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Kickboxing for MMA – Everything You Need To Know

Any martial arts can technically be used in mixed martial arts (MMA), provided you don’t violate the rules of MMA. Kickboxing is a well-known and effective martial art that is utilized by virtually all UFC fighters to some degree. Today, I will explain everything there is to know about kickboxing for MMA. 

In general, any style of kickboxing is good for MMA. But, martial arts experts like Joe Rogan have stated that kickboxing is superior to boxing as a striking art. The reason is that boxers are not trained in blocking and avoiding kicks. Therefore, a kickboxer can land kicks on a boxer with ease.

There are a few different styles of kickboxing, such as Muay Thai and Dutch kickboxing, and they differ due to the rules of each type. Below, I will cover:

  • How good kickboxing is for MMA,
  • What style of kickboxing is the best for MMA
  • Many of the best MMA fighters and their kickboxing backgrounds
  • Additional skills to add alongside kickboxing for MMA
  • Which is harder – kickboxing or MMA?
Kickboxing is good for MMA
All four main styles of kickboxing are good for MMA

Is Kickboxing Good for MMA

MMA champions often have a specialty in a particular martial art, and some MMA fighters have a background in kickboxing. So, here’s a rundown of how good kickboxing is for MMA.

As a general rule, kickboxing is good for MMA. Kickboxing is one of the 4 core martial arts that are used most successfully in MMA which are boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, and Brazilian jiu jitsu. All successful MMA fighters have advanced kickboxing skills.

For example, many of the top MMA competitors travel to Thailand to train intensely in Muay Thai with trainers there. Destinations include the well-known Tiger Muay Thai training facility in Phuket, Thailand.

Famous MMA fighters have trained there are:

  • Petr Yan
  • Alexander Volkanovski (UFC Champion)
  • Valentina Shevchenko (UFC Champion)
  • Cody Galbrant
  • Israel Adesanya
  • Dan Hooker
  • Darren Till

However, at that facility, they also train the other martial arts involved in mixed martial arts such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling.

Many of the top MMA fighters have a kickboxing background

Various top MMA fighters did only kickboxing before transitioning to MMA. Nowadays MMA is very well known, and people start training in MMA from a very young age. 

However, this only occurred in the last 10 years or so. Prior to that martial arts athletes did not see much benefit in training in MMA. Instead they specialized in one disciple such as judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing, or kickboxing.

Therefore, many of the top MMA fighters today have very long kickboxing backgrounds. These kickboxers transition to MMA, where a bit of grappling training helped them to do incredibly well. Kickboxing and grappling is a combination of two skill sets that has proven to be incredibly successful in MMA.

Examples of fighters who did this are:

  • Israel Adesanya – 80 kickboxing fights
  • Mark Hunt – 43 kickboxing fights
  • Joanna Jędrzejczyk – 29 kickboxing fights
  • Alistair Overeem – 15 kickboxing fights
  • Stephen Thompson – 55 kickboxing fights

Why kickboxing is good for MMA

There are two main aspects to MMA:

Where both people are standing, and where both people are on the ground. Added to that, there is also the middle ground which is what is called the clinch. The clinch is where both people are grabbing each other and attempting to wrestle each other to the ground.

The reason kickboxing is good for MMA is that:

  • It is considered the best for fighting when both people are standing
  • It also has trips, and clinch work
  • It trains to throw strikes from the clinch

In an MMA fight, both fighters can be standing the entire fight, whereas in other disciplines there can be:

  • A mix of fighting while standing
  • Fighting while on the ground
  • Or the fight can primarily be on the ground.

When standing the strikes that can be used are:

  • Punches
  • Kicks
  • Knees
  • Elbows

Kickboxing uses all of these skills. Also, when learning kickboxing you are training specifically in landing these strikes and defending against these strikes. 

There is no best kickboxing style

Joe Rogan, the famous UFC commentator and podcaster, has stated that there is no best style of kickboxing. He believes it does not matter if it’s Dutch kickboxing, Muay Thai (Thailand), or Savate (French). Here’s a quote:

“There is not a better (kickboxing) style… it’s the athlete, as well as, how they incorporate it in”

– Joe Rogan (source)

He goes on to state that if a person is a specialist in a particular aspect of MMA, then they use this to their advantage. Some examples would be:

  • A wrestler who can hold people down and do ground and pound
  • Or a Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter who, once the fight gets on the ground will almost always get a submission.

Not so obvious advantages of kickboxing over boxing for MMA

Boxing and kickboxing are the two most used striking martial arts in MMA and are considered to be the most effective striking arts for MMA. At a first glance, having good kicks is an advantage a kickboxer has over a boxer.

A boxer is generally untrained in receiving kicks and defending them. |On the other hand, kickboxers train in this skillset them from day one of training.

For this reason, if a kickboxer were to fight a boxer, the ideal strategy for the kickboxer would be to keep them at a distance, and even somewhat runaway, while utilizing their superior skills in kicks to gain an advantage.

In kickboxing, leg kicks are very common, and are incredibly effective. It’s common for leg kicks to play a significant part in a fight. Such as the famous UFC match between Jose Aldo, and Urijah Faber:

In this fight, Jose Aldo was able to land leg kicks over and over again. A pure boxer never trains how to defend against leg kicks. Therefore, they would be relatively wide open for some pretty devastating leg kicks!

The boxer’s only option is to avoid kicks as much as possible, and get within punching range to land punches.

However, kickboxing has other less obvious advantages over boxing. These are throwing strikes from the clinch and trips from the clinch. 

With that said, this is only typically taught in Muay Thai, which is the kickboxing style in Thailand. The other very well-known kickboxing style – Dutch kickboxing does not allow elbows, sweeps, and trips.

In boxing, it’s common for two fighters to fight in what boxing and MMA fighters call the ‘phone booth’. This is where both fighters are in close quarters. But, when a clinch lasts more the 2 to 3 seconds, the referee will stop the fight and tell the fighters to ‘break’.

In kickboxing, getting into the clinch, throwing strikes, and using trips are used. Here’s a video that shows how the clinch works in kickboxing:

Also in Thai kickboxing, called Muay Thai, there is what is called a ‘Muay Thai’ clinch. It is very commonly used.

A fighter will clasp both hands around the back of their opponent’s head, and try to land knees to the body and head.

Additional skills a kickboxer would need for MMA

To be competitive in MMA a person who only knows kickboxing would be lacking in grappling skills on the ground. These skills are primarily learned in wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Also, to a lesser extent, they are taught in judo.

In kickboxing, no fighting on the ground is learned.

Therefore, a kickboxer would also need to learn wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

This would give them the ability to keep an opponent on the ground, as well as teach them submission holds such as the rear naked choke, or arm bar.

It would also give them good skills in getting up, and avoiding getting taken to the ground. For a person who is a specialist in kickboxing, the overall fight strategy is to avoid getting taken down and to stay on their feet. 

Whereas, a person who is a specialist in grappling will try to get the fight to the ground as quickly as possible while avoiding getting hit with strikes on the feet.

Is Kickboxing Harder Than MMA?

There are a range of different martial arts, and many differ a lot from each other.

MMA involves knowing a range of different martial arts at least a little bit, whereas, kickboxing is a single martial art. However, here’s a rundown of which is harder: kickboxing or MMA.

In general, kickboxing is easier than MMA. MMA requires a person to know kickboxing, as well as boxing, wrestling, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. On the other hand, in kickboxing, you only need to know kickboxing.

Therefore, MMA takes longer to learn and is more complex than kickboxing alone.

The physical and mental toughness of kickboxing and MMA are about the same. People competing in kickboxing or MMA will do very intense workouts, that involve cardio, weight training, and sparring. 

However, the overall number of techniques is larger for MMA. Therefore, the time it takes to learn all of the skills is longer than kickboxing alone. 

Is Muay Thai or Kickboxing Better for MMA?

There are a few options for striking martial arts in MMA. Kickboxing is used by virtually all MMA fighters but there are a few different types of kickboxing.

One of the most well-known is Muay Thai.

Is Muay Thai or other forms of kickboxing better for MMA?

Overall, Muay Thai is better than kickboxing for MMA. Kickboxing martial arts like Savate do not have elbows, knees, or clinch work. On the other hand, Muay Thai involves all these strikes. Muay Thai is better for both attack and defense.

If one MMA fighter trains in kickboxing (such as Dutch kickboxing) and another fighter trains in Muay Thai, the kickboxer won’t have skills in using and defending against the extra very effective techniques used in Muay Thai.

For example, this involves elbows and clinching. 

While these skills can be learned after the fact, using a pure apples-to-apples comparison a Muay Thai fighter will have a better overall skill set compared to other kickboxing styles.

With that said, at the end of the day, a fight is very unpredictable, and anything can happen.

Is Kickboxing Just MMA Without Grappling?

Kickboxing is primarily a striking martial art. On the other hand, MMA is a mix of both striking and grappling. Both sports are full contact so here’s whether kickboxing is just MMA without grappling.

Overall, kickboxing is MMA without grappling. But, MMA typically is a combination of kickboxing, boxing, wrestling, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Therefore, kickboxing and boxing would technically be MMA without grappling. Also, Muay Thai kickboxing has clinch work, which is a form of grappling.

The rules of mixed martial arts are that grappling is allowed. This is also true in Muay Thai. However, in Muay Thai if the fight goes to the ground both opponents must stop, and both must be standing for the fight to continue.

In other forms of kickboxing such as Dutch kickboxing, grappling – which is called clinching – is more limited. And in Savate (French kickboxing), grappling is not allowed.   

Interestingly, unlike MMA, in Muay Thai the rules are more strict around grappling. For example, in Muay Thai, according to the official rules:

  • Fighters can only clinch if one fighter is active – they are trying to land strikes
  • It’s not allowed to lift an opponent into the air
  • It’s not allowed to grab a person from behind


If two fighters are in a clinch for longer than 3 seconds without any fighter doing anything the referee will stop them, and fighters have to ‘break’ from the clinch and start fighting from a separated position.

However, in MMA the clinch can often last longer than 5 seconds without anything happening. Each referee is slightly different.

But, most referees will warn fighters after nothing has been happening for about 5 seconds. This is a bit longer than in Muay Thai.

Also, in MMA it’s perfectly fine for fighters to lift each other in the air, as well as grapple them from behind. Interestingly, in a fight, having control of someone from behind by clasping your hands together around their upper body is a very strong position.

Also, it makes it easy to get the person to the ground. This is a position known as ‘the back’ and applies to both fighting on the ground, where it is almost the best position in a fight, as well as when standing.