Sambo vs. Boxing  –  What Are the Differences?

boxing vs sambo

Sambo and Boxing are two separate martial arts that apart from the few striking techniques, do not share much else in common. You may wonder, what are the exact differences between Sambo and Boxing?

Boxing is a regulated combat sport where fighters utilize only hand strikes to do damage and win matches under strict rules. Sambo is rotted in self-defense and designed as a hybrid military system. It is a mix of striking and grappling techniques put into one system and it resembles modern MMA in some way.

This is just a brief explanation of how these two arts compare. Be sure to read this article to learn more about other differences between Sambo and Boxing, as well as how these two arts compare in different aspects such as self-defense, MMA, and others.

What is Sambo?

Sambo is a Russian combat system developed in the 1920s. At the time, the Russian military was in search of a new combat system that would improve the fighting abilities of its soldiers. The final result of their work was Sambo, a hybrid mix of striking and grappling techniques.

Sambo includes only the most practical techniques from martial arts such as:

  • Folk and freestyle wrestling
  • Judo
  • Jiu jitsu
  • Boxing
  • Kickboxing

In some way, it resembles modern MMA as it focuses on freestyle combat. This is one of the reasons why fighters trained in Sambo are so dominant in cage fighting, but more about that later.

There are two main styles of Sambo and here is an explanation of both:

  • Sports Sambo — is a less intense variation as it focuses only on grappling and there is no striking. It is very similar to Judo with the only major difference being the lack of chokeholds.
  • Combat Sambo — is a military variation that includes both striking and grappling, advanced self-defense tactics and dirty moves. There is also a competition where athletes can utilize combat techniques under strict rules.

What is Boxing?

Boxing is a very popular combat sport and martial art that has been around since ancient times. It is characterized as a system in which athletes fight each other using only their fists. Though limited at first glance compared with other arts, it’s the simplicity of boxing that actually makes it effective and practical.

Boxers compete under strict rules where the match is divided into rounds. They are enabled to strike each other only using their hands to strike the upper body above the waist. The match lasts until one of the fighters gets knocked out, can no longer continue for other reasons, or until the time expires.

Also, boxing is a mainstream sport, and boxers are considered “prizefighters”. The sport offers them many opportunities to win world titles, money, global stardom, and build legacies. In fact, the sport of boxing is much more popular globally than Sambo and most other martial arts.

Boxing vs Sambo: The Key Differences

The key difference is the concept. Sambo is a hybrid mix of striking and grappling, while Boxing focuses only on stand-up and striking with your hands. Following is a list of other key differences.

History and origins

Boxing is one of the oldest martial arts and its earliest origins go all the way back to ancient Egypt 3000 years ago. The first time it appeared as a combat sport was in ancient Greece and the 23rd Olympiad in 688 BC. Over the following centuries, the sport of boxing would go through many changes until the modern form arrived in 1867 with the birth of “Queensberry Rules”.

Sambo is younger as it emerged in the 1920s in the Soviet Union. The founders were Viktor Spiridonov and Vasili Oshchepkov, both trained martial artists. They were assigned to create a new military hand-to-hand combat system, and the final result of their work was Sambo.


Boxing is a martial art, but in modern times, defined as a mainstream combat sport. The structure of training and teaching methods are designed to prepare you to win matches, tournaments, and world titles. Though not a self-defense martial art, boxing is highly effective in real life, and many people train in it to learn how to protect themselves.

In contrast, Sambo is a self-defense martial art that focuses on real-life scenarios. There is also a sports variation where you can test your skills against other practitioners and win championships. But it primarily remains a military system designed for real combat.


The main goal in boxing is to develop good enough skills to win matches in the competition. The main objective is to enter the fight ready to hurt the opponent as much as possible with every strike, knock them out, cause injuries or win by outscoring them on the scorecards.

The main objective of Sambo is to develop all-around skills and learn how to protect yourself in a self-defense situation. To achieve this, each practitioner must learn how to execute takedowns and throws, strike using all limbs, and fight on the ground. If you feel the urge to compete, you can also train to prepare for matches and pursue a professional career.


At first glance, boxing is a simple martial art. There are five different punching techniques, and the key is to use those to create combinations and mix them with footwork and upper-body movements. However, boxing has many variations and it is a small science when you go into details. Key punching techniques:

  • Hook punch
  • Uppercut
  • Cross punch
  • Jab (direct; straight punch)

Sambo is more versatile as it includes techniques from different martial arts such as wrestling, Judo, boxing, and karate. Techniques could be divided into the following groups:

  • Punches (hook, uppercut, jab, cross) *only in combat sambo
  • Kicks (low high roundhouse, front kick, side kick) * only in combat sambo
  • Chokes (rear-naked, triangle, guillotine) *only in combat sambo
  • Joint locks (leglocks, knee bar, armbar, kimura)
  • Takedowns (single leg, double leg)
  • Throws, trips, and sweeps


Boxing rules are standardized and do not vary much between the promotions and organizations. Here are the most important ones:

  • Match duration: from 4 to 12 rounds (professional). Each round lasts 3 minutes, and there is a 1-minute break between each round.
    Protective gear: full padded gloves, boxing shorts, shoes, mouthguard, and groin cup
    Fighting area: boxers compete inside the squared ring with a post in each corner with four ropes attached to each corner.
    Ways to win: decision, knockout, disqualification

Sambo rules differ between Combat and Sports variations. Here is the explanation of both.

Combat Sambo:

  • Match duration: 5 minutes
  • Gear: uniform (sambovka), open-fingered gloves, shoes, groin cup, mouth guard. Shin pads and helmets are not mandatory but some organizations might use them
  • Points: knockdown (4 points), throws (1–4 points), pins (2–4 points)

Sports sambo:

  • Match duration: 5 minutes
  • Gear: uniform (sambovka) and shoes
  • Ways to win: decision, submission, disqualification, if you gain a 12-point lead
  • Points: throws (1–4 points), pins (2–4 points)

Sambo vs Boxing for Self Defense

Sambo vs Boxing for Self-Defense?

Sambo might be a better option because the entire system was designed for self-defense while boxing is a combat sport. Or in other words, Sambo skills are more in line with the type of freestyle combat you may encounter on the streets.

Still, do not underestimate the power of boxing. Despite its limitations due to the shortage of techniques, it is still a very practical system due to one simple reason. Most attacks on the street begin with a person throwing a punch as this is the most natural and fastest way you can hurt a person. And boxing is the best when it comes to defending against these types of attacks.

Through endless drills and hard sparring, you will learn how to read the opponent’s actions, anticipate the attack, and respond in a devastating fashion. You will develop strong fighting instincts and automatic reactions to stay calm and make rational decisions in the heat of the moment.

But Sambo is clearly more practical, mainly because it is more versatile than boxing. Apart from teaching how to strike using punches, students learn how to kick and utilize knee and elbow strikes at close range. On top of that, they learn how to wrestle on their feet, grappling on the ground, get into a dominant position and apply chokes and joint locks.

Next, they also learn dirty tactics and techniques such as headbutts, eye-gouging, and groin strikes. Though brutal, these moves are very effective in a street fight without rules and referees and might save your life.

Overall, Sambo covers all the elements, places, and scenarios you may face in a self-defense situation. Boxing, on the other side, can only help you to a certain degree.

Sambo vs Boxing For MMA?

Sambo is more effective and it represents a strong MMA base on top of which you can build other skills. Boxing is the best when it comes to punches, footwork, and head movement. But Sambo as a hybrid system already resembles MMA and is more in line with the rules of the sport.

MMA is a combat sport where fighters can strike with all limbs, wrestle in the clinch, take each other down, grapple on the ground, and submit each ohter. Sambo almost perfectly fits into this concept as it covers most of the elements and it prepares you for most scenarios you may face inside the cage.

Once you switch over to MMA, the learning curve is much shorter if you are trained in Sambo than in Boxing. You already know how to mix striking with grappling which enables you to succeed much faster. Boxers must spend a couple of years learning how to defend from takedowns and chokes and locks on the ground before they can reach the same level.

This is the main reason why fighters trained in Sambo like Khabib Nurmagomedov are so successful.

Boxing represents a good MMA base but is limited in terms of techniques, notably when it comes to kicks and grappling. You will have to spend a couple of years working on developing all-around skills before you can get into serious competition.

Famous Sambo fighters in MMA:

  • Khabib Nurmagomedov
  • Islam Makhachev
  • Fedor Emelianenko

Best boxers in MMA:

  • Max Holloway
  • Stipe Miocic
  • Dustin Poirier

Sambo vs Boxing — Who Would Win in a Fight?

Sambo fighters have better chances of beating a boxer in a 1 vs. 1 matchup without the rules. Regardless of where the fight takes place, Sambo is more versatile and its fighters have more techniques at their disposal. This doesn’t mean that there are no scenarios where boxers may win, but their chances are small, and here is why.

 Who Would Win in a Fight boxer or sambo fighter

Sambo is more in line with freestyle fighting on the streets. First, it is designed for self-defense while boxing is a combat sport. Next, it teaches you how to wrestle, grapple on the ground, and strike using all limbs while boxing teaches only punches. Lastly, Sambo fighters have all the skills to defend against boxing attacks, while you can’t say the same for boxing.

When a fight breaks out, Sambo fighters would know how to block or slip/dodge punches. They have all the skills to time the attack, change their levels and take the boxer down in a split second. Once the fight hits the ground, they would need a couple of seconds to place one of many submissions, and it would be all over.

However, you should not take boxers for granted, notably if the fight is in an open space where they can apply footwork and movement. They are always one punch away from knocking you out cold. They are superior when it comes to speed, accuracy, and reaction time which means that Sambo fighters would probably take some damage trying to close the distance.

Sambo vs. Boxing — Which One is Harder To Learn?

Sambo is more versatile in terms of techniques and physically more demanding than boxing which makes it harder to learn overall. Here is a list of other factors you should take into consideration.

Time to learn — Sambo

Sambo is a complex system and it takes between 8 and 10 years for a student with the average talent to reach a high level of proficiency. Boxing takes less time as one needs around 2-3 years to reach the same level of skill.

More dangerous — Boxing

Sambo might be more complex, but it does not impose the same risk as boxing where the majority of punches are landed on the head. On average, boxers throw around 750 punches per match, land with 30–40% accuracy, and most of these shots are aimed at the head. Sambo is more dynamic and there is less striking as the emphasis is on grappling.

More techniques — Sambo

Sambo is more versatile as it consists of both grappling and striking. Students learn how to strike using kicks, punches, as well as knees, and elbows. Next, they learn how to wrestle on their feet and execute different takedowns, throws, and trips to take each other down. Lastly, Sambo practitioners must know ground positioning, and how to utilize chokes and joint locks.

Boxers, on the other side, focus only on mixing hand strikes with footwork and movement.

Physically more demanding — Sambo

Learning how to effectively mix striking and grappling together requires a high level of fitness and body mechanics. It is physically more demanding, harder on your body, and exhausting. Boxing is simple as throwing punches while moving around is a natural motion, not too complex to learn.

Sambo or Boxing For Fitness?

Boxing might be a better option because it is less complex and more accessible. Sambo also has fitness benefits, but it is not that popular outside of Russian and Eastern Europe. If you live in the western world, you might have a hard time finding a proper gym to train in. If you are into martial arts for proper strength and cardio workouts, boxing is a very popular choice.

An hour of boxing training burns between 600 and 800 calories. Training is a mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercises that engage and improve all muscle groups in your body. It is one of the rare workouts where you can target both upper and lower body muscles with a single workout.

On top of that, boxing has other physical and mental benefits. It improves cardiovascular health, helps you maintain a healthy weight, and be agile. People also report it is a great way to reduce stress, and anxiety and improve confidence which will also improve the quality of their life outside the gym too.

Boxing is also adaptable as each gym includes an amateur group where you can learn boxing at your preferred pace. If your goal is fitness, you don’t have to spar if you don’t want to.

Sambo shares many of these benefits too. It is maybe even better because it focuses on building functional strength. But the lack of its presence in the western world is the big downside. And, classes are not as adaptable to amateur people looking for a workout as in boxing.

Sambo vs Boxing — Which One is For You?

Sambo and boxing are two separate martial arts that apart from a few striking techniques, do not share much else in common. This will make it easier for you to determine which one suits you the best. It all comes down to your personal preference and what you want to achieve in the gym.

Boxing is simple, accessible, effective, and has incredible fitness benefits. It is ideal for beginners as all of the techniques are quite easy to learn, and you won’t struggle, regardless of your fitness level and talent. Each technique you learn works in real life and will improve your self-defense abilities.

Sambo, on the other side, is a mix of grappling and striking and will help you develop all-around skills. It is a great option if you want to learn pure self-defense tactics, or maybe compete in MMA later. It is more effective than boxing in most segments we have discussed in this article, but there is also one big downside.

Sambo is not that popular in the west, and even if you find a gym to train in, the quality of coaching staff and teaching methods might not be the same as in Russia and Eastern Europe.

Related Article: Jiu-Jitsu vs. Boxing

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