Every aspiring MMA fighter wants to get into UFC, but it’s not that easy to do so.
UFC handpicks their fighters, so you must make a name for yourself in the MMA world for them to notice you.
I’m not going to talk about training hard and working on your technique because it’s common sense that you have to be an elite fighter to compete in the UFC.
Instead, I’ll go through the necessary steps on how to get into UFC.
You can take several paths, but they all go hand-in-hand and ultimately lead to the same thing – an elite fighter with an impressive resume will usually find his way to the top.
1. Compete in Amateur Competitions
It might sound obvious, but you can’t become a professional overnight. We’ve seen inexperienced fighters come into UFC, such as CM Punk, and we’ve seen how that gig ended.
He got brutally beat up two times before the promotion realized it’s better to remove him from their roster before he gets more seriously injured.
No matter how talented you are, you need experience, and the best way to get that experience is through amateur tournaments.
If you end up dominating the competition, not only will you gain valuable experience, but there’s a big chance that you’ll get noticed by an agent or a professional scout, launching you into the big leagues.
2. Find an Agent
Once you’re ready to start fighting professionally, you should start looking for an agent or a manager.
You might not need one or won’t be able to land a good one before winning a couple of pro fights.
But, if you want to progress and climb the ladder up to the big leagues, a great agent can help you speed up the entire process immensely.
Your coach can act as your manager, too, but it usually can’t be a long-term deal, as there is just too much work to handle for one person.
Having a good agent or a manager allows you to focus solely on improving every day and win every fight you get.
They’ll handle all the administrative work, such as booking fights, picking the opponents, getting your name on the map for bigger promotions, and helping you progress.
Of course, you have to do your part of the deal and win fights. The more decisively you do it, the higher the chance of getting recognized by better organizations.
If you don’t win virtually every fight in the smaller leagues, it’s unlikely you’ll get an invitation to the UFC.
There are still ways to get in, but you’ll have to grind harder and start stringing together victories as soon as possible.
3. Work Your Way Up Through Lower Leagues
Rarely does a UFC contract fall into a fighter’s lap without grinding hard through the smaller, less prominent promotions.
You would have to be a phenomenon as an amateur to get into UFC without previous professional MMA experience.
Or, you’d have to be an outstanding professional in another combat sport, transitioning to MMA. Those circumstances are scarce, though, so you should be prepared for a hard grind to the top.
A good agent can land you a deal in a respectable promotion after only a few pro wins.
Depending on where you’re situated and how good you are in the cage, I’ll divide professional MMA organizations into tiers, leading to UFC at the very top.
Tier 1 – Respectable Gateway Promotions (ACB, Cage Warriors, etc.)
To build a house, you need to start from the ground up. The same can be said about building an MMA career. Start from the bottom, and work your way up.
There are good promotions you can start all around the world. But, if you start losing here, you likely won’t get much further up the ladder.
Promotions like ACB (Absolute Championship Berkut) in Russia or SBC in Serbia had some quite respectable events.
Competing and winning fights in these promotions can be great to push you up to the best promotions aside from the UFC.
Combate Americas and Cage Warriors are popular and long-lasting organizations with a history of talented fighters being scouted and recruited by the UFC.
The quality of MMA in these promotions might not be as excellent as it was in the past, but they are still respected.
Road FC and M-1 Global are also great gateways spots to kickstart your career.
Winning in these promotions likely won’t land you an instant UFC contract, but they are certainly a step in the right direction. Keep winning, and you’ll get a deal in a higher promotion quickly.
Tier 2 – Growing Organizations (Rizin FF, KSW, etc.)
As Pride and Strikeforce stopped existing, it was only reasonable that some new promotions would take their place.
While not there just yet, relatively young promotions like the Japanese Rizin FF and the Polish KSW are quickly emerging as organizations that keep excelling in terms of their fighters and MMA quality overall.
If you are one of the best fighters in these promotions, there’s a big chance a UFC contract is already on the table.
If you are pretty solid but not at the top yet, you can expect to proceed to the final tier – promotions just below the UFC level.
Tier 3 – Final Step Below the UFC
If I haven’t been clear, I’ll repeat it: UFC is by far the most elite MMA organization in the world and sits alone at the top of the pyramid.
But there are other amazing promotions just under that level. If you get up to here, it’s apparent that you can be a UFC fighter. Just keep working hard, keep grinding, and keep winning.
The promotions I’m talking about here are Bellator FC and ONE Championship.
Bellator is known as UFC’s most significant rival promotion, as many UFC veterans end up fighting there. Not only vets, but many great UFC fighters opted to go to Bellator to find more success while getting paid only a little bit less.
On the other hand, ONE Championship has headquarters in South Korea and is the fastest-growing MMA promotion in the world. It started getting recognized as the third-best MMA promotion in the world behind Bellator and UFC, and their roster confirms that.
Fighters like Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez compete there, both being UFC champs in the past.
Being successful in either of the two guarantees a call from the UFC. If life doesn’t take you down this particular road, you can still get into UFC, but you’ll need a bit of luck, too.
Alternative Ways to Get into the UFC
So you’re fighting in the lower leagues, winning, grinding – but can’t seem to get to the next level?
Well, a few decades ago, you’d be helpless in that situation, but UFC developed ways to try and find talent differently, either by intense scouting or one of their talent-seeking shows.
Apply for The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) or Dana White’s Contender Series
Instead of waiting for somebody to recognize your hard work and skills, bite harder and bet on yourself by applying to participate either in UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) series or Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.
The winner of every TUF season is guaranteed a UFC contract.
Although the fighters might still be unknown, the competition can get extremely hard and be a real test to see if you have what it takes to compete in the UFC.
Some fighters get contracts even if they don’t win it all, but impress the UFC president Dana White with their performances.
When it comes to his Contender Series, things get even quicker, although it’s pretty hard to get a Contender Series gig. You’ll have to have some exciting wins on your resume even to be considered.
Once you’re there, you can get a UFC contract after only one fight if you win decisively (KO, TKO, submission) or if you impress White with something else.
Fighters like Johnny Walker got into the UFC through the Contender Series and quickly made a name for themselves. It’s worth a shot at applying, at least.
The Bottom Line
You might not know, but the UFC tends to send out dozens and dozens of scouts around the world to go into MMA gyms and try finding hidden gems, as they found Francis Ngannou a couple of years ago.
Even more so in some of the more well-known gyms, such as the American Top Team gyms, AKA, Team Alpha Male, Black House, etc.
If you manage to get into one of these gyms, you have to give not a 100% but more each practice because you never know who might be out there watching, scouting, and taking notes.
Maybe it will be just a random coincidence, where a scout will discover you before you even thought about it.
Even if your gym is not one of the world’s elite gyms, you should still always give it your all.
Even if nobody is watching, aspire to be the best you can be every single day.
Maybe one day, somebody will show up on the door, see the sacrifices you’re making, and make it all worth the struggle.
And if not, you’ll know you gave it your all to develop into the best fighter you can be.