Editor’s Note: This piece of expert content was contributed by longtime mixed martial arts competitor and coach certified by the International MMA Federation, Miguel Antonio Ordoñez. I give him my personal seal of approval; he knows what he’s talking about. – GDM
We know why you’re here. You’re an aspiring MMA fighter, or at least considering to be one. You’ve seen your fair share of UFC fights and thought, ‘That looks like fun. I’m pretty sure I can do that, too.’
If you’re in that mindset, pat yourself on the back. Success in this brutal game requires a healthy level of confidence, even a little bit of narcissism. But like any other planned venture, you must get to step one. In this case, it’s finding the proper gear to get you ready to go.
But even if you’re just doing this for exercise, welcome. We’re glad you’re here. We’ve narrowed the list to essentials and some nice-to-haves to make things easier for you, especially if you’re considering building your home gym.
An All-Important Tactical Gear Guide For the Aspiring MMA Fighter
So without further ado, here’s our list of must-haves and bonus items for the aspiring MMA fighter and casual practitioner. Some will be slightly pricey, but they will serve you well in the long run.
First, let’s begin with the non-negotiables.
Gloves and Hand Wraps
You’ve got to protect those hands. They will be your bread and butter and should be gloved up in the gym, whether sparring or hitting the bag. Never go bare-fisted. Even bare-knuckle boxers train with gloves.
Any brand of hand wraps will do, as long as they’re long enough to cover and pad up your knuckles and wrists thoroughly. You’ll find good products on Amazon, and none of them will cost you $20.
Let’s talk about gloves. First, you’ll need a bigger pair that offer more cushion for sparring sessions, between 14 and 16 ounces. My top three brand recommendations would be Everlast, Fairtex, and Venum. I find them to be durable enough to withstand regular beatings.
But if I were to pick a number one, it would be the Venum Elite boxing gloves. At least in my experience, they offer the best padding for your knuckles, and they last the longest. A pair costs $85.99 on Amazon and comes in 20 different colors.
You’ll also need grappling gloves if you’re an aspiring MMA fighter. They’re smaller than regular boxing gloves and provide the much-needed familiarity for when you go into battle.
Grappling gloves shouldn’t be confused with MMA gloves. While they weigh almost the same, the former has a bit of extra knuckle padding for LIGHT sparring.
For grappling gloves, Everlast is my go-to brand. These seven-ounce gloves provide enough protection and comfort for all five fingers. They cost $38.93 on Amazon and won’t give out on you that easily.
Otherwise known as a mouthpiece, this is another non-negotiable for every aspiring MMA fighter. Keep those pearly whites covered when sparring unless you want to lose that killer smile.
Dentists craft custom-fitted mouthguards, costing between $100 and $700. Boil and bite mouthguards are your next best option, which you can get for $7 to $11 on Amazon. They do the job but won’t feel comfortable even if you think you’ve fit them snugly.
But there are boil-and-bite brands like Sisu that offer comfort while effectively shielding your teeth. Unlike any cheaper brand, these fit best while allowing you to breathe easily.
Since I started using Sisu, I never returned to any other brand. They come at a higher yet reasonable price of $29.99 on Amazon, but you will get more bang for your buck.
Shin-to-shin contact is one of the worst feelings in the world. It’s up there with stubbing your toe or stepping on a Lego. It will stop you in your tracks and make you scream and curse to no end.
Save that pain for the actual fight. While in the gym, a pair of shin guards will be your best friend. They will help prevent all bone-on-bone impacts, whether shin-to-chin or shin-to-temple.
Fairtex has a good line of products, the same ones used for high-profile Muay Thai competitions in Thailand. You can get them from Amazon for at least $84.99, and unlike other brands, Fairtex shin guards provide complete coverage from the shin to the talus, a.k.a. the top side of the foot.
But in my humble opinion, Venum’s shin guards are slightly better. Whether you choose the Challenger for $69.99 or the Elite for $96.25, you will feel that it’s money well-spent. Unlike other brands, you won’t have to constantly adjust them during sparring because they will stick to your shins like glue when strapped in.
There’s a bit of a debate about the importance of using headgear during sparring. Head protection is necessary, and there’s no question about that. But some would argue that headgear blocks their field of vision, which is more dangerous.
Sparring is a necessary evil for any aspiring MMA fighter, and whether or not you use a headgear will be up to you. If you choose not to wear it, remember to exercise caution.
But if you’re on team headgear, I recommend Venum’s products again. The brand does not sponsor me in any way, but in my 14 years of training and sparring in boxing and Muay Thai, this is the product I’m most satisfied with.
Specifically, I use the Venum Elite. It offers complete coverage of the head’s off switches without compromising your sight. You can get it for $47.50 on Amazon.
Submission Grappling Gear
Let’s switch gears a little bit. Any aspiring MMA fighter MUST learn submission grappling. You don’t need to be at the world champion level, but at the very least, you must know a few techniques to pull out from your back pocket when needed.
First, a rashguard. Unlike a t-shirt, it’s tight enough to prevent accidental tugs and pulls during a grappling training session. Any rash guard will do; the cheaper, the better. You’re better off stocking up on a few than having just one pricey rashguard.
However, you have to be particular about the shorts. I advise against using surfer board shorts because some of them come with metal zippers and drawstrings that could take an eye out while grappling.
Instead, go for grappling shorts that come with a garter or velcro. Likewise, any brand will do, and you’ll find ones of good quality on Amazon for at least $19.99.
This section is for the aspiring MMA fighter who wants to take their training to the next level. They’re the ones who found so much enjoyment in the sport that they’ve decided to build a home gym.
A good set of mats will last you at least five years, depending on your training. You can opt for the cheaper puzzle mats, but I wouldn’t recommend them if you’re doing wrestling takedown drills.
You want mats that are an inch and a half thick, like these. These mats cost $26.98 per 6-foot-long panel, so you’ll need a few to cover up a good chunk of floor space. It could be costly, but it will serve you longer.
Free Standing Dummy
You already know how I feel about the Bob free-standing dummy. It’s an excellent investment for any aspiring MMA fighter as it allows a more realistic approach to training.
Different variants of the Bob free-standing dummy range from $149.99 to $549.99. The pricier the product, the more features it offers for you to play around with.
If you can’t afford the Bob, a heavy bag will do. But if you’re training MMA, pick a Muay Thai banana bag that extends longer to the floor. They allow you to practice your leg kicks.
Muay Thai bags cost between $99 to $129 on Amazon. Regardless of the price tag, these bags will still last you a few years before you notice visible signs of wear and tear.
A Reflex Bar
In a previous article, I gave a sneak preview of a reflex bar and highly recommended it for head movement drills for any aspiring MMA fighter. It’s also a fun toy to have around the home gym.
You can’t always have an available body for you to grapple with. In such situations, a grappling dummy would come in handy.
MMA requires strength training, but the standard home gym likely won’t allow for a complete set of weights. Kettlebells, however, won’t take up too much space.
A three-piece kettlebell set with 10, 15, and 20-pound weights cost $39.99, and that’s all you need for functional drills for strength and explosiveness. But you can get a more elaborate set of six at $136.39.
A Must-Read Guide For Every Aspiring MMA Fighter
Hopefully, this essential guide will serve you well in starting your MMA training. Now it’s your turn. Gear up, go to the gym, and train. Whether you do it to build a career in prizefighting or for exercise, it will be a fun venture. That’s a champion deal if you ask me.