With Mixed Martial Arts and the UFC gaining mainstream popularity, there are now more people than ever pursuing the sport as a career and asking how do you become a pro MMA and UFC fighter?
In general, becoming a pro MMA and UFC fighter takes mastering both striking and grappling fundamentals, gaining experience in professional competitions, and self-promotion through social media. You will also need to dedicate yourself to becoming an athlete, with smart training and good nutrition.
In this article you will get a 10 step guide which you can use as a road map to chasing your UFC dream.
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How to Become a UFC Fighter: 10 Step Guide
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has sky-rocketed in popularity into a global mainstream sport.
With this growth comes fame, money, and opportunity – for both MMA promotions, and their fighters.
The dream of becoming a professional Mixed Martial Artist, and signing a UFC contract is more popular now, and is also more of a viable career aspiration now more than ever.
Like any ambitious goal though, there is no set path or guarantee of success, but you can get there if you really want it.
Becoming a UFC fighter will take years of hard work, dedication, discipline, and sacrifice.
And the route into the UFC can look different for every fighter.
This is our 10 Step Guide to help you plan your route to success and to maybe one day signing a UFC contract.
1. Learn Striking Fundamentals
All fights start standing on the feet, and when the referee calls you forward into striking range with your opponent, you need to know how to strike.
In MMA today we see a whole host of different striking techniques being used effectively.
But most common are Boxing and Muay Thai (Kickboxing).
All fighters and their styles are different. Some will have a very Boxing heavy style, while others may have a more Kickboxing or even Karate or Taekwondo style.
The important thing though, is that you learn the basicstriking fundamentals first, including:
- Head movement
- And distance management
A Boxing gym or a Muay Thai (Kickboxing) gym are the perfect place for you to learn these basic skills and build a solid striking foundation.
As you improve and progress, you can begin to mix it up and implement new techniques from other martial arts.
For example, foot work from Karate or spinning kicks from Taekwondo.
The benefit of adding other “flashier” techniques is that you will become a more entertaining fighter, meaning you’ll become more of a fan favourite later on.
But the fundamentals need to come first, because those are the things that work the best for both self-defense, and professional MMA fighting.
Not all martial arts are good for fighting. To learn what makes a martial art effective and why, check out our other article here.
Learn Muay Thai (Kickboxing) for Striking
If you can only learn one martial art for striking, then Muay Thai (Kickboxing) are your best option.
This is because you will learn punching and kicking techniques, which is essential for you to know in MMA.
Discover more about Muay Thai (Kickboxing) in our other articles here:
- Muay Thai Shin Guards: Do You Need Them? – Including the best Muay Thai shin guards you can buy.
2. Learn Grappling Fundamentals
What sets MMA apart from almost all other combat sports, is that the fight does not stop when you enter the clinch or go to the ground.
When you and your opponent get close enough to each other, and grab a hold of each other, the fight continues and the grappling starts.
The two most important forms of grappling you will need to learn are Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Wrestling.
Both of these styles will teach you how to grapple and control your opponent.
They will teach you some grappling fundamentals from both the standing position, and on the ground.
Plus, BJJ will teach you a whole host of submissions which are essential for a successful MMA career, including joint locks and chokes.
Learn BJJ for Grappling
If you can only learn one martial art for grappling, then BJJ is your best option.
This is because you will learn how to take your opponent down to the ground with throws and trips, plus how to control them on the ground, and finish with submissions.
However, you will also need to practice Wrestling too because it is such an important aspect of MMA.
The best place to learn these are either in a pure BJJ gym like Gracie Barra for example, or in an MMA gym where you can practice a mix of BJJ and Wrestling together.
Discover more about BJJ in our other articles here:
Discover more about gyms to train at, in our other articles here:
3. Do Drilling & Light Touch-Sparring
When most people think of becoming an MMA fighter, they think the only way to get good is to have loads of fights and hard sparring sessions.
The danger with this though is that you’re more likely to end up injured.
Its important that you train smarter, not always harder, and think of the long term by doing more drilling and light sparring.
Drilling and light touch-sparring are safer ways of training as a beginner, and require much less damage meaning you can have a longer career.
Drilling is training by practicing different techniques with your training partner, both in striking and grappling.
Drilling is usually done by going one-for-one, meaning you throw a technique at your partner, they block it, and then throw it back at you.
It can be done with any strike, takedown, submission, or a combination of multiple strikes and grappling techniques.
Drilling is important for refining your techniques and building muscle memory so you can use what you’ve learned in your fights.
Sparring is where you and your training partner go head-to-head, and put together all the techniques you know.
In sparring, there is no one-for-one practice like in drilling. Sparring is most like a real fight and can usually turn heavy.
Light touch-sparring however, is somewhere in between sparring and drilling.
It’s a lighter, more playful way of training, just touching your training partner with your techniques while keeping it light.
In touch-sparring, you’re not trying to blast each other and win each round.
Former UFC champion Georges St-Pierre put it like this:
“I believe the best way to improve is when training is playful – you cannot improve when trying to win every sparring round – treat your career as a marathon, not a sprint”Georges St-Pierre
GSP goes on to say that when training is playful, you can try new things to see what works and what doesn’t, then keep what works and add it into your game to grow as a fighter.
He also says to spar harder in preparation for an upcoming fight to replicate the stress and pressure, but outside of fight camp, keep it light and playful, and do more drilling.
4. Compete as an Amateur & Semi Pro
Once you have spent a few months learning the fundamentals, it’s time to compete in striking, grappling, and MMA.
Competitions are categorized into:
- Semi Pro
As a beginner you will be starting out in local amateur competitions.
You could compete in any martial art you want, for example, if you want to improve your Boxing, enter an amateur Boxing competition.
Or you could compete in BJJ No-Gi comps before moving onto your first amateur MMA fight.
After a few amateur comps, and when your coach says you’re ready, you can step up to semi pro.
In semi pro comps, the rules will allow you to do more techniques which you weren’t allowed to do as an amateur.
For example, head kicks and ground strikes, but these can vary from comp to comp.
5. Promote Yourself on Social Media
To be successful in the UFC, you need to be able to fight, but you also need to be ‘marketable’.
When you sign your UFC contract, you are a product of the UFC brand, meaning the UFC want to promote you and your fights.
You need to see yourself as your own personal brand to get yourself noticed by the UFC’s talent scouts on social media.
This means post training videos and videos of your competitions and fights, or interviews on podcasts. Do polls on your Instagram, and engage with your follower’s comments.
It’s important to be genuine and be yourself, but think about how you want to be perceived by UFC fans worldwide, and start building up a social media following.
Your martial art skills and fighting talents are ultimately what matter the most, but if the UFC can see you’re already building a following, they’ll be more interested in signing you.
6. Focus on Athletic Training & Nutrition
MMA is a high-paced athletic sport requiring both strength and endurance.
For you to compete at the highest level in the UFC, as well as your martial arts training, you need to work on a mix of cardio, mobility, and strength.
Working with a professional personal trainer to help you design a training program specific to you and your needs, is the best way to do this.
Nutrition is going to be another big part of your journey too. Whatever diet you chose to eat, as long as it works for you and gives you the energy you need for training.
7. Turn Pro
At this point in your fighting career, if you’ve learned the fundamentals, got some experience, built up some followers, and are in peak physical condition – you can talk to your coach about turning professional.
Ultimately, no-one else can tell you when you should turn pro. But your coaches are going to be the best people to help you make the decision.
8. Study & Learn from the Greats
Now you’ve done all the preparation, and are a licenced professional MMA fighter.
With a few fights experience and a small social media following, you’re now ready to make your run at the UFC.
Now it’s time to study the greats of the sport to take inspiration from them, and see how and why UFC fans love them.
Is it the techniques they use, their fighting styles, or their personalities? What got them to where they are? Who do you want to be like?
You need to be unique and be yourself, but at the end of the day, you want to become a UFC great and Hall of Famer, so study the guys and gals who have come before you.
9. Know Your Backup Plan
Even some of the best UFC fighters have backup plans.
Stipe Miocic was still a Firefighter while UFC heavyweight champion.
Tim Kennedy, a member of the US Special Forces.
With many, many more examples.
This is because all the best preparation in the world can’t guarantee success, especially in a sport like MMA.
Plus, as a new fighter just newly signed to the UFC, you may still want a second income.
Joe Rogan said on his podcast that for someone to make it to the top of the UFC, as well as all the years of hard work and preparation, you also need “all the stars to align for you”.
Meaning, you also need a bit of luck on your side too.
Which is why having something to fall back on is also a smart move.
10. Apply To Be A UFC Fighter
At this point, you’re ready to apply to become a UFC fighter.
You can apply directly on the UFC’s website, either to enter Dana White’s Contender Series, or The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).
You don’t need to apply for one of these shows to get noticed by the UFC, if you’re good they’ll notice you anyway.
But by applying for a show, you’re giving yourself another opportunity to get yourself in front of the UFC match makers.
You may not make it onto one of the shows the first time, but you’ll now be on the UFC’s radar, and they’ll be watching.
Related UFC Fighter Questions
Do UFC Fighters Get Paid a Salary?
UFC fighters do not get paid a fixed salary, they’re paid per fight. In general, they’re paid their purse, whether they win or lose, and a win-bonus if they win (usually same as their purse). The UFC also pay performance bonuses around $50,000. If a UFC fighter doesn’t fight, they don’t get paid.
A fighter’s purse is the amount of money they get paid per fight, as agreed in their contract.
You could sign a 3 fight contract with the UFC with a fixed purse amount for each fight.
Then once your 3 fights are done and your contact is finished, you could renegotiate a new fixed purse amount and sign a new contract.
As you climb the UFC ranks and become more of a house hold name, your fixed purse will increase.
For example, as a new UFC fighter, your purse could be $25,000.
If you win, you get your $25k purse and your win-bonus which is usually the same amount as the purse, so you make $50k for that fight.
If you lose the fight, you only get your $25k purse.
UFC fighters also usually get paid by independent brands for advertising their products or for appearing for interviews and photoshoots etc.
Is It Hard to Become a UFC Fighter?
Becoming a UFC fighter is a hard goal to achieve because it takes years of dedication, hard training, multiple professional fights, and some luck. You have to stay fit and healthy, with no injuries or suspensions, which can be hard to manage. But anything is possible, and it can be achieved.
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