Mark is a Judo black belt (Serbian national team member), Wrestler, BJJ purple belt, MMA coach and undefeated MMA fighter. You can find Mark Lajhner’s FREE MMA course Here.
There is no clear cut answer for this question, and the decision is ultimately up to your coach and you. I can however give you a few guidelines.
We will look at 3 factors:
2. Skill level and
3. Competitive experience.
Let’s start with age.
As you probably might have seen, there are MMA competitions for little kids where there are no strikes to the head allowed. But I’ve also seen a kid’s MMA fight in Chechniya i think with adult rules which I thought was child abuse. Just like kid’s Muay Thai matches in Thailand with full rules.
So I personally think this is too early and that kids might train MMA from an early age, but not compete in it, or in any other full contact striking sport for that matter.
It is much better for kids to compete in wrestling, judo, bjj or grappling instead of risking brain damage. I will return to this later. On top of this you probably have to be 18 in most countries to compete in MMA.
Next we move on to skill level and competitive experience. Don’t rush in to fight just because you’re itching. If your skills are not good enough you have no place competing. You have to bring something to the table.
That is why I recommend that competing in grappling sports first. It is not exactly the same as MMA since nobody will try and take your head off, but you will still have to deal with all of the competitive challenges. Weight cutting, tactics, fight preparation, warm up, jitters and so on.
The more competitions you have before your entry into MMA – the better. It will make the transition much easier. I have competed in judo for 15 years before I switched to MMA. I also competed in freestyle wrestling, grappling and bJJ. So when I switched to MMA it wasn’t a shock. I mean it was a shock technically and phisically when I started training MMA since it is a different sport, but it was not competitively.
Most people nowadays start with amateur MMA which is a good idea because you get to fight people who are starting out like you, and there is more protective equipment allowed. There is also a downside to amateur MMA, but it is irrelevant to this video.
Skill level and competitive experience don’t always go hand in hand. A person can be skillful if he has trained for a long time, but also lack competitive experience. I’ve seen people that rule the gym but crumble under pressure in competitions.
So you need to have skills, but it woudn’t hurt to have some competitive experience in milder sports before you enter the octagon.
To sum everything up:
– Don’t rush to compete in MMA. Wait at least until you’re 18 or even older. You need time to develop skills and MMA is dangerous.
– Compete in grappling sports as much as possible to get used to competing and dealing with stress. Jitters never go away but you learn how to handle it better. It is also advisable to keep competing in grappling sports even after you start with MMA. You can only have so many MMA fights but you can have a lot of competitions in grappling sports.
– Competing in striking sports would also be beneficial, but the chance of getting brain damage is there so I would avoid it.
As for the second part of the question – how do you know you’re ready for your first competition, you have to feel that you’re ready and decide to do it.
I’ve know people that postpone their MMA debuts for years even though they have trained for a long time and are more than ready. I’ve also seen people jump into it early.
Hopefully this video will help you make an informed decision on when to compete in MMA.