UFC Rules: Everything You Need to Know


Where and Why Is MMA Illegal?

UFC, or Ultimate Fighting Championship, is the most famous and most important organisation promoting MMA fights. Founded in 1993 and based in Las Vegas, Nevada, the UFC has become a global phenomenon in the less than 30 years it’s been around. The rise of the UFC started in 2001, when Dana White took over the organisation and turned it into the global phenomenon it is today. Whether you like him or not, the controversial Dana White certainly deserves credit for making the UFC what it is and for popularising MMA around the world. 

When UFC started in 1993, the slogan of the company was “There are no rules!”. Back in the day, everything was allowed. Decades later, some rules, like round length, cage size, what equipment is allowed, and what moves are illegal were introduced.

As of 2020, the UFC has held over 500 events, most of them in the United States, but also some in other countries like Brazil, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Canada, Japan, Kazakhstan, Germany, etc. Although the UFC’s fights are known for their brutality and a very liberal ruleset, some rules still exist and we have decided to analyse them in today’s article. We’re going to present to you the basic structure of UFC fights and the basic rules pertaining to the fight itself and the fighters’ behaviour in the cage. 

General

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. 

How Many Rounds Are There in a UFC Fight?

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. 

If you want to learn more about the different type of UFC events, and how long does the rounds last, check out the article we wrote on that particular subject.

How Big is UFC Cage?

The ring, i.e. the fighting arena of UFC fights is called “The Octagon”. Unlike other combat sports and martial arts, who have a square- or circle-shaped arena, the UFC’s arena is octagonally shaped. It was initially developed by the SEG company, but is today owned by Zuffa. 

“The Octagon” has a diameter of 9.1 meters (30 feet) and is surrounded by a chained fence that is 1.8 meters (6 feet) high. Like other fighting arenas, “The Octagon” sits on an elevated platform that is 1.2 meters (4 feet) high. The arena has two entry gates. The top of the fence, like each of the sides, has a foam padding. The mat is replaced after each fight for health reasons. 

These numbers refer to a standard UFC cage, but there are also some smaller variations for non-main-event matches, where the diameter is just 7.6 meters (25 feet). 

This is just a brief overview of UFC’s Octagon. For more information see the article we wrote about UFC’s Octagon size and history.

UFC Cage Size. How Big Is UFC's Octagon?

What Equipment Do UFC Fighters Wear?

Initially, the UFC was very open about the attire for its fighters. This resulted in fighters wearing attires specific for their favourite martial art. But that changed after a while and although the fighters still have certain liberties, it is only within a predetermined ruleset. 

All fighters must wear approved shorts, without shoes and no tops; tops are only required for female fighters. The necessary equipment includes padded gloves (they are open-fingered and must have at least 1 inch of padding around the knuckles), a mouthguard to protect the jaw and teeth and protective cups instead of the more used jockstraps (for males only). To ensure the regularity of a fight, the attire is thoroughly evaluated by a state authority before the match. 

How Can a UFC Fight End? What Are the Different Outcomes?

Although we have discussed both the points and the possible outcomes of a UFC match, we’ll revise them here in relation to the general rules. All UFC bouts use the 10-point system, where three judges each award up to 10 points to a fighter per round. The winner is decided after adding the points together. For more details, see [our article]. 

A match can end in several different ways. They are:

  1. Submission – the fighter taps the mat three timer or (verbally) submits in some submits in some other way. The submission must be clear and precise, as it is final. 
  2. Knockout – when a fighter cannot continue due to loss of consciousness. 
  3. Technical knockout – the fighter is not unconscious, but the referee has evaluated that the damage is so severe that it would be dangerous for him to continue the fight. A technical knockout can be due to a decision by either the referee, the doctor or the corner. 
  4. Judge’s decision – if the match was not decided by 1-3, the judges make the decision. For more on these decisions, see our article about UFC’s scoring system and how decisions are made
  5. Disqualification – the fighter made an intentional and severe breach of the rules and he is, thus, disqualified from further fighting. 
  6. Forfeit – a fighter intentionally stops the fight before it ends without a clear and valid reason (p.e. an injury). 
  7. No contest – a fighter is rendered unable to fight before there is a sufficient number of rounds for the judges to make a decision. 
UFC Referees and Judges Salaries
UFC Referee Herb Dean declaring Conor McGregor winner at UFC 189

Illegal Moves in a UFC Fight

There is a total of 35 fouls in MMA, as listed by the notoriously strict Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC). Three of them are fouls against the grounded opponent, while the rest can be described as regular fouls. Since we have already discussed all of these in a separate article, we refer you to the list of all the illegal movies in the UFC for more information.

Match conduct rules

In addition to the basic rules listed and described above, there are several other rules pertaining to match conduct that are worth mentioning. 

The referee can issue a verbal warning for several reasons, one of them being when a fighter grabs the cage. The referee will proceed to remove the fighter’s grab, but if it fails or the fighter again grabs the cage, the referee may charge him with a foul. A verbal warning can also be issued if the fighters reach a stalemate on the ground. The match is then paused and the fighters are ordered to stand up; this rule is called the stand-up rule in Nevada. 

The referee can pause a match for other reasons as well. The match is then continued when the fighters are in their prior positions. 

In this final passage, we’re going to talk about the ever so popular “trash talking”, i.e. verbal abuse. It happens in all sports, not just MMA (for example, some NBA players have been notorious “trash talkers” during their careers), but due to the aggressive nature of this discipline, it might be more present than in some other sports.

Early UFC payed no attention to “trash talking” during fights; it was allowed and considered to be a part of the folklore. On the other hand, modern UFC allows verbal antics before the match as it elevates the excitement and build-up for the match, but prohibits any form of verbal abuse during the fight itself. 

That covers our analysis of the UFC rules. We hope you’ve enjoyed the text and that we’ll be seeing you soon. 

Recent Content