Boxing, kickboxing, and MMA (mixed martial arts) are three of the most popular combat sports in existence today. FightCamp Trainers Coach PJ, Aaron Swenson, and Shanie Smash break down the important differences between the sports, as well as some fun facts about each.
Let’s dive right in…
Of the three disciplines, boxing is by far the oldest. Here’s a sport-by-sport breakdown of their respective origins:
Dates back to 3000 B.C.
Featured in the ancient Olympic Games in the 7th century B.C.
Came to the United States in the 1770s
Originated in Japan in the late 1950s
Combines multiple previous stand-up martial arts (Karate, Savate, Kung-Fu, Taekwondo, etc.)
Multiple different organizations with differing rules
Many different origins
Added to Olympic Games in 648 B.C.
As it is known today, it was started in 1993 as the UFC (United Fighting Championship) in the United States and Pancrase in Japan
Of the three combat sports, boxing has the simplest fighting technique being that only punch strikes are allowed. This is also why sometimes the answer to should I learn boxing before kickboxing? can be yes. Boxing can give you a good foundation for the rest of the sports.
Let’s take a look at the fundamentals:
Boxing Fighting Techniques
In boxing, your fighting stance is tight and your elbows are close to your chest. Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart with your non-dominant leg in front. Make sure to retain some bend in your knees, and think about looking between your hands to make sure your guard is high enough to protect your face. As for strikes, the main ones used in boxing are:
As for defense, there are a few different ways to protect yourself in boxing. The first is known as a slip, which is a slight head movement to the left or right that allows a boxer to move their head off of the line of the punch.
The second movement is a roll, which is when a boxer drops into a half squat and shifts their weight to their other leg to avoid a strike at head height. The third is the pullback, where a boxer simply shifts their weight onto their back leg from a fighting stance to avoid a straight punch.
Finally, a boxer can use an array of blocks with their raised arms to defend against the body and head hooks, as well as straight forward punches. While all of these may be upper body strikes, footwork is essential to boxing (and really all combat sports), so training agility is just as important as these strikes.
Kickboxing Fighting Techniques
Kickboxing training is extremely similar to boxing, but there are many more kicking strikes a fighter adds to their arsenal:
In addition to these strikes, kickboxers can utilize elbows, knees, sweeps, and other offensive attacks. Kickboxing defensive movements are very similar to boxing movements, but kickboxers also use moves from other disciples, such as the Muay Thai leg check as a defense to kicks. Since kicks are allowed in kickboxing, unlike boxing, this extra defensive training is key. Additionally, since kickboxers have to worry about blocking low kicks, also known as checking kicks, their stance is a bit different from a boxer’s.
This movement involves bending one leg up towards your chest and using your shin to block an incoming strike. As far as defensive moves go, this can be a dangerous block for both the defender and attacker due to the force of a kick.
In kickboxing, there are three different rule sets:
Full Contact Rules: You can only kick above the waist and can’t throw knees or kick at the legs
Glory Rules: You can kick above the waist, the legs, throw knees, and can clinch (lock your arms behind an opponent's head to hold them) for a single strike
Muay Thai Rules: Elbows are allowed and you can clinch your opponent for as long as you like until the referee breaks it up
MMA Fighting Techniques
Mixed martial arts combines everything above but essentially adds a wrestling component to its technique. These extra strikes can involve: clinch holds, wrestling, takedowns, judo throws, tosses, sweeps, grappling, submissions, jiu-jitsu, and more.
In all three combat sports, there are a number of moves or attacks that aren’t allowed for the safety of both fighters. Some moves that aren’t allowed in one sport are allowed in another, whereas other techniques are banned in all three sports.
Boxing Illegal Moves
No kicking or throwing knees or elbows
No strikes below the belt
No punching the back of the head or spine
Fighters cannot strike a downed opponent
Kickboxing Illegal Moves
No throat strikes
No groin strikes
No judo throws
MMA Illegal Moves
No hair pulling
No grabbing the fence
No grabbing clothes (and more)
All three disciplines have different expectations for what a match looks like:
4-12 rounds per fight
Similar to boxing
Can be up to 3 fights per night in a tournament
3-5 rounds (depending on regular or title fight)
Occurs in a cage or octagon
How To Win
In all three sports, a fight can be won by knockout, technical knockout, decision, disqualification, or submission (or tap-out).
Knockout (Boxing, Kickboxing, and MMA)
A fighter is knocked unconscious by another fighter
Technical Knockout (Boxing, Kickboxing, and MMA)
One fighter is still conscious, but the referee determines that they are no longer capable of fighting and ends the match (either with a count or by examining the fighter)
Decision (Boxing, Kickboxing, and MMA)
Both fighters make it to the end of the fight without knocking or technical kicking out the other, so judges who viewed the whole fight decide the winner based on a variety of factors
Disqualification (Boxing, Kickboxing, and MMA)
Repeatedly performing illegal moves or breaking the rules will cause disqualification of the fighter doing the action
Unlike boxing and kickboxing, an MMA fighter can lock another fighter into a submission hold, such as an armbar or chokehold, and force them to tap out – resulting in a victory by submission
All three sports are different and need to be trained differently, which means there’s no straightforward answer to questions such as what is better kickboxing or boxing? or is boxing tougher than MMA?
With that in mind, all three of these combat sports are incredibly demanding on the body. Exercises such as cardio, shadowboxing, pad work, sparring, agility, and footwork are all important for each sport, but especially in boxing and kickboxing. In addition, a healthy diet and nutrition are key to maintaining peak physical form for competition.
MMA fighters need to focus their training on multiple martial arts disciplines as well, considering they use different fighting styles in their matches.
All three of these sports have a rich history. Questions such as is MMA or boxing better? or is boxing tougher than MMA? often never have a straight answer as the choice of sport is entirely a preference.
There is a huge amount of respect among fighters globally and in each discipline among trainers. In fact, many often wonder, is kickboxing good for MMA? The answer is yes. Many fighters often have 3 or 4 trainers who specialize in different disciplines and who help them train their skills to be all-encompassing.
If you’re looking to get started with combat sports, there’s no bad choice. Find whichever discipline captures your attention most and run with it!
How To Box At Any Age
Shanie Smash’s 10-Minute Burnout Kickboxing Workout
FREE 15-Minute At-Home Kickboxing Workout [Infographic]
Five (5) Best Kicks In Kickboxing