Millions dream of making it, and yet only a few hundred MMA fighters actually get to compete in the UFC. So how do you do you become a professional MMA fighter, and is there a real path to the UFC?
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Read on as we tell you all you need to know on how to become a UFC fighter.
Is Professional MMA for You?
Two men fighting – how to become an mma fighter
Let’s be real straight away – the best MMA fighter’s lives are not all about private jets and whiskey. In fact even if you do make it to the top of the MMA mountain, most of your career will be a hard, sweaty, wallet draining ride.
So before you decide to quit school or your job to be the next big thing in the UFC, ask yourself if you have what it takes to make it. And we’re not just talking about size, strength, or if you can easily beat up your big brothers.
We’re talking about the mental strength and determination to keep going when you’re broke, lost your last fight, and your face is being mushed into a cage for three rounds.
There’s a reason some of the best fighters in the world, the toughest people on the planet, cry in the cage. Whether they have won or lost, they’re crying because how much they sacrificed to put in the hard work that got them into that octagon.
It puts pressure on your relationships, job, finances, and your mental health. It’s a stressful career choice , so you have to be able to handle the stress.
So, again, ask yourself, do you have what it takes?
If you do, there is actually a path to make it to the UFC. Even though professional MMA is a new sport, it’s also one of the fastest growing sports in the world, so people are starting to figure out how to get to the top of the MMA heap.
Let’s take a look at where to start, and how to progress through the ranks to get to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Are You Too Young or Old to Train MMA?
The answer to both questions, within reason, is no, there is no best age to start MMA training.
If you are a young child, you have the advantage of being fit, flexible, adaptable, and able to learn new skills quickly.
Man training kid stand up MMA.
If you’re a middle aged adult, you have strength, life experience, and are able to make smarter decisions when training or fighting.
When it comes to wanting to be a professional MMA fighter however, generally the younger you start the better. Being younger helps you to be moulded by the sport so that it becomes part of your everyday life. It’ll also help you develop a life’s worth of skill and experience in the sport that can’t be picked up outside of the gym.
There are some UFC fighters who are very rare exceptions to this rule, where relatively older people have entered professional MMA with exceptional results.
Two division UFC Champ Daniel Cormier didn’t even start training in mixed martial arts until he was 30, with his first pro bout in 2009 . But you have to remember, he was also an Olympic wrestler for many years before that.
Do I Have to Be Fit Before I Start MMA Training?
It definitely helps, yes. But in saying that, and we’re sure you’re picking up on the trend here, it’s more about your mental strength than physical strength.
You can build up power and skill along the way, but it’s your determination to keep coming back after being punished over and over that will develop that fitness.
Fit man on beach doing rope exercises.
There are some physical traits that help, like being strong for your weight like Khabib Nurmagamedov, or having super long limbs like Jon Jones. But in general, any body type can find success in MMA.
Where Do I Train?
With the massive rise of MMA’s popularity, most decent sized towns and nearly all cities should have a reasonably local MMA gym.
One thing we absolutely recommend, is that you try out a few gyms first to get a feel for what you like. Most MMA gyms should offer you a free trial, but if they don’t we think it’s worth paying a bit of money to train there to see if you like it.
With MMA being so huge right now, there will always be gyms that aren’t actually that good, and are just looking to cash in on the MMA buzz. At best that means you won’t get the right training, and at worst, means you could get hurt badly.
When you are trialling the gym, take note of the quality and state of the equipment. Do they clean up? Do they have a weights room? Cardio equipment? If things are run down, that might be a bad sign.
The most important thing to check in a gym though are the people. You’ll be spending a lot of time with your training partners and instructors, so it makes sense that you want to get along with them. If there is a bad vibe in the gym or if people are training a bit too rough, that’s a definite red flag.
You need to feel safe when you’re training, after all martial arts is about discipline and respect, not big egos and fist fights.
What If I Can’t Find an MMA Gym to Train In?
If you can’t find a decent MMA gym straight away, you’ll almost definitely have a traditional martial arts gym close to where you live.
Look for a discipline that is a good base for MMA, like Muay Thai, Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, or wrestling.
Muay Thai is great for striking, BJJ for grappling, and wrestling as a base for controlling your opponent everywhere else.
Once you get good at one of those skills, and you decide you want to pursue MMA more seriously, you should be willing to commute further to get to the best MMA gym you can.
You’ve picked a gym, and you’re ready to train. Now you need to ask yourself, why are you training MMA?
Plenty of people train in mixed martial arts simply for fitness, confidence, or self-defence. And all of those are fine reasons for MMA training.
But if you want to make it to the UFC as professional fighter, you need to have higher ambitions.
Coach teaching MMA/BJJ move on ground.
That means you don’t just turn up one or two nights a week to roll BJJ or hit pads. It means you turn up to every class and training session that your schedule will allow.
Go to that 7am Saturday class. Go to the seminar where that elite BJJ black belt is speaking. Go and support your fellow MMA students at their local fights.
Completely immerse yourself in martial arts, and the culture of your gym. Not only will it help you find people that can make you a better mixed martial artist, it will instill in you the discipline and laser-like focus you’ll need to be a legitimate contender for the UFC.
Having the Best MMA Training Gear
Buying the best MMA gear as soon as possible will also increase the chances you’ll keep training. As a minimum we recommend getting a quality gym bag as well the right protective gear like a mouth guard and MMA gloves.
Work Your Way up to an Amateur Fight
Assuming you had no prior fighting experience, you’ll probably want to train MMA for a few years before you take a real fight in the cage.
Your gym and coaches will definitely let you know when you’re ready to compete, as they’ll want to make sure that you’re skilled enough as well a good representative of your gym.
Don’t worry too much about whether you win or lose here — a loss isn’t going to be the end of your MMA career. This is all about learning how to train towards a matchup, cutting weight, and handling the pressure of the cage.
Of course you’ll want to be competitive and keep a winning mentality, but try to think of amateur bouts as free experience towards getting ready for the big time.
Challenge Yourself Beyond Your Comfort Zone
As you get more and more amateur fights under your belt, you should be getting more confident in your abilities as well as getting more used to the pressure of fighting.
There is a danger here where you might get too comfortable with winning against not-so-challenging opponents. After all, it feels good to win, so why no fight someone you know for sure you can beat?
Instead, this should be the time where you push yourself outside of your comfort zone by fighting opponents that will challenge you. In fact, you should even be fighting people who people might think you’ll lose against.
This will force you to continue with a mindset of growth, not to mention get the attention of pro scouts and sponsors.
After all, sponsors and the UFC won’t want to have anything to do with a fighter that can only win against low-level MMA fighters.
Always talk to your coaches to make calculated decisions — along with your own ambition, they will be your best tools for getting closer to a professional contract.
Your First Paying Contract for a Pro MMA Fight
By now you’ve already seen the ups and downs of fighting, and if you’ve stuck with it this long, while maintaining a good record and reputation, you should have worked yourself up to the pro level.
Firstly, congratulations, you’re a professional fighter.
Secondly, now that you’re a professional, you need to treat this as your job.
If you get offered a contract, read it. Make sure they don’t tie you down for too many fights; if the UFC comes knocking, you don’t want to be trapped in a low-paying contract that you can’t be released from.
Once you start fighting in the lower level pro leagues, you’ll need to continue to maintain your win record for at least your next 3 pro fights to get the attention of the UFC.
Now that you’re in the pro circuit, you’ll want to get your name out there for a few reasons.
Firstly, you’ll want to attract some sponsorship to pay your bills. Although you’ll be fighting for money, you may now have things like air fares, dieticians, and coaching camps to pay for.
Secondly, self-promotion is important to get yourself on the radar for being picked up by the UFC. It’s one thing to be winning fights, it’s another thing to create enough buzz to stand out from fighters with a similar record to yours.
A good way to get attention is to put together some highlights of your fights for YouTube. Send your promotional material directly to potential sponsors and the UFC.
Be clear as to why you are contacting them. If you’re contacting a sponsor, what do you have to offer them? How many people can you expose to your sponsor’s brand? How many Instagram followers to do you have that will see their logo?
If you are contacting the UFC, what is unique about you that would be attractive to the UFC? Are all of your wins by knockout? Perhaps you have a pedigree in another sport, such as NFL, that could attract a different audience.
Always be thinking about what problem you can solve, and what benefits your would bring to both sponsors and the UFC. This is how you stand out from all the other prospective UFC fighters.
If they don’t respond, keep sending it. Again, show your perseverance.
Remember, you’re a professional now, so you have to start doing things that aren’t just fighting to take the final step to the top.
If that is all out of your skillset (after all, you’ve trained to be a professional mma fighter, not a promoter), have faith that by now, you’ll have a decent following of fans and a good circle of supporters around you. These people should be willing to help you out, and give you that boost in promotion you need.
Related: How much do professional UFC fighters make?
Perseverance and determination. That’s definitely the theme of your journey to making it to the UFC. Don’t take our word for it:
There is no talent here. This is hard work. This is an obsession.
– Connor McGregor
As long as you surround yourself with good people, train smart, and keep your focus on reaching your goals, there is no reason you can’t make it to the UFC.
It will be a hard road, it’s not a clear cut simple path like some MMA movies depict. It’s going to be a long hard path full of amazing highs, and devastating lows, but you’ve persevered this far, and you deserve to be where you are.
Keep improving yourself, and with determination, skill, and a bit of luck, you’ll make it to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.