Just like the sport of mixed martial arts has evolved, so has the competition gear athletes wear during combat. During its humble beginnings as an underground, bare knuckle, anything goes format, athletes wore whatever helped them survive and win. This included anything from going shirtless to wearing full martial arts gis. With the emergence of the UFC came a minimal set of rules and standardization of gear as well as a wider, much more accepting viewing audience. Now, standard protective equipment include a pair of fingerless 4oz. gloves, mouthguard and groin cup. The uniform seen worn by most fighter is simple... a pair of fight shorts.
With mixed martial arts being comprised of numerous fighting disciplines, apparel worn for practice and actual combat must have certain features to accommodate whichever style the athlete specializes in. Regardless of individual style preferences or what discipline the athlete may have started with, fight shorts must have features that will allow both grappling and high kicking. While some styles of shorts definitely work better for certain fighting disciplines, there are still some general features that are must-haves regardless of what your favorite moves are. For example good fight shorts must have exceptionally durable material to withstand being slid and scrubbed against the floor and cage walls of the ring. Look for shorts with material that has an elastic property that will stretch against the bends of the hips and legs for the best range of motion. Shorts with materials that have less give may be very limiting for certain techniques.
When shopping for fight shorts, choose above the knee lengths to avoid trapping the material within the knee joint when grappling and ground fighting. Fight shorts should not be tight (unless they are compression gear) and best if comprised of slick type material rather than rough, canvas type to prevent friction against the mat or your opponent. The waist of good fight shorts should be comfortable but above all secure so they stay put. Some shorts have elastic waistbands while others offer Velcro enclosures but all should have a draw string of some sort for a tighter, more adjustable fit. Do not wear shorts with pockets or loops of any kind or they can get snagged during combat. Good fight shorts will be smooth all over the sleekest action and best performance.
If you want to be a pro MMA fighter, it's smart to emulate what the pros do and copy what they wear when they're in the cage. Even though your style of fighting may be different than theirs, doing this will at least give you a place to start. It seems the most popular MMA shorts are knee length and look like they could double as a pair of board shorts you also see surfers wearing at the beach. This style of shorts offer a comfortable fit with just enough snug in the hips but still plenty of room in the thighs to feel secure while pulling off all your moves. The length of MMA fight shorts offers plenty of space for advertising making them ideal for sponsorship logos, crucial to your career as a fighter.
Before buying a pair of MMA fight shorts, make sure you have the right fit. Some of these shorts have fairly thick material, making them extremely durable but slightly less flexible. If MMA shorts are even a bit to snug, their lack of stretch may limit your range of motion or change the way certain moves feel. As long as they fit correctly, MMA fight shorts are great for fighters who like to stand and box but not use many head kicks and mostly stay off the ground. They also work well for wrestlers however there are better choices for pure grapplers. The best MMA fight shorts for wrestlers are made with slicker material to allow faster action yet still provide good traction against the floor.
Muay Thai fight shorts are also seen worn by pro MMA fighters in the cage but mostly by athletes who specialize in this discipline. These shorts are worn by kickboxers so they are very baggy and offer the best range of motion for high knees and kicks to the head. They're also great to wrestle in because they are made with satin or silky type material so they're very slick on the ground. Muay Thai shorts are mid-thigh or higher and have wide, soft elastic waistbands much like shorts seen in the boxing ring so they are probably the most comfortable to wear. Drawbacks may include how loose they are on the legs. While this is a plus for performing kicks and knees, Muay Thai shorts tend to ride up the thigh very easily when grappling causing too much exposure for some athletes. This is easily remedied however by wearing a pair of compression shorts underneath. Most Muay Thai fight shorts are brightly colored and have some kind of Thai writing across the front and/or back. This means they are not ideal for displaying sponsorship company logos so for advertising purposes, these may not be the best shorts.
If you're looking for a garment that offers the most versatility for mma, a good pair of Vale Tudo shorts is the best you can get. These shorts look like a pair of short length compression shorts so they are definitely the most revealing, however allow the best range of motion for all possible techniques used. Vale Tudo was a 'no holds barred' fighting venue that preceded MMA with tournaments mostly being held underground (not widely publicized) because they were so rough. Vale Tudo fighters mostly used Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and a range of striking techniques, very similar to modern day MMA (just with even less rules). Fight shorts worn for this type of martial art were best for grappling/BJJ but also allowed the freest ability for all/any striking methods as well.
In the cage, Vale Tudo shorts are excellent for both wrestling and throwing high kicks. You will never have problems with extra material getting in the way, causing extra friction or slowing you down as with traditional MMA shorts when you wear Vale Tudo shorts. These garments slide nicely against the ground when grappling providing the sleekest movement for close but also your stand-up game. The only disadvantage of Vale Tudo shorts are they may be too revealing for some athletes who may be uncomfortable wearing them in front of a crowd as they are a type of compression gear so they are skin tight. Short length Vale Tudo shorts are only about mid-thigh and also don't leave much material for advertising space regarding potential sponsor logos however their performance trumps this drawback.