Every sport has its own special list of terms. In fact, the argument could be made that most interests, hobbies, and professions evolve their own unique lingo over time. As the practice itself evolves, so do the words and phrases used to describe specific scenarios or outcomes. 

These come and go over time. For example, not every boxing fan, no matter how dedicated, may know the sport was commonly referred to as ‘pugilism’. The word originates from the Latin ‘pugil’, which means boxer. ‘Pugil’ came from ‘pugnus’, which means fist. ‘Pugnus’, in turn, stemmed from the Greek ‘pyx’, which means ‘with clenched fist’.

Clearly, there’s a lot behind a word. But what about a phrase? Sports, in particular, have a penchant for rolling over words and expressions into everyday life. Given the popularity of sports throughout history, this isn’t too surprising. What’s odder is that few people realize they’re using phrases that harken back to athletics.

In fact, common expressions from various fields can go back centuries, obscuring the origins of phrases like ‘down to the wire’ and ‘front runner’, which come from horse racing and track respectively. Oftentimes, these expressions are used to convey a highly charged or meaningful moment that reflects the spirit of competition and urgency often felt in sports. 

As a younger sport, MMA doesn’t quite have the long list of everyday phrases like boxing does… not yet, at least. Keep reading for some of the most common and obscure terms that come from boxing and MMA.

Boxing (or Pugilism)

Most people recognize these common phrases that stem from the world of boxing. Most of these were popularized during the early and mid-20th century. During this period, boxing became a global phenomenon thanks to advancements in broadcasting, including radio and pay-per-view. 

  • Hitting below the belt / low blow: this illegal move first emerged in the late 1800s.
  • Throw in the towel: this expression emerged in the early 1900s as an update to an older way of admitting defeat; ‘throwing in the sponge’.
  • Beating someone to the punch: this phrase emerged in the early 1900s, but quickly became a common phrase for taking quick action in any scenario.
  • Saved by the bell: this term stretches back to the 1700s to describe a losing fighter who’s saved by the match’s end.

Not all boxing terms are so clearly traced back to the sport’s history. In fact, there are a few common expressions in usage today that have more obscure origins related to pugilism.

  • Blow-by-blow: this term emerged in the early 1900s as boxing broadcasting took off. Commentators were literally providing listeners a ‘blow by blow’ description of the action.
  • Groggy: the origination of this term is unclear, but it was originally used to describe the staggering of a boxer who’s dazed.
  • Glutton for punishment: this phrase came about in the mid-1800s as a way to describe boxers who refused to ‘throw in the towel’.
  • Killer instinct: this term emerged in the early 1900s as a description of fighter Jack Dempsey.
  • (Having) pluck: this adjective described boxers in the late 1700s who displayed incredible courage.
  • Punchdrunk: similar to groggy, this phrase describes a boxer who’s unsteady on their feet. Unlike groggy, punch drunk was also used to describe brain injury.
  • Washboard (abs): this term emerged in the mid-1900s to describe a boxer’s abdominal muscles.

MMA-Specific Terms

For the time being, there aren’t too many MMA phrases that non-fans would recognize. Though going ‘into the Octagon’ is equated to going through a tough period, the UFC term isn’t totally ubiquitous. Looking ahead, is it possible one or more of these common phrases will be used in daily life? 

  • Ground and pound: as one of the most intense moves in any MMA athlete’s repertoire, a ground and pound is a good way to describe putting in serious
  • Sprawl: as a highly effective defense technique, a sprawl could be used to describe a well-played move at a pivotal point.
  • Stand and bang: there are few situations as exciting as a stand and bang fight, which would make this expression ideal for something that indicates quality and value.
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