Why Are MMA Fighters Bad at Boxing? The REAL Reason Explained


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In recent years, the trend of MMA fighters competing or wanting to compete in boxing has only grown. This is largely due to Conor McGregor’s 2017 boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, with many other MMA fighters looking to emulate the Irishman and earn a lucrative payday. 

MMA fans would assume that MMA fighters should be good at boxing since they are professional fighters after all who train for areas of fighting. But this is not true and there’s a good reason why MMA fighters are bad at boxing.

MMA fighters are bad at boxing because they can’t focus only on boxing training. MMA fighters have to divide their time between training for wrestling, muay thai, and jiujitsu, resulting in not enough time left to train to become good at boxing.

In order to truly understand why MMA fighters are bad at boxing, one must look at what MMA training entails compared to boxing training.

Why Do UFC/MMA fighters have terrible striking compared to boxers?

Any MMA or even UFC fighter competing in boxing against a high-level boxer will not only lose, but they will also probably get outclassed, knocked out or simply be made to look like an amateur. This might surprise you given that boxing is a predominant art in the many arts featured in mixed martial arts. There are so many fighters with crisp hands in the UFC. So why doesn’t it translate to boxing?

Well, for one, there’s the level of expertise. In MMA, fighters not only have to train their striking (boxing), but their kickboxing, takedown defense, wrestling, jiu-jitsu and much more. No art can be neglected in MMA. Boxers, however, only have to worry about their hands. Because they are solely focusing on boxing from their amateur career to daily training to their professional career, they are already at a much higher level compared to the average MMA fighter’s boxing ability. There are some MMA fighters who come from a boxing base, but even then, they are likely to lose against high-level professional boxers.

Another thing to add is because MMA fighters are so used to utilizing other parts of their bodies such as their elbows, knees, and legs, it can be very difficult to make the transition to boxing when you’re sacrificing so many of your weapons. It’s not only the weapons, but stances and overall strategy.

Someone like Khabib Nurmagomedov can get away with a decent-at-best boxing level in the UFC because he is so specialized in grappling and wrestling which, in turn, causes his opponents to worry about defending takedowns. But with no takedown threat in boxing, a boxer won’t have anything to fear and will likely have their way with Nurmagomedov.

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Can MMA Fighters successfully compete in pro boxing?

As a general rule, MMA fighters’ chances of succeeding in pro boxing are not good. This is not to say that MMA fighters will always lose in pro boxing. After all, one just needs to look at former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva’s success since competing in pro boxing following his release from the UFC. Silva was notably able to defeat a former boxing champion in Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. even if he had a size and height advantage. Another MMA fighter who found success in boxing is former UFC and current PFL lightweight Clay Collard, though he has lost his last couple of outings in the sweet science. 

Context is required though as both Silva and Collard weren’t facing the highest level of competition, with Silva even facing a fellow UFC alumni in Tito Ortiz last year. If they were to compete against the best in their weight class, they would undoubtedly suffer defeat. But the main point is that MMA fighters can be successful and get wins in pro boxing, especially if they get carefully-selected matchups with boxers closer to their level.

Does boxing transition well into MMA?

While there are few examples of MMA fighters transitioning to boxing, there are many cases of boxers transitioning to MMA, sometimes even as a full-time career. The most notable names include former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm, Ray Mercer, James Toney and Heather Hardy to name a few. Holm was undoubtedly the most successful boxer to transition to MMA. The others haven’t been so successful or active, and it’s only natural when you go from training one art exclusively to now having to worry about wrestling, jiu-jitsu, a clinch game, kickboxing and much more.

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Do MMA fighters punch harder than boxers?

There certainly seem to be more knockouts in MMA than in boxing, which may lead you to consider that MMA fighters punch harder than boxers. That’s not necessarily the case. In MMA, four oz gloves are usually used. This usually means fighters can generate a lot more power with their shots which ultimately leads to more knockouts. In boxing, however, gloves usually range from 10 oz to 12 oz which means you need a lot more natural power to get frequent knockouts.

Of course, a well-timed shot doesn’t need to be powerful and can turn the lights out even in boxing. But it’s not definitely correct to say that MMA fighters have more power than boxers.

Conor McGregor, for example, is known for his knockouts inside the UFC octagon while wearing four oz gloves. But while wearing eight oz gloves against Floyd Mayweather, McGregor was unable to hurt the former five-weight champion one bit with the strikes he was able to land. Then, when you consider the likes of Gennadiy Golovkin and Deontay Wilder, who are able to earn knockouts so frequently while wearing heavier gloves in boxing, you begin to understand that it might be the opposite and that boxers may be the ones punching harder. But this all depends on the circumstances and the durability of the opponents.

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Why are MMA fighters going to boxing?

As aforementioned, a big trend that started in recent years has been MMA fighters calling out boxers or simply wanting to compete in boxing. One just needs to look at UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman who has been campaigning for a fight with boxing super middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez. UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou has also been campaigning for a fight with WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. McGregor’s boxing match with Mayweather may have kick-started the trend entirely. So what is the main reason just about every MMA fighter seems to be interested in competing in the sweet science? The simple answer is money.

High-profile boxing matches pay a lot more than high-profile MMA fights. Many of the big names in boxing can earn as much as a million dollars facing a low-level opponent. In the UFC, earning a million dollars would put you among the highest-paid fighters in the entire promotion.

Even McGregor earned just $3,000,000 as his base pay (not including bonuses, sponsorships or pay-per-view points) for his mega-fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov back in 2018. In comparison, Canelo Alvarez received a guaranteed purse of $15 million with a reported cap of $40 million for his recent fight with Dmitry Bivol. With the possibility of a higher payout in boxing, it’s clear to see why so many other MMA fighters are looking to land a big-money boxing fight.

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Is UFC more popular than boxing?

MMA is certainly the fastest-growing sport in the world, especially in recent years, and it’s no surprise that it has overtaken boxing in terms of global popularity. A big reason for this is the growing popularity of the UFC and this has especially been the case since the pandemic. How can one say MMA is more popular than boxing? This can be seen by social media metrics as well as pay-per-view numbers with the UFC having far bigger events than boxing as a whole over the course of the last few years.

With that said, it is still hard to say whether the UFC is bigger than boxing. Boxing cards generally do really well when it’s on free television and given the history of the sport, will always have an audience. And when a high-level boxing match is on the cards, it will garner the attention of the world, especially in the United States. It must also be noted that four of the five highest-selling pay-per-view combat sports events are still boxing matches. So while the UFC might be more popular, whether it’s truly bigger remains to be seen for now.

MMA vs Boxing – Which is harder to learn?

When it comes to which sport is harder to learn, the natural answer is MMA. Of course, if you want to be a high-level boxer, boxing will be harder. But as far as just learning is concerned, MMA is undoubtedly harder. This is because you’re not only learning boxing and how to strike, but a number of other arts.

These include wrestling, jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, kickboxing and much more. You are expending a lot more energy and using pretty much every weapon of your body as possible. This means you not only have to devote a lot more time to each art, but you are also taxing your body a lot more in the process compared to boxing.

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Who are the best boxers in the UFC?

With all the aforementioned, you shouldn’t believe that they aren’t any good boxers in the UFC. There are many great boxers who are sure to do well in the sport of boxing should they make a full and proper transition. Some of them include the likes of Max Holloway, Dustin Poirier, Petr Yan, Jose Aldo, Israel Adesanya and Jorge Masvidal.

These fighters are known for their striking, counter striking, pivoting and slick hands in general. When most fighters face them, they look to avoid a standup battle and instead take the fight to the ground. That’s one of the benefits of MMA as you can impose a different game plan depending on the opponent. But when it comes to a straight striking battle on the feet, these are the fighters who are generally favored to come out on top.

Final Thoughts

In the end, MMA and boxing are two different sports even if they both use the same martial art. MMA fighters will not do well against high-level boxers in a boxing match and it’s the same case when a boxer faces an MMA fighter inside a cage. However, with the right training, circumstances and opponents, fighters from either sport can still find success in the other.

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