What MMA Teaches Us About Poker

min read
MMA fighter wearing boxing gloves in a fight stance staring at the camera
BetMGM May 30, 2023, 3:13 AM

If you’re seeking to elevate your poker game to the next level, there’s a lot to be learned from MMA. Believe it or not, successful fighters have a lot in common with their card-playing counterparts.

The best combatants are not necessarily the physically strongest. There’s much more to MMA than force, with a complex blend of psychology, skill, discipline and mental strength as the key to success. And unlike other online casino games, poker requires a broadly similar skill set.

What Is MMA?

If you didn’t already know, Mixed Martial Arts combines a wide range of techniques and disciplines. Two fighters enter an eight-sided ring known as the “Octagon,” where they’re allowed to strike, grapple and throw. The most successful athletes blend elements of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling and Muay Thai, among others, to create their own fighting style.

MMA as we know it today emerged in the 1990s and is already widely regarded as the world’s fastest-growing sport. At first glance, entering the Octagon couldn’t be more different to playing live or online poker. But the two overlap far more than you might initially realize. 

Let’s take a look at the key commonalities.


To be successful in any sport, few things are more important than discipline. We all know stories of high-profile athletes who were naturally talented but didn’t have the right attitude to make it. Innate ability can only take you so far. To unlock your full potential, you must back that talent up with a desire to train consistently — every day, for weeks, months and years of your life. 

There are no shortcuts to the top in MMA or poker. An elite fighter will hit the gym regularly in order to maintain their physique, sharpen their reflexes and improve their technique. They can work with a trainer to add new skills to their arsenal. And this is also true of a poker player.

Working daily with solvers to plug holes in your theoretical game is the equivalent of hitting the gym. Of course, actually working out isn’t a bad thing either; it helps increase endurance and focus. And learning the different poker game variations helps to improve your critical thinking skills.

Mental Strength

On a similar note, mindset is vital if you’re going to be successful in any walk of life. The highest achievers in sport, poker and business all have this in common. The ability to handle setbacks, whether it’s a defeat in the ring, a bad beat at the felt or a business venture that didn’t work out, is pivotal.

Emotional control is also a massive part of winning, both at the felt and in MMA. We all know how dangerous tilt can be in poker, for instance. Well, losing your cool can also result in losing a fight. 

There’s a fine line between self-belief and arrogance, too. Staying humble is imperative, as this will help you continue learning and improving. There are no failures, as such — only opportunities to learn from mistakes and improve going forward. Setbacks are only problematic if you constantly repeat the same mistakes.


Poker is one of the few online casino games where you can employ a winning strategy. Other casino games, such as online slots, keno or dice, rely entirely on luck. But even with solved games like video poker or blackjack, the winning strategy is fixed, with little room for creativity.

Because poker is not fully solved, it’s possible to take several different approaches and still win. Of course, you’ll need to ensure your fundamentals are tight, like hand ranges and betting frequencies in certain situations. But it’s also essential to be able to mix things up when something’s not working as expected.

What’s more, you can’t be predictable. If your opponent knows what you’re going to do, they’ll easily be able to defend your attacks. The more a fighter can mix up their techniques, the harder life will be for their opponent. A concept that is also fundamental to poker success.

Pacing Yourself

In any given fight, it’s crucial to pace yourself. Too much early aggression and you might burn out, unable to last through the later rounds. But if you don’t do enough early on, you’re vulnerable to a points defeat. You simply must find the right balance.

Poker tournaments are quite similar in that regard. While it’s not possible to win an event in the early rounds, you can certainly lose one if you try to force the issue. Choosing your bluffs, semi-bluffs and all-in spots wisely is integral to success, particularly later on in the game.

The same is true when it comes to longevity. Picking your fights carefully can extend your career, which is comparable to bankroll management. Try to do too much too soon and you could end up broke. Patience is key.

Knowing Your Enemy

Whether playing poker or entering the Octagon, much of your success undoubtedly comes from within. Your own personal training and preparation will play a critical role in determining whether you win or lose. However, don’t forget that you’re coming up against other well-prepared opponents too.

All things being equal, fine margins, like knowing your opponent’s traits could make all the difference. It’s easier for an MMA fighter to prepare since they only take on one competitor at a time. Nevertheless, they still need to put in the hours to study past fights and look for patterns or weaknesses. 

Whenever you spot a chink in your opponent’s armor, you must adapt your own strategy in order to exploit that weakness. This is equally true of successful poker players. Taking notes on regulars is vital. Pay attention to statistics such as how often they play preflop, their bet sizing and check-raise frequencies.

Channel Your Inner Fighter at BetMGM

As we’ve seen, the poker table has an awful lot in common with the Octagon. In order to be successful in either sphere, you must display mental strength, discipline and patience. Strategy is vital, but don’t underestimate the importance of a flexible approach to suit different opponents.

If you’re feeling inspired by the world of MMA, register to play poker online now and bring the fight to the BetMGM tables. And if you’re looking for something to do in between poker games, you can explore our huge range of online casino games, such as online slots and live dealer blackjack.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.