Are you wondering what the different types of MMA shorts worn by MMA and UFC fighters are?
In this article, we’ll examine the different types of MMA shorts worn by MMA/UFC fighters and the benefits and drawbacks of each, finishing with a section about which type of MMA shorts are best.
What Are the Different Types of MMA Shorts/UFC Shorts?
The four main types of MMA shorts are:
- Board Shorts
- Vale Tudo Shorts (Compression Shorts)
- Gladiator Shorts
- Skort (Women Only)
All of them come in different lengths and colors, and MMA/UFC fighters are free to use whichever style of MMA shorts they please. They simply mustn’t have exposed pockets, zippers, or velcro, as per the Official Unified Rules of MMA.
Let’s take a look at the three styles of MMA shorts and the benefits and drawbacks of each.
1. Board Shorts
Before the UFC-Reebok deal started in 2015, UFC fighters mostly wore large board shorts very similar to the board shorts used by surfers.
In 2023, these board shorts are still worn but they’re much more fitted, stretchy where needed, and fit for the purpose of MMA.
MMA board shorts are the longest of the three and finish an inch or two above the knee. They also come in a mid-thigh length for men, and a much shorter length pair for women.
They’re lightweight and made from a polyester and elastane mix and have an elastic waistband. As an example, the UFC board shorts are 88% polyester and 12% elastane. Some also have a drawstring and velcro closure.
Benefits of MMA Board Shorts
MMA fighters may wear board shorts for the following benefits:
1. Board shorts were the most popular shorts worn in the UFC up until 2014, so they’re considered traditional shorts.
2. Board shorts are the longest type of MMA shorts. This makes them great for hiding damage via leg kicks to the quads or hamstrings. If an opponent sees large bruising or very red areas on their opponent’s leg, they’ll likely target the legs to inflict further damage. Board shorts prevent this from happening.
3. They’re aesthetically pleasing and don’t show a man’s package when a cup isn’t worn underneath. This means they can also be worn for general everyday activities outside of MMA/combat sports.
4. Very breathable because they’re open at the bottom and many have mesh inserts.
5. Board shorts can be paired with compression shorts. This means fighters can take all of the associated benefits (see below) of compression shorts. They can even wear their cup in the compression shorts underneath instead of a jockstrap system if they prefer this.
6. Many board shorts have an adjustable drawstring in the waist and a velcro closure which means their tightness can be adjusted to a person’s preference. Adjusting the tightness is also helpful depending on the type of martial art being trained, whether it be only wrestling, striking, or a mix of both.
7. Before the UFC sponsorship with Reebok and now Venum, the board shorts were better for outside sponsors and fighters as their longer length meant more could be advertised on board shorts and both made more money.
Drawbacks of MMA Board Shorts
Some MMA fighters don’t wear MMA board shorts for the following reasons.
1. MMA board shorts are looser and longer and therefore hide the glutes and leg muscles more than the other shorts. For some MMA fighters, the MMA board shorts can make their legs look skinny in comparison to their upper body.
Fighters who prefer to show these muscles choose not to wear MMA board shorts. Choosing to show huge leg muscles may make an opponent more concerned with leg kicks and wrestling and you start to see how it can affect the tactics of a fight.
2. With a looser fit, especially at the bottom near the knee, it’s easier for opponents to grab or step on them. And while grabbing shorts is illegal, some fighters do this when in a clinch, when shooting for a double leg against the cage, or on the ground.
Grabbing shorts is done out of the referee’s sight and fighters can get away with it.
3. The MMA board shorts that don’t have a cup insert means fighters must wear a jockstrap-style cup underneath. Some fighters feel more restricted by this and therefore avoid MMA board shorts.
2. Vale Tudo Shorts (Compression Shorts)
- 78% Polyester / 22% Elastane
- Heat-glued strips
- Sublimated graphics
The second type of MMA shorts is the Vale Tudo shorts, which are essentially thicker versions of compression shorts and therefore more suitable for use in public. Vale Tudo shorts are worn by both male and female MMA fighters, with the female pair being much shorter.
They tightly hug the skin and come in a long length which is around 2 to 3 inches above the knee, and a short/medium length which runs to around the midpoint of the quads.
Like the board shorts, most Vale Tudo shorts are made with a polyester and elastane mix, but with a higher percentage of elastane. For example, the UFC Vale Tudo shorts are 78% polyester and 22% elastane.
Benefits of MMA Vale Tudo Shorts
MMA fighters wear Vale Tudo shorts for the following reasons:
1. The tight compression works like a rash guard to protect the skin from abrasions. It also reduces chafing and irritation.
2. The tight-fitting compression keeps the glutes and leg muscles warm to decrease the risk of injury. It also helps improve blood flow to these muscles which provides them with more oxygen and allows them to work harder for longer.
3. The tight-fitting compression reduces muscle vibration which can reduce muscle fatigue and help improve performance.
4. Compression wear is said to improve proprioception (kinesthesia). This is the body’s ability to sense its location and movement. Essentially, Vale Tudo shorts may help fighters be more in tune when fighting and therefore perform better. Think of it like bodybuilders improving their mind-muscle connection.
5. The tight fitting of Vale Tudo shorts makes them hard to grab.
6. Many of them contain a cup pocket, meaning fighters can wear just one layer (the Vale Tudo shorts) and be worn with or without a jockstrap cup system. Many find this more freeing and comfortable.
7. Being made with a higher percentage of elastane and lower polyester compared to the other MMA shorts means the Vale Tudo shorts are the most stretchy and therefore highly durable for the rigors of MMA training/competition.
Drawbacks of MMA Vale Tudo Shorts
MMA fighters would choose not to wear Vale Tudo shorts for the following reasons:
1. They’re tight-fitting, and while this doesn’t hinder movement at all, some fighters don’t like this tightness when fighting as it can be uncomfortable or distracting.
2. They can show damage to the legs which makes an opponent likely to target that area.
3. They’re not the most aesthetically pleasing and can be too revealing – especially when worn without a cup.
3. Gladiator Shorts
- 87% Polyester / 13% Spandex plain weave fabric
- Speedwick technology
- Bonded waistband with inner drawcord
Gladiator shorts are essentially MMA board shorts with a large split on the outside of each leg, much larger than board shorts may have. Gladiator MMA shorts only come in mid-thigh length.
As gladiator shorts are essentially board shorts, they’re made with a similar mix of materials. For example, the UFC gladiator shorts are also made with 88% polyester and 12% elastane, just like the board shorts are. Gladiator shorts also often have an elastic waistband.
The gladiator shorts were created because of their similar look to the popular Muay Thai shorts, which means MMA fighters can train/compete with similar aesthetics.
Benefits of MMA Gladiator Shorts
MMA fighters may wear gladiator shorts for the following reasons:
1. Great design which looks similar to Muay Thai shorts.
2. Increased airflow due to them being the most open MMA shorts. This makes the gladiator shorts ideal for training and competing in hot conditions.
3. Complete range of motion without any feelings of restriction when kicking. This makes the gladiator shorts ideal for MMA fighters who use a lot of kicks, especially head kicks.
4. Gladiator shorts can be paired with compression shorts. This means fighters can take all of the associated benefits (see above).
5. They’re aesthetically pleasing and don’t show a man’s package when a cup isn’t worn underneath.
6. Gladiator shorts are typically made from the thinnest and lightest material which offers great comfort and less feelings of restriction.
Drawbacks of MMA Gladiator Shorts
MMA fighters may decide against wearing gladiator shorts because of the following drawbacks:
1. Gladiator shorts flail because of the large slits on the sides. This means they can be more easily grabbed or stepped on by an opponent when in clinch positions.
2. The large slit reveals even more leg damage than the Vale Tudo shorts.
3. The flailing of the shorts may be distracting for some fighters.
4. Skort (Women’s MMA Shorts)
- 81% Polyester / 19% Elastane
- Featherweight fabric
- Skirt with integrated compression shorts
Worn by female MMA fighters, the skort is a mix of compression shorts underneath and a skirt most similar to the board shorts on top. The skort is the shortest pair of MMA shorts for women, with the compression shorts coming out the bottom of the skirt.
They also have small slits in the sides and an elasticated waistband.
Benefits of MMA skorts
Female MMA fighters may wear skorts for the following benefits:
1. They have all the benefits of compression shorts (see above).
2. Very short look for the women who prefer it.
3. They have small slits in the side which offer a full range of motion and unrestricted movement when training/competing.
There aren’t any drawbacks to wearing a skort rather than board shorts for female MMA fighters.
Which Type of MMA Shorts Are Best?
The most popular MMA shorts worn by UFC fighters are the Vale Tudo shorts (compression shorts). The benefits are slightly more than the gladiator and board shorts, and they’re very comfortable once a person gets used to them.
However, all three are great options and more or less offer the same benefits for MMA training/competing.
If the benefits of one particular style were much larger than the other two styles, all three wouldn’t be used because the UFC is hyper-competitive and fighters are looking for the smallest of margins to help them win.
If the Vale Tudo shorts were by far the best style of MMA shorts, then Khabib Nurmagomedov, Max Holloway, Tony Ferguson, and countless other greats/champions wouldn’t have worn board shorts, and Jon Jones wouldn’t have worn gladiator shorts.
However, all three are used which means the benefits of one over the other are minimal.
It comes down to personal preference, which is mostly decided by which pair of MMA shorts are most comfortable for a fighter/practitioner, and secondly how aesthetically pleasing they are.
With this in mind, here are the best-selling MMA shorts on Amazon.
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The Bottom Line
So, ‘what are the different types of MMA shorts?’
The different types of MMA shorts are board shorts, Vale Tudo shorts, gladiator shorts, and skorts for women only.
Each has its own benefits and drawbacks, but the benefits of one do not outweigh the other styles in terms of affecting the outcome of a fight.
Fighters pick their preferred style of MMA shorts based on which they find most comfortable, and secondly which they find eye-catching.