UFC rules: All you need to know about fighting in the cage

13 Авгуса 00:11
Максим Гагарин
UFC rules: All you need to know about fighting in the cage

A couple of years back, if you had asked a person on the streets what the UFC was, he or she would probably say: “What? KFC? Oh, it’s not far from the subway.” Now, every third person knows what the Ultimate Fighting Championship is and one in probably ten men can even list some fighters. 

Obviously, the UFC did a quantum leap towards popularity. The number of viewers (even if not regular) significantly increased. Some watch main events only, others follow Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov in particular and still others watch every fight, even on the prelims. 

It’s also obvious that by no means all fans know and accept the MMA rules and its regulations in the UFC in particular. Actually, even fighters themselves remain confused about the rules in the light of the latest amendments, wondering if they are allowed to use their knees on the opponent or not. Initially, the UFC rules were just a short list of foul actions that could be counted on the fingers of one hand. There were no gloves, weight divisions, time limits or rounds. Over the years the UFC rules multiplied and became more detailed and “humane.” Neither hands nor feet are enough to count them all. 

To make things clear, HARCORD team made the fullest, most structured, and apprehensible list of all UFC rules. 

Fight fundamentals 

Let’s start with basics, that is, the course of the fight, its longevity, and possible outcomes: 

  1. Duration: a standard MMA fight consists of three 5-minute rounds. The main fights last for five 5-minute rounds. The break between rounds takes one minute.
  2. Goal: fighters use punches, wrestling and grappling technique, submission holds and locks to defeat the opponent.
  3. Equipment: Each fighter has to wear 4-ounce gloves, mouthpieceand groin guardwhen entering the Octagon. Optionally, a fighter may use shin-instep guards and/or knee pads. Also, the fighter’s face is covered in a small amount of vaseline to reduce the risk of getting a cut. Clothes consist of shorts for men and shorts plus tops for women. No shoes, t-shirts, rashguard or gi are allowed. 
  4. Fight outcome: the fight may end ahead of time with technical knockout (TKO, that includes passive defense, doctor stoppage, refereeor corner stoppage), submission or disqualification. If the fight lasts for its allotted time, the judges will determine the outcome. Judges’ decision may be unanimous, split, or majority. Also, the fight may be called a draw, though rarely. Besides, the fight may be called a “no contest” but we’ll talk about this and other nuances later. 

Weight divisions 

In the mid-90s, at the first UFC events, there was no such thing as weight division. So, a fight between 189-pound kickboxer against 260-pound wrestler (see Dan Severn vs. Anthony Macias) was a common thing to see. 

First weight divisions appeared in 1997 at the UFC 12. Back then the main card was divided between heavyweight (+200 pounds) and light heavyweight (to 200 pounds) divisions. By early 00s the UFC categorized all its fighters among five weight divisions: lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight. At the moment there are eight weight divisions for men and four – for women. 

Weight division 




206-265 pounds 


Light Heavyweight 

186-205 pounds 



171-185 pounds 



156-170 pounds 



146-155 pounds 



136-145 pounds 

Men, women 


126-135 pounds 

Men, women 


116-125 pounds 

Men, women 


106-115 pounds 


Photo by John Gurzinski, Getty Images


Permissible excess at weigh-in is 1 pound; it means, the lightweight fighter may show 156 pounds and will still be cleared to fight. However, 156.5 pound is already a problem. There are two scenarios in case of excess weight: the opponent of the failed fighter has a right to turn down the fight, or still accept it and take 20-30% of the opponent’s fee. 

This rule doesn’t apply to the title fights of the event, though; so, if a fighter challenges the welterweight title, for example, he must weigh 170 pounds or less, but never more. If the fighter fails to make weight, the fight loses its “title” status, meaning that even if the fighter who didn’t make weight wins, he will not receive the title. As a rule, the weigh-in ceremony takes place 36 hours before the event. The fighter who failed to make weight gets 2-3 hours for a second chance. If he fails again, the UFC has a right to recommend the fighter to change the division. 

Judges and what they do 

Scoring in the UFC occurs by ten-point system applied in boxing. The winner of the round gets 10 points, and 9 or less go to the loser. At the end of the fight, points sum up to determine the fighter who scored most a winner. 

Previously, the fighters had to almost kill their opponents in the cage to get 10-8 instead of standard 10-9 points to their advantage. Due to boxing system being designed for 12 rounds, it differed from 3-5 rounds in MMA which made valuation of the fight harder and left many fans and fighters debate on the unfair decisions. The UFC rules have recently been slightly changed. It’s enough to confidently win a round to get 10-8, for example by knocking the opponent down or throwing some takedowns and take dominant position. If a fighter clearly outfights his or her opponent, and the difference in shots is huge, then the round goes 10-7. The referee may dismiss some points from the fighter for foul actions. The most widespread fouls are grabbing the fence and poking fingers into opponent’s eyes. 

Картинки по запросу mma judges


The jury consists of three judges that score the fight by several criteria: number of shots thrown, number of takedowns, control and attempts to submit. Many still debate on how takedowns and fighting advantage is scored as compared to advantage while standing. MMA is yet too young to resolve the issue. If the fighters threw and landed almost equal number of shots and were equal in wrestling, the control of the Octagon is the last criteria to take into account, that is, the fighter who took the center of the cage more frequently, pressed his opponent and made him retreat scores more points. Important comment: the judges do not score by the damage done, so it’s useless to appeal to whose face bled more after the fight. 

The judges’ decisions may be of three kinds: 

  1. Unanimous – all three judges scored for the same fighter.
  2. Split – two judges scored for one fighter while the third judge scored for another.
  3. Majority – two judges scored for onefighter,the third judge scored for a draw. 

The fight may also be declared a “no contest” by various reasons. As a rule, it happens either due to innocent infringement of rules when the fighter cannot continue the fight, or if the winner tested positive. 


And last but not least – foul actions which are embarrassingly many in the UFC. Long gone the days when the UFC used the tagline “There are no rules” in the early 90s. There is a long list of rules or, rather, limitations that any MMA fighter has to know. So, the fouls are: 

1) Head-butting 

2) Strikes to the head or anything behind the ears 

3) Groin attacks 

4) Strikes to the spine 

5) Eye gouging of any kind 

6) Throat strikes of any kind, including, without limitation, grabbing the trachea 

7) Downward pointing of elbow strikes (aka 12-6 elbow) 

8) Kicking and knee-striking the head of a grounded opponent. It’s worth noting here that until ecently, the fighter was considered “grounded” if he touched the floor with any three points of support. That gave many fighters an opportunity to “play” with their opponents by touching the floor with one finger only. Since 2017, the rules began to change. The fighter touching the floor with one hand may be legally hit with a knee to his head; and only if he touches the floor with both hands he is protected. Apart from that, the rule relates to three points of support, that is, if a fighter kneels, he can’t kick or strike with his knees. Not every state accepted the new rule yet which sometimes creates confusion and innocent infringement. 

9) Stomping an opponent on the ground. 

10) Fingers outstretched towards opponent's face/eyes 

11) Biting or spitting at an opponent 

12) Fish-hooking 

13) Hair pulling 

14) Holding opponent’s shorts or gloves 

15) Grabbing the fence. A fighter may place his hand or foot on the fence or use it to push off, but as soon as he or she grabs the fence with his or her fingers (or toes) to do an action or try to change his or her position (or that of the opponent) it’s considered as foul. 

16) Spiking an opponent to the canvas on his or her head or neck 

17) Small joint manipulation (twisting, pulling or bending fingers, toes, wrists and ankles) 

18) Throwing opponent out of the ring/fighting area or leave it before the results announcement 

19) Intentionally placing a finger into any orifice, or into any cut or laceration of an opponent 

20) Clawing, pinching, twisting the flesh 

21) Timidity (avoiding contact, consistent dropping of mouthpiece, or faking an injury) 

22) Swearing or offensive language in the cage. According to the rules, fighters must keep silent but many fighters ignoreit. Usually the referee takes it lightly if fighters exchange a few choice words but he may issue a warning if fighters talk toomuch. 

23) Flagrant disregard of the referee’s instructions 

24) Any unsportsmanlike conduct that causes an injury to opponent 

25) Attacking an opponent during a break, attacking an opponent who is under the care of the referee, attacking an opponent after the bell has sounded the end of the period of unarmed combat 

26) Interference from a mixed martial artist's cornerman