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Does A College Education Give MMA Fighters An Edge?

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By Jillian Bullock

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When many people look at mixed martial arts fighters they tend to think that these people make a living with their hands, knees, elbows, and feet because they are uneducated thugs or bar brawlers who can’t make a good living doing anything else – meaning any white collar type job or one that calls for a college degree. However, those same people would be very surprised to find out that many MMA fighters do have formal education under their championship belts. In the UFC, 70% of fighters have college degrees.

Some media outlets still paint a picture as mixed martial artists being nothing more than street fighters. It is a stereotype many fighters and MMA organizations are trying to change in order to gain more acceptance as a legitimate sport with real athletes.

Many fighters feel that education does give them an edge to winning. Several coaches and trainers agree with those fighters. Although a college degree won’t help a fighter once he enters the cage, to prepare for a fight coaches and trainers focus on analytical thinking, helping their fighter size up their opponent by learning their emotional, as well as their physical weaknesses. This knowledge becomes an asset to figuring out how to beat the other fighter. Those fighters who become champions often work hard at studying their own fight plan and their opponent’s. They will make the necessary adjustments to focus on the other fighter’s weak points.

Randy Couture, who has a degree in German from Oklahoma State University, was one of the first fighters to learn how to maximize his strengths and target weaknesses of his opponents. Using his adaptive style, wisdom, brains, and education, Couture was able to stay fighting in MMA way pass what was considered his prime. Plus, he was able to take out guys like Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Vitor Belfort, and Tim Sylvia, who were younger than him.

His MMA gym in Las Vegas is known to help prepare fighters, especially those who are struggling, train more efficiently so they can win. Couture and his coaching partner Mark Coleman, who also went to college, focuses on a trainee’s skills and weaknesses, his conditioning, and the specific skill set of their opponent.

“Besides being in great shape and having great fighting skills, if a fighter can get inside the head of his opponent, throw him off his game, then he’ll have a good chance of winning,” states Josh Daniels, a MMA strength and conditioning coach in Philadelphia, PA. “Plus, I’ve found the guys who have a degree think, concentrate and focus more during training. They’re also more disciplined.”

Over the years MMA has seen college wrestlers like Brock Lesner, Rashad Evans, Josh Koscheck, Ryan Bader, and Anthony Johnson, do well in mixed martial arts. Now other college wrestlers are following in their footsteps by flocking to the sport. MMA coaches say these athletes bring with them outstanding athleticism, work ethic and a unique skill set which is the result of being an NCAA athlete.

Several coaches have also observed that college athletes also tend to be more coachable, they learn quicker, are more focused than many non college athletes, and they understand how important learning adds value to their abilities to do well in their sport.

MMA Fighters Are Quite Educated

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These men and others who hold a degree and fight could be earning good money in their field, which makes some people wonder why they don’t use their smarts, skills, knowledge, and education to obtain not just a job, but a career, instead of fighting in a ring or cage.

Despite their education many fight because they love the sport, others because they can’t find a job in their field, many do work a 9 to 5 and still fight, some will use their college degrees to have something to fall back on if fighting doesn’t work out or once they retire, and some simply seek the fame, fortune, travel, and excitement that comes with being a MMA fighter.

Surprisingly, Shane Carwin, who is considered one of the best fighters in the UFC, holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines as well as a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Technology from Western State College. Although, he earns an excellent salary as a fighter, he still works as an engineer.

Many coaches and MMA schools do encourage their trainees to pursue a college degree. One of those schools is Combat Athletix in Northeast Florida.

Don Roberts, who is a manager and trainer at Combat Athletix states, “We want our practitioners to become better people and we strive to make that happen from the beginning.”


This article isn’t about lessening the skills and abilities of fighters who don’t have a college degree.  People like Frank Mir, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Anderson Silva, and other fighters who didn’t have a chance or the ability to go to college, or who chose not to go, have also shown they have been able to master great fighting skills without a college degree. In fact, their college has been in the education of learning various forms of martial arts and putting their knowledge and experience to use in the cage.

However, bringing this subject to the attention of people is simply a way to point out that MMA fighters have gotten a bad rap in the past. They’re not all thugs, who can’t string an intelligent sentence together. The education of a MMA fighter has been overlooked since it does take a tremendous amount of intellect, focus, discipline, and time management to attend college and to train, especially if he is in school while he’s fighting.

Regardless of whether an MMA fighter has a college degree or not, the bottom line is it’s a hard road to reach the top, to earn the type of money where a fighter can quit his day job, and to become a champion.


About Jillian Bullock – I am a martial artist and boxer. As a former competitive fighter, I hold a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and Wing Chun. Now I train in MMA. I am also a certified personal trainer and certified kickboxing instructor. I recently started writing about MMA because I love the sport and as a writer and a MMA student I couldn’t think of anything better I’d love to write about, well other than movies. To learn more about me or to keep in touch, go to

About Jillian Bullock

Jillian Bullock has written 28 post in this blog.

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Category | UFC

2 Comments For This Post

  1. M. Coleman Says:

    This is an absolutely incredible article! I can tell you put a lot of time and effort into this and I truly appreciate it. I also like the focus on the good aspects of mixed martial arts as opposed to the barbaric issues some people feel compelled to harp on.


  2. TKD Uniforms Says:

    I love this article, all the people who think MMA fighters are dumb should have good hard look at this, they enjoy the sport none of them are stupid, they just do what they love.

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