Skip to content

What is MMA?

Frequently billed as the World’s fastest growing sport, MMA combines wrestling and striking martial arts into one complete discipline, including techniques from Thai-boxing, judo, Brazilian jiu jitsu and boxing. Although contemporary MMA is only as old as the world’s first website and phenomenally proliferated with the growth of the internet, its roots can be traced as far back as Pankration in the ancient Olympic Games.

Contemporary MMA became best known globally through an American TV contest, The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which launched in 1993. The show pitted together elite martial artists from various, distinct disciplines in order to determine which style would prove most dominant. In 2001, Zuffa LLC took over the UFC and worked with state regulatory bodies to develop and implement the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, evolving MMA into a legitimate sport of its own.

While techniques from six contemporary Olympic Sports are present in MMA (boxing, freestyle wrestling, Greco Roman wrestling, Taekwondo, judo and karate), MMA students today learn from combination of martial arts that proved most successful in the earlier mixed rules matches.

In 2014, IMMAF introduced the first world Unified Amateur MMA Rules.

Perhaps two of the most defining elements of the professional and amateur sport are the permission to strike a downed opponent (ground game) and use of a fenced enclosure to protect the athlete and the integrity of the match.

Ground Game

One of the controversial elements of MMA is the permission to strike on the ground. However, research published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2006) and since, has shown MMA to be much safer than boxing

An immediate forerunner of MMA was Vale Tudo mixed rules matches, born out of Brazilian jiu jitsu (a wrestling discipline focused on defence on the ground), as practitioners sought to test their techniques against those of other combat sports

The Submission finishes that MMA has adopted originate in BJJ, where they can be obtained by a grounded practitioner while their back

Strikes on the ground in MMA are restricted in type and in application with respect to safety and less force can be generated here than when standing. Furthermore, unlike in professional MMA or Thai boxing, elbow strikes are not permitted in Amateur MMA.

The referee can stop the match at any time if either competitor is not effectively defending themselves

Field of Play

  • The MMA Ring is unique in combat sports as it eliminates advantages to competitors well versed in the art of cutting off the ring as a kick boxer may do, or the need to reset matches due to stepping out of the FOP. It allows the match to play out with as little interference as possible.
  • The enclosed MMA Ring creates a neutral arena to best showcase the skills of MMA’s athletes.
  • The MMA Ring originated under US state athletic commissions to provide maximum safety to athletes
  • The MMA Ring consists of a canvas, safety padding and fences as specified in IMMAF Amateur MMA Rules and the Professional Unified Rules of MMA.
  • Robust plastic coated fences eliminate the chance of athletes tumbling out of the ring as they can from a traditional boxing ring – particularly when applying wrestling take-downs.
  • There are many examples of athletes competing in MMA in boxing rings who have fallen from the ring and sustained injuries


Common misconceptions about MMA


Misconception 1:  MMA has no rules

MMA does have rules with respect to sporting values and safety. Professional competitors since 2001 comply with the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts (USA, under statutory regulation) or a regional variation. Under IMMAF,  amateur competitors worldwide compete under the Unified Amateur MMA Rules. (See pg.10: “Mixed Martial Arts”)

Misconception 2:  MMA is dangerous

Regulated MMA adheres to a strict set of rules and regulations that governs officiating, medical safety and all aspects of the sport (See pg.23: “Athlete Safety”; pg.10: “Mixed Martial Arts”). Statistics from research show the sport to be safer than comparable recognised combat sports.

Misconception 3:  Amateur MMA is the same as professional MMA

Amateur MMA is to professional MMA what Olympic boxing is to professional prize-fighting. Amateur MMA is purist in its focus on the sport, above the trappings of entertainment. IMMAF is a non profit organisation.

Misconception 4:  MMA is violent

Common with all recognised martial arts and combat sports, MMA is motivated by the competitor’s desire to test their skill within a sporting structure and within the rules of a game.

Competition Rules

The IMMAF Amateur MMA Rules is an effort to make a standardized set of rules with a high safety level that are fit for international competition. The rules regulate the technical side of MMA whereas the IMMAF World Championship Protocol contains specifications for the competitions such as operations, selection criteria for judges, detailed tournament structure, weigh-in protocol, specifications for permitted equipment etc. This separation is put in place to ensure a clean-cut and universal set of rules that can easily be easily adopted by different organizations in different countries as well as easily combined with different sets of protocols.

The IMMAF Amateur MMA Rules are the result of a best practice review made by the IMMAF Technical Committee on a number of different existing rule sets, with the IMMAF member federations participating in a referral process. National differences have been compared and analyzed with the purpose of finding the optimal rule set that will work on a global basis. These rules regulate competition at the highest amateur level; in the future the IMMAF will also provide rules and recommendations for MMA competition at junior, beginner and intermediate levels as well as safe progression between levels.

The IMMAF will continuously work to develop and establish a common rule set across the world, we encourage the adoption of the IMMAF rules but do not force it. When it comes to national rules it is up to each member country to decide if and how to adopt the IMMAF rules in their respective countries. So a national federation affiliated with the IMMAF can always use their own rule set for national competitions but when competing in the World Championships all contestants will be competing under IMMAF rules.

Download IMMAF amateur MMA rules here (over 18s)

IMMAF Rules as of January 2021

Download IMMAF Youth MMA Rules here (U18s)

IMMAF Youth Rules as of January 2021

International Mixed
Martial Arts Federation
All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2024
Contact Us
Sign up for Updates
Privacy Policy