Whether you watch MMA or UFC—or neither—it’s likely you have heard of one or the other. However, it can be confusing to distinguish and understand the differences between the two, especially if you’re new to combat sports.
What is the Difference Between MMA and UFC?
MMA is Mixed Martial Arts, a category of combat sports that consists of sub-sports within it such as Muay Thai or BJJ. UFC is the professional organization known as the Ultimate Fighting Championship; it is the organization that promotes and governs MMA fighting.
In a broad sense, these definitions alone differentiate the two, so to compare them would be like comparing apples and oranges. However, MMA and UFC are connected to some degree, and it’s worth learning about their relationship with one another to understand their differences.
The primary difference between MMA and UFC is their basic definitions. MMA is the general overarching name for wrestling, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, or any other combat sport that involves two competitors using a combination of strikes, finishing holds, and more to overcome their opponent first. There are multiple fighting styles in MMA.
In contrast, UFC is an organization that governs and promotes the sport of MMA fighting. In other words, a UFC fighter is an MMA fighter, but an MMA fighter may not necessarily be a fighter for the UFC.
What Type of MMA is UFC?
UFC promotes and hosts fights with various MMA styles, although wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and kickboxing are among the most common. But really any fighting style can be used in the UFC as long as it falls in line with the rules set forth by the UFC.
MMA fighters who mostly use wrestling as their form for UFC fighting have transitioned really well into other MMA forms.
Wrestling uses a lot of control in fighting tactics, which is also a big part of MMA; this comes in handy because MMA rules somewhat lean more towards wrestling than a combat sport like boxing. When a wrestler can control the opponent through a specific move, they will be awarded more points because controlling the cage is a high-scoring factor in MMA and UFC fighting. The more pinned your opponent is, the more points you will receive.
Wrestling also breeds athletes at a very young age, so by the time they are ready to transition to UFC fighting, there is a good chance they have been doing it for quite some time. This helps with things like endurance and mental toughness when getting ready to compete.
A lot of people that I have met at my MMA gym started out as wrestlers in high school and have now moved onto other combat sports.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is focused on a few very specific techniques that can provide a little bit of edge when it comes to UFC fighting, including groundwork, grappling, and control.
This style differs from the others because it mainly focuses on fighting from the standpoint of self-defense. In other words, fighting tactics would involve outwaiting your opponent and beating your opponent by submission rather than taking control of the situation. However, this can be somewhat hurtful when it comes to UFC and MMA fighting, which is why it is only a small component of a usually blended style routine.
BJJ can help you in UFC due to the level of control you can maintain from dominating positions like with wrestling. BJJ also allows you to improve endurance since the goal is to outlast your opponent.
And lastly, like I constantly touch on, BJJ gets you used to fighting on the ground. As a fighter, it is important to feel comfortable in all different situations and positions.
It’s important to note here that MMA uses some of the moves from kickboxing, but kickboxing is considered far more restrictive than MMA. There are also several different types of kickboxing, such as Muy Thai and Traditional American Kickboxing. Tactics from all of these and more are incorporated into MMA fighting, so when watching UFC fights, you will noticeably see these moves being used time and time again.
Muay Thai is a very common martial art when it comes to MMA fighting because it teaches you how to strike in so many different ways. For this reason it is often referred to “the art of 8 limbs”.
What is the Difference Between Bellator and UFC?
Bellator is another professional orginaztion or league for MMA fighting. It is similar to the UFC, however it is much smaller than the UFC and less popular. The rules and regulations in Bellator though are very similar to those of the UFC.
Bellator was formally known as Bellator FC (Fighting Club) but has since changed its name. It’s newer on the scene as it was established in 2008. It is a competitor to UFC, but operates with some differences that fans may or may not know about.
UFC is simply a lot more well-known since Bellator is a newer organization. For example, if you are not a typical MMA junkie, you may assume that MMA and UFC are one-in-the-same, although they are completely different.
Besides its history, what makes UFC more popular is the fact that it still hosts some of the best MMA fighters on the scene and has more formal regulations regarding fighting, what fighters can/can’t wear, etc. Having said that, Bellator is starting to feature some popular fighters in their cages, but it’s worth noting that they all originally came from UFC fighting.
Bellator holds a vastly different schedule than UFC, conducting their matches in seasons. A season consists of about eight fighters per weight class and will last about three months at a time.
Bellator fighters are usually matched by their classes (there are ten in total) and via tournament rather than by appointment. In other words, once a fighter loses, they are out of the running; the winners get to move on until a fighter is ultimately crowned as Bellator’s MMA champion. Because there are ten classes, fans can expect to see ten Title Champions by the end of the tournament.
UFC will also match several opponents against one another based on weight class (there are nine classes compared to Bellator’s ten). However, these matches are made by appointment rather than tournaments. Although UFC used to schedule matches following a tournament-style in its early days. Like Bellator, there will be multiple Title Champions in UFC, each from their own class (in this case, there are nine of them).
The two MMA fighting organizations also sign and promote their fighters differently. UFC will sign and promote a fighter based on their skill level and their marketability—or how many viewers they can pull in. If they lack one or the other, there’s a good chance there is no deal on the table.
Bellator is different because although they do have an increasing number of good fighters, they will regularly sign less-advanced fighters because of their marketability. From there, the organization will plan favorable fights for the fighter and build the fighter from there.
An example of this is when Bellator signed Conor McGregor’s sparring partner, Dillon Danis. Danis was not originally an MMA fighter, just a great grappler. Still, he was signed to be a regular Bellator fighter because of his recognition.
The fact that a few Bellator fighters weren’t originally MMA fighters may be why the organization has faced some criticism as well. However, this fact doesn’t matter to some viewers, as the tournaments still provide ample entertainment to fighting fans.
Recommended Products and Conclusion
Even those who are not new to mixed martial arts (MMA) can get confused when talking about UFC fights and MMA fighters. The acronyms are easy to mistake for one another even though they are entirely different. In short: MMA is a sport in itself, while UFC is an organization or promoter.
In other words, a UFC fighter is an MMA fighter, but an MMA fighter may not be a UFC fighter.
Although UFC is the more well-known organization that promotes MMA, as of recently, they are not the only ones. Bellator has come onto the scene and has gained quite some popularity with fighters and fans. They offer the same MMA fights everyone loves but with a slightly different marketing approach and pathway for fighters. Although it is still not as big as UFC, Bellator has been climbing in popularity since its inception.