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Grappling Vs Boxing – 7 Differences & Which Is More Effective

Boxing is one of the most well-known sports and has been practiced for many hundreds of years. But, all fighting sports are not the same: some are more effective than others, and they also vary in how difficult they are to learn. Below is a summary of which is better – boxing or grappling martial arts, and the 7 differences between them.

Overall, grappling is better for real fighting and self defense. Grappling is on average superior provided the grappler can avoid getting punched before closing the distance. After that a grappler will easily dominate a boxer.

The main differences between grappling and boxing are the number of techniques, the belt ranking system, the uniform/clothing you wear, and how common it is to get injured when training or competing.

Below, I’ll take a look at:

  • The 7 major differences between grappling and boxing
  • Is grappling better than striking?
  • Would a boxer beat a jiu-jitsu fighter
  • Is grappling harder than striking?
Boxing training with a punch bag

The 7 Major Differences Between Grappling And Boxing

1. Grappling Is Far More Complicated And Difficult To Learn Than Boxing

Boxing is very simple relative to grappling. The reason is there are only 4 major punches according to professional boxing coaches like Freddie Roach:

  1. A jab
  2. A straight – also called a cross
  3. An uppercut
  4. A hook.

But, there are also the same 4 punches but to the lower body – the abdomen area. It’s also possible to throw a hook with the dominant hand, usually the right hand. But, it is less common.

Therefore, in total there are only 8 strikes.

On the other hand, in grappling there are A LOT of moves. Grappling involves joint locks, throws, and strangle holds. 

There are multiple joints in the body such as the elbow, shoulder, and ankle. As a result, the number of moves, and the ways to get out of each move are far greater in number.

For example, in a typical judo curriculum there are 12 techniques just to go from being a white belt – the first belt – to getting a yellow belt. There are usually a total of 5 belts. And each belt has more and more techniques. 

In total there are around 100 techniques total.

A full list of all the techniques in judo is provided on the Kodokan judo website, which can be accessed here. It also shows videos of all the techniques, such as a foot sweep type throw, to an advantageous pinning position called a ‘O-soto-makikomi’.

Interestingly, I recently did a survey where over 400 people interested in martial arts responded.

In the survey, I asked the question: which martial art is the hardest to learn? I then provided a list of options.

Here’s a table that shows the results of the survey:

Martial ArtNumber of votesPercentage of total votes
Muay Thai or kickboxing5212.2%
Brazilian jiu jitsu19144.9%

As you can see from the table, the martial arts with the most votes are all grappling martial arts. Whereas, those that received the least number of votes are striking martial arts. 

Therefore, it’s clear to say that grappling martial arts are harder to learn.

I explained why in detail in another article which you can read here, that explains the 6 hardest martial arts.

2. Grappling Involves Virtually No Strikes

In competitive grappling, virtually no strikes are used.

The exception is in wrestling matches. In wrestling matches, commonly one opponent will cup their hand around the back of their opponent’s neck. 

Doing so, they can pull their opponent’s head down, which puts them off balance and makes it easier to grab them in a dominant position. This is often seen as grabbing their leg, foot, or around their waist.

It’s common for this type of grabbing of the neck to resemble more of a slap. But, it is somewhere in between a grab and a slap.

However, it’s technically forbidden in the rules to strike another person. 

This fact only applies to grappling competitions. In many grappling martial arts, the knowledge of which positions are good for throwing strikes is understood and sometimes trained.

For example, the ‘mount’ position in BJJ is known to be good for throwing strikes. Many standing positions are also taught and known to be good for throwing knees. 

But, overall, other than that, grappling involves no strikes.

The main emphasis is on putting an opponent into a position where they can’t escape. Also, they will be focussing on adjusting as their opponent tries to escape and remain in a dominant position.

By contrast, boxing is virtually all strikes, with only a small emphasis on grabbing onto an opponent to avoid a dangerous position in the ring.

A boxer will grab onto the other boxer and try to hold them so they can recover from a hard strike, or if they are very tired. That’s pretty much it.

3. Boxing Has Fewer Injuries Than Grappling

Getting injured is a common issue that occurs in sports, as well as in martial arts. In an ideal world, people would never get injured at all. However, some sports are more injury prone than others. 

Interestingly boxing has fewer injuries than grappling martial arts like judo, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

It has been shown in surveys of BJJ and boxing competitors that the rates of injury in a competitive match are:

  • Boxing – 17%
  • Judo – 12.3% to 30%
  • Brazilian jiu-jitsu – 28.6%
  • Collegiate wrestling – 2% (source)

Wrestling has one of the lowest rates of injury out of the grappling martial arts. And boxing has a high rate of injury per competitive match relative to wrestling. 

But, compared to judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu, boxing has a lower rate of injury. Boxing has about half the rate of injury that BJJ and judo have. 

Two Brazillian Jiu Jitsu fighters grappling
Grappling martial arts like BJJ have a higher level of injury than striking sports like boxing

4. The Way To Win A Match Is Different

The ways to win a competitive match in grappling do vary based on the grappling martial art. It generally revolves around submitting, throwing, or pinning your opponent. 

On the other hand, in boxing the objective is to win by knocking an opponent out, punching them so much they can’t continue or winning on points based on landing more punches than the other competitor.

5. Grapplers Have An Easier Time Transitioning To MMA

In boxing, the rules state that opponents in a competitive match can not grapple (source).

If you’ve ever watched a boxing match, it is common for boxers to hug each other. But, when this happens the referee will call a break, and separate both boxers. 

Therefore, the only way a boxer can win a competitive boxing match is with strikes. They don’t have the option to win due to a submission hold, or by pinning their opponent to the ground.

On the other hand, in grappling a competitor can use the advantageous positions they can get into to throw strikes. 

For this reason, there have been many wrestlers who have had good success in mixed martial arts. In this, they can hold an opponent down, and continually throw strikes. 

Every time their opponent tries to get back to their feet, they can keep them down, until eventually they win.

On the other hand, a pure boxer ONLY has boxing skills. They will have a very difficult time against a grappler or someone who is good at takedowns. 

As a result, a boxer or striker typically has a very hard time dealing with someone who is very skilled in grappling.

Often, they spend the entire match trying to avoid getting taken down, getting back to their feet, and disengaging where they have room to throw strikes.

Grapplers also typically learn just enough striking to avoid getting hit long enough to find an opportunity to grab their opponent.

On the other hand, a boxer would need to be at a very high level of grappling to avoid getting taken down by an experienced wrestler, or judoka (person who does judo).

6. Boxing Has Different Clothing Than Grappling Martial Arts

When training in boxing, there is no strict clothing requirement.

Typically, you can get away with some running shoes, a singlet, and shorts. People who are into boxing will often get boxing shoes and boxing-related clothing.

In grappling, on the other hand, a kimono – also called a gi – is commonly worn. It is mandatory in judo and jiu-jitsu. The one exception is no-gi jiu-jitsu. 

Also, as you may know, in wrestling they wear an even more unique uniform with a one-piece, shorts, and singlet, which is very different from anything a person would wear to train in boxing or compete in a boxing match.

7. Boxing And Grappling Use Different Strategies For Fighting

In a mixed martial arts match or a self-defense situation, distance is very important. A striker such as a boxer or a kickboxer would like to keep the fight standing. 

On the other hand, a grappler would like to get in close, and, ideally, take their opponent to the ground.

A specialist grappler is not looking to engage in a striking match, and a boxer is not looking to wrestle and grapple.

If a boxer can keep away from a grappler, or a person who is trying to tackle or grab them, they will have a big advantage and can likely win the fight.

On the other hand, if a grappler can get in close and grab their opponent, they will typically be at a big advantage and can win the fight.

In both cases, if the distance that each fighter is from the other is not what either fighter wants, the high level of skill they will have is largely useless.

A boxer is looking to avoid all strikes and land significant strikes. A grappler is looking to avoid strikes, and get into a clinching position. In a clinching position, they can throw, or take down their opponent. 

Is Grappling Better Than Striking?

There are two main aspects to a real fight such as in the UFC: one is grappling and the other is striking.

They are unique but sometimes overlap. But, is grappling better than striking?

As a general rule, grappling is not better than striking. Grappling is superior to striking provided the grappler can get close enough to their opponent, and/or the fight goes to the ground. Striking is superior if the striker is in striking range and can keep the fight standing.

A striker will always try to avoid the clinch, and a grappler will always try to get to the clinch. So, neither is superior to the other. They cover different aspects of the fight. 

One thing that can be said about striking martial arts is that using your hands to punch can lead to a hand injury.

If you throw a punch and miss your target you can hit something hard like a wall.

If this happens, you can injure your hand and not be able to use your hands again.

This typically isn’t an issue if you are throwing elbows and knees because they are made of larger bones that don’t break or sprain as easily.

Therefore, it could be argued that grappling is a better strategy overall because a person can win a fight without risking breaking their hand.

Would a Boxer Beat a Jiu-Jitsu Fighter?

A very common interesting question about martial arts is which martial arts style can beat another martial arts style.

At the end of the day, everyone would agree that they would not want to train in a martial art that can easily be beaten by another martial art.

So, here’s whether a boxer could beat a jiu-jitsu fighter…

In general, a jiu jitsu fighter would beat a boxer, but only if the jiu jitsu fighter can close the distance and grab the boxer before the boxer can land a significant strike. Once a jiu jitsu fighter grabs hold of a boxer, it’s virtually guaranteed they will win against the boxer.

The one way that a boxer would win against a jiu jitsu fighter is if the boxer can land a heavy punch when the jiu jitsu fighter is trying to close the distance. 

Otherwise, a jiu jitsu fighter will very easily be able to take a boxer to the ground. And then apply a submission hold. Or control them so that they can’t escape, and land as many strikes as they like to end the fight.

Is Grappling Harder Than Striking?

There are many different martial arts. However, some are very similar to each other.

The two broad categories of martial arts are grappling and striking and are quite different from each other.

But, here’s a rundown of whether grappling is harder to learn and do than striking…

Overall, grappling is harder than striking. Both grappling and striking require a similar level of physical fitness. But, grappling has far more techniques than striking. As a result, it takes longer to learn.

The training that a professional grappler does (like an Olympic wrestler, or a BJJ competitor), and that of a professional striker (such as a kickboxer, or a professional boxer) are virtually identical. 

They will do some weight lifting such as cardio light running, swimming, or cycling as well as some specific drills related to their sport.

In striking this would be hitting pads, and sparring. And in grappling this would be drilling specific moves, and sparring.

Therefore, there is very little difference in the physicality required for striking compared to grappling.