Tips for Getting into Amateur MMA

Tips for Getting into Amateur MMA

Mixed martial arts has become a promising career path for combat sport and martial art enthusiasts, offering multiple opportunities for fame, recognition, and financial stability. With international MMA promotions, such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship, successfully organizing numerous fight events and fight nights each year, the MMA frenzy is continuously on the rise worldwide. But the journey to success in mixed martial arts is long, laborious, and full of challenges.

To become a mixed martial artist, you need to get into amateur MMA first before progressing to professional MMA. Both phases come with their own unique set of challenges. From finding a good and affordable MMA training program to managing finances, supporting one's accommodation, travel, MMA gear, and everyday expenses, searching for and participating in different local and small-scale MMA fights, and also fulfilling other responsibilities, the road to MMA is anything but easy.

Once you have considered all the potential challenges of leading the lifestyle of an amateur mixed martial artist, you need to choose a martial art discipline on which to develop your fighting style. MMA fighters are usually experts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu , Muay Thai , judo, kickboxing, wrestling , or another martial art. To their refined martial art skills, they add striking and kicking practice to become a well-rounded mixed martial artist capable of taking on fighters having different backgrounds and fighting styles.

But does choosing one martial art discipline, developing a strong skill set, and then incorporating MMA fighting skills into your training routines encompass all it takes to get into amateur MMA? Not really. There is more to the story you need to know to make your amateur MMA debut smooth. In this article, Elite Sports brings you some of the most valuable tips and advice to help you get into amateur MMA and make a name for yourself. From choosing the right martial art and MMA gym to stress management, tips on injury prevention, and also staying consistent, this article has you fully covered. 

1. What is Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)?

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a fast-paced hybrid combat sport that involves fighting techniques from a wide range of martial art disciplines, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, wrestling, judo, kickboxing, and karate, boxing, and others. Mixed martial artists can use ground-based grappling techniques, striking, standing fighting techniques, leg work, throws, chokes, clinching techniques, takedowns, and submission techniques to overpower their opponents in the fighting cage. The term mixed martial arts (MMA) was first used in 1993 by Howard Rosenberg while reviewing the UFC 1 fight event. 

In mixed martial arts, many violent fighting maneuvers are legal and fighters usually aim to secure a brutal knockout or a lethal submission finish. Therefore, both grappling and striking techniques are key to dominating one’s rivals in the cage. In an MMA fight, a fighter competing in a main event usually fights five rounds while those competing in an early preliminary, preliminary, or main card typically fight three rounds. If an MMA fight lasts for the complete 3-5 rounds or ‘goes the distance’ in MMA jargon, then the winner is decided based on judges’ scoreboard. Amateur MMA fights typically follow the standardized schedule of rounds, finishes, and scorecards. 

2. Are MMA and UFC the Same?

Over the years, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has become synonymous with mixed martial arts (MMA), primarily because of its high subscriptions, viewership, and global popularity. Talented amateur MMA fighters often aspire to become professional and secure a contract with the UFC. However, despite being the modern face of mixed martial arts, the UFC is not MMA, and vice versa. The Ultimate Fighting Championship is a promotion or an organization that signs MMA fighters and hosts MMA events. On the other hand, MMA is a combat sport and not merely a platform. 

3. Tips for Getting into Amateur MMA

To get into amateur MMA, you need to become a versatile fighter who can easily handle different circumstances, techniques, and opponents in a cage. Mixed martial arts has become an extremely competitive domain with new talent emerging everyday. Therefore, you need to be willing to work harder and diligently than other aspirants to get noticed and attract more opportunities. You need to first tweak your lifestyle and become more disciplined. Try to work on your strength, stamina, and overall fitness levels.

Come up with a plan to fund your goal to become an amateur and eventually a professional MMA fighter. Focus on creating a strong digital presence by documenting your day-to-day activities as an amateur MMA aspirant, and all the while making out time to train MMA full time. Here are some valuable tips to get you started and help you get into amateur MMA. 

3.1. Learn a Martial Art Before Training MMA

When it comes to starting MMA training, amateur MMA aspirants need to consider two schools of thought to determine the best approach for themselves. While some may choose to start MMA training directly, others may want to establish a strong foundation in one particular traditional martial art as per recommendations. Here are some tips for both aspects of MMA training:

Gaining Experience in Traditional Martial Art First

While it is possible to start MMA training directly, it is usually not recommended. MMA is a hybrid fighting format that incorporates techniques from various martial arts and having expertise or knowledge of one or more martial arts helps develop a profound understanding of fighting concepts and their applications, making it easier for you to combine different techniques that are essential for success in MMA.

By training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, Muay Thai, or some other traditional martial art, you will become more adept at submissions, maneuvers, grappling, and striking techniques. Moreover, having an understanding of different martial art disciplines gives you the leverage you need to use an opponent’s moves and fighting style against him. Starting with one martial art discipline can help you develop the mindset and discipline you need to get into and make progress in amateur MMA. If this approach suits you better, choose one martial art to train in before enrolling in MMA classes. 

Training MMA Directly Without Prior Martial Art Experience

Having said that, if you are already physically fit, are naturally talented or knowledgeable about MMA or other combat sports, and are willing to dedicate all your time and energy to MMA training, then start with MMA training directly. As you train MMA, ask your instructor to tell you which techniques belong to which martial art to develop an understanding of the fundamentals of different martial arts. 

3.2. Try Different Martial Arts to Find Your Natural Fighting Style

Whether you choose to train MMA directly or develop expertise in one martial art first, it is important to find out which martial art resonates with your natural fighting style. Typically, it takes a few weeks of training sessions or trying out different martial arts to determine the martial art you want to specialize in. For this, you can train Muay Thai or traditional jiu-jitsu for a few months, follow this up with wrestling or boxing training sessions for a couple of months to develop a well–rounded skill set. This way, you will become a versatile fighter and also able to choose one martial art to specialize in. After this, when you take up MMA training, you will be better able to grasp the concepts and apply them in the cage. It is worth mentioning here that once you start MMA training, avoid training at a different gym or school to remain focused. 

3.3. Learning Both Grappling and Striking Techniques

In MMA, usually those fighters who are either the best strikers or the best grapplers in the world succeed the most. While it is not a hard-and-fast rule, one cannot deny the importance of both grappling and striking skills in the cage. As you start MMA training, be sure to give equal amounts of time to train both these skills. If you have good grappling skills, you can easily dominate your opponent when the fight hits the ground. On the other hand, if your opponent is aiming to continue fighting in a standing position, your powerful and relentless strikes will help you secure the knockout finish. Therefore, both grappling and striking are indispensable skills for amateur MMA fighters who want to become proficient.

When choosing a martial art to specialize in, keep this principle in mind and ask yourself: Which martial arts will make me a good grappler and an excellent striker? The combination of martial arts that comes to mind usually looks something like this: wrestling or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for grappling, and Muay Thai, kickboxing, boxing, or karate for striking. If traditional BJJ seems too slow-paced for your explosive fighting style, you can opt for No-Gi BJJ instead. Having a background in grappling and striking allows you to effortlessly segue from one technique to the next, making you less predictable for your rival and always in control. Since modern MMA is also evolving continuously, the importance of dual training cannot be emphasized enough. 

3.4. Amateur and Professional MMA Are Run in a Similar Format

If you are a martial artist that has competed on different amateur platforms, such as amateur boxing competitions, amateur Muay Thai fights, BJJ competitions at blue or purple belt levels, or amateur wrestling tournaments, it is important to unlearn the fight format at these amateur events to properly understand and familiarize yourself with amateur MMA fight format.

Unlike other combat sports, amateur MMA fights are run the same way as professional MMA fights. For example, if you watch Cage Wars MMA amateur fights, you will observe that everything in their fight show from weigh-ins to fighter pairings and event cards is just like a professional UFC fight. Amateur MMA events are also organized every two to three months, much like the UFC that hosts none or more events in one year.

For the fights, expect an amateur MMA fight promoter to reach out to you and invite you to compete in a particular event against another amateur fighter who may have a win streak of 1-0 or 2-0, or some other record. Unlike other amateur combat sports where you have to register, go for weigh-ins, and then hope that there will be another fighter at the event in the same weight class as you that you can compete against, in amateur MMA, you know the date of the event and the fighter two to three months ahead of the fight.

This prior knowledge about your opponent allows you to research more on your opponent’s fighting styles, strengths, and weaknesses, but it can also be quite daunting. In this case, it is important to focus on improving your skills to a point where you can handle your opponent and may as well emerge victorious in your first fight. 

3.5. Treat Amateur MMA Fights as Professional Fights

Amateur MMA promotions expect you to treat your first and all other fights with professionalism. If you fail to show up on time for weigh-ins, miss your medical exams, double-book yourself for the same fight weekend, or withdraw from a fight last minute for no particular reason or health issue, the consequences can be dire with you even getting blacklisted by local promoters. Therefore, be reliable and fight on the cards that you accept. This will open more fight opportunities for you and help you develop a good profile.

3.6. Develop Reliable Sources of Income

Amateur MMA fighters do not get paid; therefore, when deciding to enter the MMA circuit, it is important to have realistic expectations. You cannot expect to earn thousands of dollars fighting as an amateur fighter. Even when you become a professional fighter, you might not make enough if you don’t make it to the giant promotions of the MMA world. From crowd funding to sponsorships, side hustles, or a passive income source, you need to have an effective plan to smoothly finance your MMA training to fight at the amateur level, get better, and advance to professional MMA. 

3.7. Amateur MMA Is Not a Full-Time Career

Contrary to what many amateur MMA aspirants choose to believe, amateur MMA can never be a full-time career until you make it to professional MMA fights. As mentioned, amateur MMA fights do not pay, and no matter how much time you dedicate to training, fight weekends, seminars, giving private lessons, coaching in MMA clubs, selling merchandise, it might still not be enough to earn a decent living or support a comfortable lifestyle. When planning to get into amateur MMA, it is important to understand that it is a time-intensive hobby that has the potential to turn into a successful career one day.

Having this mindset can save you from disappointment when things don’t go your way no matter how much effort you put in. If you have responsibilities, you might need to consider taking a full-time job without quitting amateur MMA. Even if you manage to get your first couple of professional fights, you will still not be making enough money to survive let alone thrive on that amount and upgrade your life. Here, consistency is key. You can work full-time for 8-12 hours a day and train for 2 - 4 hours regularly. For this reason also, the point mentioned before this is extremely important. 

3.8. Find an MMA Gym Having Connections with Promoters

When choosing an MMA gym for your training sessions it is important to make sure that the gym has an active fight team and connections with different promoters. The best way to find MMA gyms that are connected to promoters is to attend different amateur MMA fight events and keep track of the affiliations of each fighter competing at the event. You can also shortlist gyms based on the performance of fighters in a particular fight or their overall win streak.

At the conclusion of the event, you can look for event staff to help you locate someone from that gym, preferably the fighter’s coach. If possible, try to get in touch with the gym members or the instructors at the events to showcase your passion for MMA cage fighting. In case you remain unable to reach out to a well-connected MMA coach at one of the fight events, simply approach the gym in person, gather all the information, check what kind of facilities are offered at the gym, and what are their requirements to join the fight team. Once you are satisfied with your choice of MMA gym and get enrolled, be sure to work hard and eventually show your coach that you are ready to make your amateur MMA debut. 

3.9. Participate in Local MMA Fights

Before you get your first amateur MMA fight with a GAMMA, Cage Warriors, or other similar promotions, try to gain hands-on experience by participating in local MMA fights that are organized by different MMA clubs and gyms. However, be sure to check that the local fights you are participating in don’t have any legal implications. Getting involved in an illegal fighting event can destroy your career before it even begins. Also, this route is only for those who are not willing to join a gym and want to train and create a portfolio independently. Amateur MMA aspirants should never go behind their coach or team’s back and participate in a local MMA competition. If your coach feels you are ready to fight, he will arrange for you to enter the cage himself. Do not put your safety, health, and your gym’s reputation in a difficult position by signing up for a local fight. 

3.10. Avoid Training Independently at the Amateur Level

When it comes to training, do not try to save money by self-learning the sport and drilling different striking techniques with a group of friends who may not know what you need to improve your fighting skills. Furthermore, avoid training at different places just to compare what other MMA gyms look like. It is important to conduct thorough research at the beginning before enrolling in an MMA gym to choose the right one. You will waste both your time and money by changing instructors or gyms every now and then.

Those who train independently or change their gyms after every few months, their training lacks structure and a solid foundation. When you find yourself competing against a fighter who has a strong team, a good bond with his instructor, and a proper training structure, you won’t stand a chance in the cage. At the amateur level, every fight counts to create an attractive portfolio that can help you go pro. Therefore, invest in a good gym to create your dream MMA career. 

3.11. Train At Least Five Days a Week

For success in amateur MMA, consistency is key. Therefore, once you find a solid gym, be sure to train 4-5 days a week even if it is just for an hour. This will help develop a habit and allow you to develop the skills required to get your first amateur fight much faster than training on alternate days or less four days a week. Most professional mixed martial artists follow an intense training schedule every day, which involves working out, cross training, MMA training, or drilling techniques. 

3.12. Do Not Enter the Cage Until You Are Ready

It is important to get your first fight only when you feel that you are ready. But what are the indications that you are ready for your first fight? For this, ask these questions to yourself and your instructor and if both of you are confident that you can take on an opponent in the cage where stakes are too high, it means you really are ready to make your debut. However, if you feel ready but your instructor thinks otherwise and advises you to work on your weak areas, heed his advice.

3.13. Promote Yourself on Social Media

In this digital age, promoting oneself on social media has become the easiest way to open floodgates of opportunities. And no, you will become famous overnight, but eventually, if you keep posting valuable content and share moments from your training sessions or cage fights, you will start getting noticed by others. Moreover, promoting yourself on social media will also help you get accustomed to and create a thick skin against the toxic trash-talk and unnecessary criticism culture prevalent in MMA circles. From opponents to their fans, you might get hate comments on a regular basis. Learn to look past this and establish yourself as a successful amateur MMA fighter. Also, try to collaborate with other YouTubers or podcasters and give interviews as it will help promote your fight and increase your fanbase. 

3.14. Be Willing to Learn from Failures

Winning at the amateur level is a big thing as it helps make your portfolio more impressive to managers and promoters. However, it is important to understand that you will be losing more fights then you will win at the amateur level. This is the phase where instead of dwelling over losses, try to focus on your skill gaps and weak areas and work on them. Once you go professional, your amateur record won’t matter, but the skills you develop at this stage will have a strong impact on your pro MMA career. 

3.15. Plan Amateur Fights 2-3 Months Apart

At the amateur MMA level, your main goal should be learning from your mistakes in the cage. For example, if you have been working on your grappling skills during your MMA training sessions for the past 6-8 months but you still end up getting trapped with your opponent taking your back and making you tap with a lethal armbar or a guillotine choke. Instead of getting demoralized, dust yourself off, and get back to training in the gym from the next day. Before signing up for yet another fight, choose to train for two to three months and practice how to get out of situations where you get trapped. You will see results in the next fight, where you will appear stronger and more prepared to cope with difficult opponents. Even if you lose the fight, you will not be subdued in a matter of mere seconds, which in itself is progress for amateur MMA fighters. 

3.16. Compete Against MMA Fighters with Different Fighting Styles

When training in the gym, compete with different fighters on your team to understand how to defend against and tackle different fighting styles in the cage. Similarly, when you start getting amateur fights, don’t be afraid to go up against fighters that have a different skill set than yours. You should compete with wrestlers, boxers, jiu-jitsu athletes, judokas, Muay Thai practitioners to become more versatile. You would get to use your knowledge and also be able to analyze what works and what should be discarded from your amateur MMA arsenal. 

3.17. Safety First

From your first MMA training session to your first amateur MMA fight, be sure to get into the habit of wearing proper MMA gear. Additionally, it is important to understand the importance of tapping out. Oftentimes, MMA fighters choose not to tap out hoping to make it past the initial few minutes of the fight, and they end up getting badly injured, incapacitated, or even dead. If a referee interrupts and stops the fight because he can see the fight turning dangerous for you, be grateful to him instead of complaining or yelling at him for interfering. Your aim should be to go to the MMA gym regularly which is only possible if you are feeling physically and mentally at your best. 

3.18. Use High Quality MMA Gear

If you want to become one of the best MMA fighters, whether amateur or professional, your performance is highly dependent on the quality of your MMA training gear. A high-quality MMA gear keeps you safe, comfortable, and also helps maximize your athletic performance. A comfortable gear can help you focus on the skills and techniques being taught and will also protect you from injuries, cuts, and bruises. Therefore, never compromise on the quality of your mixed martial arts training accessories and gear if you want to get into and succeed in amateur MMA. 

4. How Long Should You Train Before Your First MMA Fight?

The best way to know how long you should train before your first amateur MMA fight is to talk to your coach. And for your coach to know whether you are ready, it is important that you build trust by listening to him, following his instructions, and taking his critique and constructive feedback. If you have a trusting relationship with your coach, you will surely enter the cage only when you are ready. 

5. Last Words

Getting into amateur MMA fighting requires a lot of strategic planning, long training hours, patience, and a versatile approach to different fighting styles. It is important to consider each tip mentioned in this article and ask yourself whether you really want to dedicate your life to MMA. making it to the professional level takes years and sometimes, even after going pro, you don’t gain the fame, recognition, and success that you had initially expected. If you have the resources or the ability to fund this time-intensive and physically demanding combat sport as your profession, you should definitely give it a try. Also, never push yourself to fight when your gut tells you otherwise. Fighting an amateur fight when you are not ready can be traumatizing and may leave you incapacitated physically and mentally. So put your safety and well-being before your passion to fight in the cage. 

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