MMA fans have long debated which fighting style is the most dominant. Some say that a striking style that keeps your opponent at a distance is best, while others will tell you that a close-up ground-and-pound or submission style will win the most fights. While a lot of fighting comes down to the abilities of the individual fighters themselves, a 2019 study of previous UFC champions and their fighting styles might give us a little insight over which fighting style is the “best.”
The most common fighting styles in UFC are wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, Taekwondo, and karate. Of these fighting styles, the one that has dominated the championship scene more than others is wrestling. NCAA and Olympic wrestling have produced more UFC champions than any other discipline. This could be due to the fact that wrestlers are more adept at close-up fighting and grappling. Fighters who rely on striking have few defenses against wrestling takedowns. Since wrestlers also have more stamina than other fighters, they can wear down their opponents and win late-round victories or decisions.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or BJJ is the second-most dominant fighting style in MMA. BJJ didn’t produce any champions during the UFC’s first few years, but its popularity among fighters surged in 2002. As of 2019, there have been 17 BJJ UFC champions to wrestling’s 28. Like wrestlers, BJJ fighters are adept at fighting from their backs and attacking the head, arms, legs, and neck from practically any position.
As for the other fighting disciplines that we mentioned, they aren’t as well represented when counting a fighter’s primary style. As of 2019, there have been 12 boxing UFC champions, 6 kickboxing champions, 4 Muay Thai champions, 2 taekwondo champions, and one karate champion. Many wrestlers and BJJ fighters do incorporate techniques from these disciplines into their individual fighting styles. The disciplines themselves might not be as well-represented as primary styles, but they have a clear influence on how previous champions have fought.
Based on this study, it would seem that wrestling reigns supreme in MMA, but the debate over which style is the “best” will likely continue. The most successful MMA fighters might have a primary martial arts discipline, but they take techniques from various sources and truly put the “mixed” into “mixed martial arts.”