Ryan Bader vs. Fedor Emelianenko (Dave Mandel/Combat Press)

What Does MMA Have in Common With Poker?

On the surface, mixed martial arts and poker are complete opposites. One is a high-octane and highly physical combat sport, while the other is a card game. Ok, so that short definition does a huge disservice to poker, which is, in fact, widely regarded as a mentally challenging mindsport, but you get the idea.  

Underneath it all, however, MMA and poker actually have quite a lot in common. To excel in either, you need to be incredibly dedicated, have a strategic mindset and maintain ultimate self-belief. But what other connections or commonalities can be found? Let’s take a look.  

Sin City 


Las Vegas is the entertainment capital of the US, and that’s a well-known fact. People from across the world flock to Sin City to indulge their every desire, whether that’s living it up in a lavish casino or checking out the hedonistic nightlife. It’s also the spiritual home of both poker and the world’s largest MMA promotion, the UFC.  

Vegas has long been considered the birthplace of modern poker, given that the city is where major world-class poker tournaments like the World Series of Poker (WSOP) are held. Every poker player out there, from the greenest newbies to the pros who have done it all, will view Las Vegas as a mecca for this ubiquitous card game. The same can be said for the UFC.  

Vegas has played a fundamental role in shaping the Ultimate Fighting Championship into the entertainment powerhouse that it is today. Several of the most important events on the annual calendar take place in Las Vegas, including those all-important PPV title fights. Sin City has hosted legendary events throughout the history of the promotion, all the way back to its early days. The Cox Pavilion was where “the most important fight in MMA history” between Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin went down (TUF1 Final), while the T-Mobile Arena hosted UFC 202, AKA the night Conor McGregor redeemed his loss to Nate Diaz.  

Dramatic Nicknames

Nicknames per se aren’t exclusive to either the poker world or to Mixed Martial Arts, but both disciplines take nicknaming to the extreme. MMA fighters and poker players alike are rather fond of dramatic noms de plume, and it’s a tendency that’s been around since the very early days of both combat sports and poker. 

Some of the most famous nicknames in poker originated from the player’s hometown; case in point, “Oklahoma” Jonny Hale. Meanwhile Isabelle Mercier’s “No Mercy” sobriquet could easily be adopted by any of the fierce female athletes in the current UFC rankings. Speaking of fierce female athletes, Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes certainly lives up to her moniker.  

Terrence Chan 

“Who is Terrence Chan?”, we hear you ask. The Lion’s MMA bantamweight may not have the starriest career, with a pro record sitting at 4-2 since 2018, but he was one of the most unlikely of fighters to ever walk into the cage and another link between the two disciplines of MMA and poker.  

Terrence Chan was riding high as a promising young poker champion when he felt the urge to compete in combat sports. A few years after he started playing poker, Chan took up the sport of Muay Thai, primarily as a way to stay fit. However, after watching DVDs of the legendary Pride FC, Chan decided to get in the ring and try the competitive side of martial arts for himself.  

And try he did, entering a number of amateur Muay Thai and MMA bouts in Canada from 2011 to 2015, all the while continuing to compete in some of the toughest pro poker tournaments, including the WSOP and the Asia Pacific Poker Tour. 

It wasn’t long before Chan was testing his skills in pro bouts, making his MMA debut at Legend FC 8, where he armbarred his opponent in the second round. Chan may not have achieved his dream of competing in the UFC, but holding down both a pro poker career and a pro-MMA career is nothing to be sniffed at. And neither are his live poker winnings, which total $1,357,402 to date.