For many years, the rules of MMA were a mess. There were often significant changes from one organization to another with many of the rules either being vague or not fit for purpose. Thankfully that has all changed.
Over the course of the last 20 years, the rules of MMA have become a lot more unified. Here we’ll take a close look at what they are while always answering some key FAQs. Let’s get started!
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Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts
The Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts were first approved in 2001 and have been amended several times over the years, with the last iteration coming in 2018. To save you from needing to read through all of its pages, here are the most important MMA and UFC rules and regulations.
The scoring of MMA fights works on the same principle as boxing, which is called the 10-point-must system. All fighters will start each round on 10 points and then points can be deducted based on who has won the round.
The vast majority of rounds are scored 10-9 but if there was no action in the round, then a 10-10 score may be given. In the case of complete domination in a round, a score of 10-8 may be given and in extreme cases, a 10-7 score, but this is very rare.
The points will then be added together and the overall score given at the end of a contest. For example, if a fighter won every round of a three-round contest 10-9, then the final score would be 30-27.
The scoring is mainly judged on the following three factors:
- Effective striking/grappling
- Effective aggressiveness
- Fighting area control
There are six main ways that a fight can be ended, which are:
Decision – Based on the scoring system above, if the fight goes the distance then the winner will be the one who scored the most points.
Disqualification – If the fighter commits a foul that disables his opponent or is seen to be cheating, then they may be disqualified, and their opponent will be deemed the winner.
Knockout – This is split into either a knockout (KO), which is rendering your opponent unconscious, or a technical knockout (TKO) if the referee stops the fight. If the fighter wants to quit, this will also be marked as a TKO.
No Contest – These are rare but can happen in such cases as an unintentional foul or retrospectively when a fighter has failed a drug test.
Submission – A fighter can submit when they are placed in a hold. This can either be done by physically tapping with their hand or verbally telling the referee.
In MMA, each round is to last for five minutes and there will be one minute of rest between each round. The rounds for a contest can be anywhere from one to five rounds, with no fight allowed to exceed 25 minutes.
Many ask how is UFC legal, as they think it’s a lawless fight that often causes serious injury. The reality it that there are many MMA fighting rules that keep fighters safe, and that is shown by the wide range of illegal MMA moves in its rules.
If the referee sees any of the fouls listed below then they are to call time out on the fight, check on the opponent’s condition, and most likely deduct a point for the foul.
If the foul is a low blow, the victim of the foul will be given up to 5 minutes to recover. For other fouls, the referee can give them five minutes to recover, but this is at the referee’s discretion.
If the referee deems the fighter unable to continue due to the foul, the referee has two options. The most common is to deem the fouled fighter the winner by disqualification. If the referee deems the foul accidental, they may call it a no-contest.
Here are the 27 fouls that are listed under the mixed martial arts rules.
- Butting with the head
- Eye gouging of any kind
- Biting or spitting at an opponent
- Fish Hooking
- Hair pulling
- Spiking the opponent to the canvas onto the head or neck (pile-driving)
- Strikes to the spine or the back of the head
- Throat strikes of any kind and/or grabbing the trachea
- Fingers outstretched toward an opponent’s face/eyes
- Downward pointing elbow strike (12 to 6)
- Groin attacks of any kind
- Kneeing and/or Kicking the head of a grounded opponent
- Stomping of a grounded fighter
- Holding opponent’s gloves or shorts
- Holding or grabbing the fence or ropes with fingers or toes
- Small joint manipulation
- Throwing an opponent out of the ring or caged area
- Intentionally placing a finger into any orifice, or into any cut or laceration of your opponent
- Clawing, pinching, twisting the flesh
- Timidity (avoiding contact, or consistently dropping the mouthpiece, or faking an injury
- Use of abusive language in the fighting area
- Flagrant disregard of the referee’s instructions
- Unsportsmanlike conduct that causes an injury to the opponent
- Attacking an opponent after the bell has sounded the end of the period of unarmed combat
- Attacking an opponent on or during the break
- Attacking an opponent who is under the care of the referee
- Interference from a mixed martial artist’s corner or seconds
MMA can be fought in either a ring or a cage, with that cage almost always being in the shape of an octagon. The area must be:
Minimum: 20 square feet
Maximum: 32 Square feet
Minimum: 18 square feet
Maximum: 32 square feet
Both rings and cages have similar requirements in their structure, such as needing at least an inch of foam padding and the platform being no more than four feet above the floor. In rings there must be five ring ropes, and cages must be enclosed by a fence that can’t be broken through.
There are many more requirements for the sizing of fences, spacing in between ropes, material of the posts, etc. The rules we linked to above have all the intricate details.
The generally accepted weight classes MMA are shown below. While these are the maximum number of weight classes, many organizations, such as the UFC use far fewer weight classes than this.
- Atomweight up to and including 105 lbs.
- Straw Weight over 105 to 115 lbs.
- Flyweight over 115 to 125 lbs.
- Bantamweight over 125 to 135 lbs.
- Featherweight over 135 to 145 lbs.
- Lightweight over 145 to 155 lbs.
- Super Lightweight over 155 to 165 lbs.
- Welterweight over 165 to 170 lbs.
- Super Welterweight over 170 to 175 lbs.
- Middleweight over 175 to 185 lbs.
- Super Middleweight over 185 to 195 lbs.
- Light Heavyweight over 195 to 205 lbs.
- Cruiserweight over 205 to 225 lbs.
- Heavyweight over 225 to 265 lbs.
- Super Heavyweight over 265 lbs.
Not a lot of equipment is required, here’s what is:
Gloves – These should be a minimum of four ounces and a maximum of six ounces.
Chest Guard – Women are required to wear a rash guard and/or sports bra, which usually has some added protection.
Groin Guard – All men are required to wear groin protection.
Mouthguard – Mouthpieces must be worn at all times and the fight must be paused if a fighter loses theirs.
Amateur MMA rules
The amateur rules are generally the same as professional fights, but there are a few key differences. While the exact rules can change from one organization to another, here are the common differences.
Rounds – Usually amateur fights are fought over three rounds that are three minutes wrong.
Fouls – All the same fouls apply as above but with some added extras. Elbow/forearm strikes, knees to the head, heel hooks, and any hold that applies pressure to the neck/spine are also forbidden.
Gloves – These are usually a little bigger as they need to be a minimum of 6 ounces and a maximum of 8.
Protection – Shin guards are usually required, and depending on the organization, a rash guard may be worn too.
How do you win a UFC match?
There are generally three ways a UFC match can be won which is either by decision, submission or knockout.
However, knockouts are split into two categories of either a straight KO when the opponent is knocked unconscious or a technical knockout (TKO) when the opponent is conscious but unable to defend themselves, and the referee stops the fight.
Submissions are when an opponent has you in a hold and you tap out. A decision is when there has been no submission or knockout and the fight goes to its full length. Here judges will decide on the winner.
There are a couple of other much rarer ways to win a fight. An opponent can forfeit the fight but also, they can be disqualified. If either of these things happens, their opponent will be deemed the winner.
How many rounds is a UFC match?
There are generally two categories of UFC fights. Most standard fights will be three rounds. However, in the biggest championship fights, this is extended to five rounds.
How many minutes is an MMA round?
The Unified Rules of MMA made it standard practice for all fights to be contested over five-minute rounds. All of the major organizations follow this rule, which also includes a one-minute break in between rounds.
What’s the Size of UFC Cage?
This can actually change based on a few different factors. By the unified rules, it must be a minimum of 18 square feet and a maximum of 32 square feet.
What Equipment Do UFC Fighters Wear?
Men are required by the rules to wear gloves, a groin guard, and a mouthguard. This is a little different for the women. They are not required to wear a groin guard (they can choose to) but they are required to wear a chest protector, which is essentially a reinforced sports bra.