Is MMA Better Than Karate? | Complete Comparison

Before Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) began taking over the spotlight, karate was among the most popular forms of martial arts in the world.

Millions of karate practitioners originate from all over the world, as it is known as an effective martial art. Now that MMA is more popular, your might wonder, “Is MMA better than karate?”

Is MMA Better Than Karate?

MMA is better than karate because it is more versatile and practical due to the multiple types of martial arts that make up the practice. Though karate is still popular and effective, many karate practitioners have begun practicing MMA due to these factors and more.

This article will touch base on karate’s role in MMA, its effectiveness as a fighting practice, as well as listing some prominent MMA fighters with a background in karate. Keep reading to learn more about these factors of karate in MMA and more.

Is Karate Effective in MMA?

Karate can be an effective form of martial art in MMA. Although they are not ‘MMA-orthodox,’ such as Muay Thai or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, notable MMA contenders have relied heavily on their karate background in the practice. 

The things that make karate effective in MMA include:

  • Tolerance to pain
  • Lateral movements
  • Different striking techniques
  • Unreadable executions

Let’s dive deeper into these factors below.

Karatekas’ Tolerance to Pain

One of the things that you sometimes notice from elite karate practitioners, otherwise known as karateka, is their tolerance to pain. Karatekas train their body to take hard blows; it would not matter if they are kicks or punches.

Therefore, in MMA matches, with lots of blows trading between fighters, karatekas can handle more than the average.

Karatekas’ Lateral Movements

Another factor that makes karate fights so effective in MMA is their lateral movements. Lateral movement is essentially how a fighter maneuvers around their opponent.

Rather than moving sideways with their toes pointed towards their opponents, as most boxers and Muay Thai fighters move, karatekas move heel-to-heel more to the side.

Karatekas’ Different Striking Techniques

Karatekas strike differently than boxers or Muay Thai fighters. First, karatekas are agile, quick, and explosive. Some MMA fighters with a karateka background use a point system.

Therefore, they would attack quickly and move out of the way even quicker before the opponent can counter with a punch.

Karatekas’ Unreadable Executions

Although the point system can sometimes be boring due to its purpose of accumulating points rather than trying to go for a knockout, when executing an attack correctly, it can be very devastating and fast.

Additionally, the executions are sometimes unreadable to the opponent because of how unorthodox the strikes can be.

Why Is Karate Not Used in MMA?

It is not that karate is not used in MMA, but you just don’t see it purely that often in MMA, unless you watch MMA fighters such as Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson or Michelle “Karate Hottie” Waterson. These fighters are known to adopt an MMA fighting style heavily influenced by their karate background. 

Now, a lot of MMA fighters, even ones who come from a traditional martial art background, begin to adopt a different kind of style and game plan when they start training in MMA, including:

  • Karate
  • Tae Kwon Do
  • Judo

However, karate remains to be one of the most popular martial arts to come across in MMA in terms of initial background. It is not to be confused that some karate styles are hard and physically demanding, making karate practitioners suitable candidates for elite MMA fighters.

Prominent MMA Fighters With a Karate Background

There are numerous elite MMA fighters out there that came out of a karate background. Below are a few examples that have gained worldwide attention as one of the best MMA fighters of all time.

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is considered as one of the best strikers in MMA. You can tell that karate heavily influences his fight style through his wide stance, lateral movements, and how he executes his strikes against his opponents. Stephen Thompson is a 6th-degree black belt in Tetsushin-Ryu Kempo.

Stephen Thompson’s family-centered around martial arts, specifically karate. So, naturally, his first introduction to martial arts is the mats in a karate gym. From there on, Stephen Thompson started competing in karate and Kickboxing tournaments under the guidance of his own father. 

In Kickboxing alone, Thompson has an undefeated record of 58–0. Additionally, once he signed a contract with the UFC, Stephen Thompson went on to become one of the most popular MMA fighters due to his style.

Many describe his fighting style as awkward and unorthodox, making it more unpredictable to read. 

Stephen Thompson’s fighting style has a lot of bouncing to it, just like a lot of karatekas. Additionally, his hand placements are lower and more relaxed compared to boxers or Muay Thai fighters. But by the time Thompson executes a strike, it explodes incredibly fast and often unpredictable to his opponents.

Additionally, his style also makes it incredibly difficult for his opponent to intercept his movements as well as landing a significant strike on his chin. His “in-and-out” movements make him agile in movement. Before an opponent can execute a proper strike, he’ll be gone before you know it!

All in all, Stephen Thompson remained as one of the most successful karatekas in MMA. Not only has he stuck to his karate fundamentals throughout his career in MMA, but he is able to implement it well as an overall efficient fighter. 

George St. Pierre

George St. Pierre, or also known as “Rush” or GSP, is another highly respected MMA fighter with a karate background. GSP initially participated in Kyokushin karate at a very young age out of respect for his father’s wishes as well as to defend himself against bullies in school. 

GSP has stated publicly numerous times that karate has helped him overcome challenges while growing up. By 21, GSP finally earned a black belt and would ultimately receive his 3rd Dan black belt in Kyokushin karate as well as a black belt in Shidokan karate.

Although his karate is not as prominent, GSP swears by karate being the primary push in him becoming a successful MMA fighter.

You do sometimes see him go into a karate stance and throw significant karate strikes, such as the Ushiro Geri (spinning back kick) as well as the Mae Geri (front kick variety).

Although GSP is not actively fighting, he continues to train religiously, stating that his love of martial arts that bloomed for karate grew until today. 

Michelle “Karate Hottie” Waterson

Michelle Waterson is one of the most prominent female MMA fighters out there. Waterson initially picked up karate at the age of ten. 

She ultimately received her black belt in karate later and branched out to martial arts as well, which include: 

  • Wushu
  • Muay Thai
  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Wrestling 

Michelle Waterson had her first MMA debut in 2007. Donald Cerrone accompanied her first debut at the Ring of Fire 28: Evolution. She faced Andrea Miller and won the fight unanimously.

By then, she continued to build a reputation in the MMA world as a fighter not to be reckoned with. Ultimately, she was picked up by the UFC. 

In December 2016, Waterson won her UFC match against Paige Van Zant by rear-naked choke (RNC) in the first round.

She continued to fight, winning against Cortney Casey and won Fight of the Night, but later lost to Rose Namajunas and Tecia Torres in her career. Currently, Waterson is 16-6 in her MMA career. 


Karate may not purely be as effective as MMA; however, karate continues to play an essential role in MMA.

Current elite MMA contenders and champions with a karate background display that they can use karate as an effective tool in MMA. Most likely, karate will continue to significantly impact the MMA world positively. 

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