10 Non-Combat Sports That Best Prepare You for MMA
When we mention "background" in MMA, we usually find ourselves discussing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai or college wrestling. As professional fighting becomes more lucrative, however, we are beginning to see athletes from an eclectic range of sporting disciplines entering the cage for the first time.
Can a sport really produce fighters by accident? Probably not. What non-combat sports can do, though, is equip individuals with the basic physical and mental attributes necessary for a successful foray into fighting.
This article looks to separate the sheep from the goats, discussing 10 activities which prepare the modern warrior for battle without a single punch, kick or knee being thrown.
While a sport notorious for diving and histronics may seem to offer little to the aspiring MMA fighter, several high-profile UFC competitors have come from a soccer background. Indeed, several UFC champions have sporting roots in "the beautiful game", including José Aldo and Anderson Silva—could there really be a correlation between soccer skills and martial aptitude?
Yes, according to colour-commentator Joe Rogan, who has suggested a link between soccer's firey footwork and the leg detexity underlying an effective MMA kicking game. While soccer players lack many of the attributes associated with fighting fitness, perhaps novice strikers really could improve the fluidity of their movement by adding ball drills into their training regime.
Who wants to see Shane Carwin trying "keepie-uppies"? I know I do.
Rugby training builds cage-worthy specimens—just ask UFC welterweight John Hathaway, who tempered his metal playing for Hove RFC in his native England.
Rugby emphasizes hip power, explosiveness and unyielding determination, producing machine-like bodies perfect for wrestling and clinch-work.
I wager the increased pain tolerance may also help, but let's not tell the abolitionists.
As a proud Irishman, I felt obligated to including hurling in this list.
With a history rooted in Gaelic warrior training, hurling looks and feels like a violent marriage of lacrosse and field hockey, and is undoubtedly one of the most difficult games on earth.
Adept hurlers are elite sportsmen, powerful athletes with unrivaled hand-eye coordination and lighting-fast reflexes. The hurling pitch is a battlefield: players move at lightning speed, balancing the ball on their sticks while avoiding vicious shoulder tackles and the occasional rogue swing.
Hurlers have a tactical mind, an iron body and a fighter's heart—the perfect head start to a successful MMA career.
Any sepak takraw players in the audience? I doubt it. Despite the sport's lack of popularity in the West, however, few who have seen "takraw" could argue that the sport, sometimes known as "kick volleyball," requires anything short of superhuman flexibility, coordination and strength.
Players of sepak takraw hurl themselves through the air on the regular, developing enviable core stability and leg power far exceeding that wielded by the average MMA fighter. What matter, you say? Will we see any former "takraw" players in the Octagon soon?
Perhaps we will. The UFC seems determined to conquer the Asian MMA market—maybe we'll be watching highlight reels composed of backflip-kick knockouts by 2015.
While rock climbing undoubtedly produces a wiry musculature and vice-like grip, a climber's best asset, should he or she choose to try MMA, comes from a highly-developed understanding of balance and pressure. As any judoka or BJJ player will tell you, grappling is a game of physics, a battle of physical chess won and lost in a matter of millimetres.
If you want to learn MMA physics and have to do so outside the gym, where better than nature's classroom?
Dancing and MMA have an interesting historical relationship. In ancient times, martial artists subject to oppression under foreign regimes would hide their martial knowledge in dance sequences. More recently, once Bruce Lee encouraged his students to take ballroom dance lessons in order to improve their martial skills.
What attributes can ballet offer the MMA fighter? Balance, check. Strength, check. Flexibility, check.
The quality which really separates dancers from other athletes, however, lies not in the muscles, but in the mind. Successful dancers go through physical hell in order to perfect their craft, and have a work ethic which most sportsmen simply do not have the capacity to comprehend.
The moral of the story? Next time you see a man in a leotard, show some respect.
Georges St-Pierre is widely regarded as one of the fittest and training-savvy fighters in the UFC today. How does Mr. St-Pierre go about taking his already elite conditioning to the next level? By dabbling in gymnastics, of course.
Gymnasts have it all—dynamic flexibility, rock-solid stability and staying explosive power. What's more, gymnasts are well accustomed to learning and refining extremely complex movements, making the process of acquiring MMA's myriad techniques all the more painless.
Triathlon training, publicised in MMA by the brothers Diaz, provides a brilliant base for combat training.
While triathletes may not the strongest men and women on earth, MMA fans should be aware of one simple fact: cardio wins fights. Accomplished triathletes stepping into the gym for the first time should have no fear of pushing a frenetic pace in sparring, dragging their opponents into deep water and drowning them.
Triathlon is perhaps one of the most interesting sports we could discuss, since, unlike others on this list, training for both competitive triathlon and MMA seems to be an actual possibility.
Someone should tell Bob Sa...nevermind.
Ever since Sébastien Foucan blazed across our screens in Casino Royale, both Parkour and Freerunning have soared in popularity, prompting teenagers everywhere to begin back-flipping between items of furniture en route to the fridge.
The serious freerunner or traceur however, should not be taken lightly. Underlying the frills and flamboyance featured in online PK/Freerunning highlights is a raw athleticism eluding most mere mortals. Tricksters are freak athletes by nature—despite what you may read on the internet, not everyone can become a world class practitioner through hard work and determination.
Freerunning and Parkour attract a certain kind of person, and few who dabble in these sports will ever truly excel. Those who do, however, constitute the perfect "base model" for MMA, packing power, agility and mental strength into one prodigious package.
One-hundred metres, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 metres, 110 metres hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw and 1500 metres. Two days, one sport. Welcome to the world of decathlon.
While we haven't yet seen a high-level decathlete transfer to MMA, there can be little doubt that such an individual would need little physical preparation to begin learning the tricks of the trade. Decathletes must be speedy and strong, light and powerful, explosive and durable; what more could we ask of a fighter?
Picture a wrestler with un-pinnable hips, a striker who can fight for days. Imagine the child of Nick Diaz and Anthony Johnson. While training for MMA and the decathlon simultaneously would be impossible, we may yet see the transfer of "track and field" athletes to our sport—fans should be excited, fighters should be wary.