

Before we get into the different MMA stances, it’s important to understand the two stances which apply to all the different MMA stances. Those two main stances are orthodox and southpaw.

An orthodox stance is fighting with the left leg and arm forward, whereas a southpaw stance is fighting with the right leg and arm forward. These are the main two MMA stances because they’re applied to every type of stance in combat sports/martial arts.

Note: Some MMA fighters have a switch stance. This is a fighter who rarely settles in either orthodox or southpaw because they’re competent in both and switch often as a way to unsettle their opponent. Cory Sandhagen is an excellent example.

Next comes the different MMA stances, or the different stances which are commonly used in MMA.

1. Muay Thai

The muay Thai stance is less commonly used in MMA and has the following key features.

1. Loose and light on the front leg with the toes facing forward

This allows MMA fighters to throw a lot of kicks and more easily defend kicks through evasion or checking. The stance constantly lifts the leg and uses forward pressure so teeps and front kicks are easily fired.

This makes the muay Thai MMA stance very effective against opponents who are boxing-heavy and don’t use many kicks, as well as fighters looking to close the distance such as dirty boxers because the ease of kicking can keep them at distance and be used to score points.

2. High guard

The chin is tucked behind the guard which has the fists high and tight or just out in front at around forehead height and is used to block kicks, punches, and elbows to the head. With a high guard, fighters can extend their arms forward as a defensive frame against fighters coming forward.

This makes the stance useful in MMA against talented strikers which are mostly kickboxers and muay Thai practitioners.

Part of this high guard is also having the forearms narrow as it helps with balance and the ability to throw elbows from either side.

3. Even weight distribution

While the muay Thai stance has focus on lifting the lead foot heel off the ground and therefore having slightly more weight on the back leg, the stance has fighters maintain an even weight distribution when both feet are grounded and when reacting to a specific situation.

This is important in muay Thai as loss of balance and retreating has a fighter more easily swept, countered, and marked down by the judges. It’s also important because fighters must be able to instantly weight shift on both feet to perform a variety of strikes: kicks, knees, elbows, and punches from both sides.

For this reason, the muay Thai stance is effective in MMA for fighters who like to use forward pressure and against opponents not so good on the back foot.

The even weight distribution is also preferred by MMA fighters who use less footwork and want to stay grounded to land more power such as heavyweights and power strikers.

Also, because the muay Thai stance allows for such quick weight shifts, while it’s not the best stance against aggressive wrestlers, it can be adjusted to defend against takedowns if done quickly enough.

4. Narrow stance and square hips facing forward 

This allows MMA fighters to effectively check kicks, and kick and knee from both legs as telegraphing is reduced because they’re able to lift either leg easily. This makes the muay Thai stance effective for MMA fighters who are great kickers and want to use a variety of kicks from either side.

The narrow stance means standing tall, which makes it harder for the opponent to land knees and kicks to the head. This is useful against MMA opponents who are great kickers.

Standing tall is also effective for securing the muay Thai clinch and putting body weight down on an opponent to control their posture and arms, and land elbows or knees. This is effective against fighters who like to keep their distance and avoid grappling exchanges such as karate and kickboxing-style fighters.

Lastly, a more square muay Thai stance means less energy expenditure as they’re simply not moving around as much. The cons to this are fighters are rigid and less able to move.

Muay Thai stance in MMA

Overall, many MMA fighters adopt a muay Thai stance at some point in a fight or blend it with another to create their own MMA stance because it has many benefits. 

It’s also because a huge percentage of MMA fighters learn muay Thai for their striking, so the stance becomes second nature, and it incorporates standing grappling in the clinch, another useful tool in MMA.

The muay Thai stance in MMA is most effective for and against great kickers and worst against elite wrestlers who pressure forward and look for takedowns – think Kamaru Usman, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and Khamzat Chimaev.

UFC fighters who commonly adopt a muay Thai stance:

  • Khalil Rountree
  • Mauricio Rua
  • Jose Aldo
  • Valentina Shevchenko
  • Anderson Silva
  • Rafael Fiziev

2. Boxing

The boxing stance is also commonly used in MMA and has the following key features.

1. Bladed and shoulder-width stance

Boxers have a bladed stance so their body and lead leg are at a roughly 45-degree angle from their opponent. Standing bladed reduces the area for opponents to hit and allows for maximum power output as punches can be turned over easily.

Boxers can have their front leg facing inward for more spring and explosiveness in their punches as they don’t have to worry about calf kicks. However, calf kicks are huge in MMA which is a huge negative of the boxing stance.

2. Footwork

Boxers flow between being flat-footed for a sturdy base to throw powerful punches and being light on the balls of their feet for efficient and quick movements.

3. Heavier on the lead leg or an evenly distributed weight

Boxers often heavier on the lead leg can transfer their weight into punches more easily for knockouts and also more effectively move their head.

On the other hand, boxers adopt a more evenly distributed weight between their legs when fighting more defensively and focusing on faster footwork, movement, and counterpunching.

Boxers keep their knees bent slightly for efficient head and body movements.

4. High guard

Boxers often have a high and tight guard with gloves around their forehead to block punches to the head, and their elbows tucked in to block punches to the body by tilting.

Boxing Stance in MMA

Overall, many MMA fighters adopt a boxing stance because it allows for great footwork, head and body movement, forward pressure, and power and speed in punches.

It’s not a great stance against elite wrestlers because it’s in grappling range and it’s also not great against elite kickers because they can dictate the fight by keeping it at range, scoring with kicks, and countering easily.

UFC fighters who commonly adopt a boxing stance:

  • Dustin Poirier
  • Justin Gaethje
  • Max Holloway
  • Nick Diaz
  • Calvin Kattar

3. Karate

The karate stance is also commonly used in MMA and has the following key features.

1. Bladed side-on stance

Karatekas have the most bladed stance of any common style seen in MMA. This makes them a much smaller target as the side of their body is facing an opponent, meaning it’s great for defensive-minded fighters.

The bladed side-on stance also means a karateka’s main weapons are quite far from their opponent. This makes their rear shots more powerful but it also makes them much slower.

2. Wide stance

Karatekas have a wide stance with bent knees so they can move in and out of range with explosive movements. This is effective for counterpunching fighters who look to evade and counter with precision.

The explosiveness the wide stance gives is great for feinting and baiting a fighter into countershots.

3. Low hands

Karatekas often keep their hands low as they don’t need to be as defensive with a tight guard because they use their in-and-out movement for evading strikes.

Having low hands helps them with vision and reading their opponent in order to evade strikes. As they have better vision, they can put their head in positions as a way to draw out a particular shot from an opponent and counter them. 

Having low hands also means their strikes are harder to read as they come from various angles.

Karate stance in MMA

Overall, a karate stance is used less than a muay Thai or boxing stance because it uses a lot more energy, and maintaining cardiovascular endurance throughout a fight is one of the best ways to win. 

It also keeps the power weapons too far back which makes them more easily avoided by opponents, and it presents the single-leg takedown to wrestlers as the leg is so close.

The karate stance is used by fighters who have amazing cardiovascular endurance, and elite precision, and who like to pick their opponents off at a distance with counterstrikes.

UFC fighters who commonly adopt a karate stance:

  • Stephen Thompson
  • Gunnar Nelson
  • Conor McGregor
  • Lyoto Machida
  • Michelle Waterson

4. MMA

The MMA stance is overwhelmingly used in MMA and has the following key features.

1. Squared stance with the lead foot facing forward

This makes sure outside leg kicks can be checked and the front leg can be slid backward with ease to avoid single-leg takedown attempts.

2. Even weight distribution

The weight is 50/50 between the front foot and the back foot as this is well-balanced and allows a fighter to easily shift their weight forward or backward when needed. Fighters stay on the balls of both feet so they’re light and ready to move when needed.

3. Slight forward lean

This keeps fighters ready to instantly defend takedowns as they have a low center of gravity and are in a position to sprawl.

Fighters also drop their weight and slightly bend their knees to remain grounded as this helps defend against takedowns.

Slightly leaning forward also gets you closer to the opponent where they can be hit with fast and accurate jabs.

4. Medium to high guard

Due to the versatility of striking tools in MMA, fighters need to have a medium to high guard to defend the head from being knocked out. However, if it’s too high and tight, vision is impeded and opponents tend to swarm, or they’ll target the body where liver shots can end fights.

MMA stance

Overall, the MMA stance is much more well-balanced than the muay Thai, boxing, and karate stances, by blending the three and also adding elements of a wrestling stance such as a slight forward lean and low center of gravity. Of the three, it’s most similar to the muay Thai stance but with a lean forward.

Once an MMA fighter has started with the MMA stance and made reads on their opponent, they may start to adopt more of a pure stance depending on what they believe will work.

The Bottom Line

The most common MMA stances are muay Thai, boxing, karate, and a blend of these three with some other martial arts such as wrestling to create an MMA stance. 

Wrestling is another MMA stance but it’s not very common in MMA because it has fighters too low to the ground and their head and upper body too far forward. This makes takedown shots extremely telegraphed and getting knocked out very easy.

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