UFC, or Ultimate Fighting Championship, is the most famous and most important organisation promoting MMA fights. UFC holds events almost every weekend with around 10 to 13 fights taking place at each event. Events usually start at afternoon and last through around the midnight. But what about fights in particular? How long does a UFC fight last?
UFC fight can last for three (non-championship fight) or five (championship and main event fight) rounds. Each round lasts for five minutes. That means that non-championship fights last for 15 minutes, and championship/main events fight last for 25 minutes.
|Non-championship||3||5 (total 15)|
|Championship and main events||5||5 (total 25|
But, these times only apply if a fight goes to the distance. What if the fight is stopped earlier? If there was a knockout or submission? What are the average times a UFC fight will last? We conducted a little research and bring you everything about the number of rounds, lengths, etc.
General Facts About the UFC Fight Rules and the Rounds
The current rules of UFC fights were established by the New Jersey Athletic Control Board (NJACB) under title “Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts”. They were established as a general guideline for MMA, but became so popular that many other states (including Nevada, Louisiana and California) decided to adopt them, along with the UFC. In the passages that follow, we’ll be going over these rules.
Despite the rules, the UFC doesn’t have a fixed round system, meaning that matches can vary in maximum length, depending on the type of the match. For example, championship or “main event” bouts last longer than regular fights. But the maximum number of rounds is still substantially smaller than in other combat sports, like boxing.
The “big ones” – championship and “main event” fights – can last for a maximum of five rounds, while other fights can last for a maximum of three rounds. Some non-main-event fights, but only in certain divisions, also have a special, “sudden death” fourth round in case of a draw to determine the winner, but that is not a widely spread rule.
The rounds last can last up to five minutes and there is a one-minute break between rounds.
What does all of this mean for you? If you’re taking a five-minute round and multiply it by the number of possible rounds, a fight (without the breaks and whatnot) can last between 17 and 29 minutes, depending on whether it’s fought in three or five rounds. Now that we’ve given you the generalities, let us see how these elements function in more detail.
Here is the full guide to UFC rules.
What Is the Difference Between Three and Five Round Fights in the UFC?
Now that we’ve determined that a fight can last for three or five rounds, let us see how the number of rounds is actually determined. Here, we have to consider reasons that are not connected to the fights themselves, but rather to the popularity and media coverage of the fights.
Typically, UFC fights last for three rounds. These fights can be very exhausting and stressing for the fighters, which means that 15 minutes of fighting is generally not too much. Most non-championship and non-main-event bouts have three rounds, meaning that you’ll see these kinds of fights most often. So, when do the five round matches actually kick in?
Five-round matches are usually championship matches and main event bouts at specific UFC events. Certainly, these fights cause more stress for the fighters and are generally more demanding, but the fact is that if you want to be the best – you have to make an effort.
Yet, the main reason for these fights having five rounds is – money. Namely, five-round matches are very popular among the fans and people will pay more for such matches. This goes for ticket buyers, but also for those who watch the matches via pay-per-view (PPV).
The UFC gets a lot of its income from PPV, which means that they have to offer a lot to the viewers and the viewers want more rounds, although they usually don’t get to see them (see below) play out, but the psychological effect is obvious – more rounds mean a more important match; a more important match means better fighters; better fighters mean a better fight and the people want to see that.
Here is the article about all the differences between regular UFC events and UFC PPV events.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, mostly when main event fights end up having three, instead of the usual five rounds. This happens mostly in those cases when a non-main-event fight ends up becoming a main event one on short notice, due the original main event bout being cancelled for some reason. A famous example is the 2019 fight between Israel Adesanya and Anderson Silva during the UFC 234 events.
The initial main event bout that night was the fight between Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum, but it was cancelled because Whittaker was deemed unable to fight because of a hernia just one day prior to the fight. Thus, the Adesanya vs. Silva fight became the main event, but since it was initially arranged to last three rounds, so the number was preserved due to a short period.
How Often Do UFC Fights Go to the Distance?
We’ve seen the rules and practice relating to the rounds, but now let us discuss the reality – a fight can last for 17- or 29-minutes max., but how often is that the case? The UFC viewer is difficult to please. On one hand, he’ll pay money to see a five-round fight because he expects a good and long fight, but on the other hand – he’ll enjoy a quick K.O. in the first round because it’s entertaining.
Now let us see some of the numbers.
To calculate our numbers, we have decided to look at the best ranked fighters (pond-for-pound) and their five recent fights. We’ve decided to take the ten best fighters and their last five fights, meaning we’re getting a pool of 50 fights to analyse. We’re going to show you how long the fights lasted, how they finished and use those numbers to see the average length of recent UFC fights and see how many actually go to the distance. Let us see the numbers:
|Fighter||Fight duration||Average duration||Total rounds|
So, after analysing the numbers for these 50 fights, we can see that he average duration of a fight is 15:53 minutes. This means that a fight usually ends less than two minutes into the 3rd round. 1012
What does that mean for the viewers? It means that viewers rarely see a full five-round match when it comes to fights involving the best fighters, which is rather interesting because people pay the most to see exactly these fighters in a match.
The average fight length of the best UFC fighters doesn’t usually last much longer than three rounds, regardless of the actual number of prearranged arounds, which is an interesting fact to note in light of everything else.
As for going to the distance, we’ve seen that 31 fights ended before going to the distance, meaning that we’re dealing with a percentage of 62% elite fights that end before going to the distance. What does that mean for the viewers? Well, this just confirms that the temporal numbers already told us earlier – elite matched rarely go to the distance. Just 19 of them (a mere 38%) went to the distance when elite fighters are concerned and that is also a very interesting fact to note.
So, these are the numbers we have for you. You should, of course, take them with a grain of salt because they are derived from a very small number of fights which can hardly be considered as being fully representative, but still – they are good enough to illustrate the general concept and inform you on how things work on a superficial level.
Duration of the Fights in the Early Days of UFC
UFC’s new system is not consistent and might be confusing from time to time. But at least there is one now. Historically, UFC didn’t even have a system at all so you can imagine how difficult it would’ve been to follow such matches.
The first round system was introduced during the UFC 21 event, held in Cedar Rapids, IA, in 1999. The round system became s standard rule then and has since become a fundamental aspect of UFC fights and events.
But, from 1993 to 1999, there were no rounds, no breaks and no time limits, which mean that the fight could – theoretically – last forever. So, for a whole six years, the UFC never bothered to implement a round system and enabled its fighters to fight as long as they physically could.
The longest fight under such a regime was the 1995 fight between Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie, held during the UFC 5 event in Charlotte, NC. The fight lasted for a full 36 minutes without pauses, after which it was interrupted by the referee and declared a draw.
The fight is the record holder for longest UFC fight even today. On the other hand, the quickest UFC fight ended after just 5 seconds, when Jorge Masdival knocked out Ben Askren during the UFC 239 event in Paradise, NV, in 2019.
Conclusion: How Long Do UFC Fights Last?
We hope you found all the answers you were looking for. In short, UFC fights are, since 1999, divided into 5-minute rounds. A match can last for 3 or 5 rounds, depending on its importance and potential income. Statistically, recent elite matches rarely go to the distance and – on average – last just a bit over three rounds, which is an interesting fact to know. Almost 2/3 of the recent elite bouts ended before going to the distance.
That’s it for today. We hope we’ve helped you and that we will see you soon!
If you have any other questions regarding the UFC, be sure to check out our article with 25 things every fan should know about the UFC.