Perhaps you’re entirely new to watching mixed martial arts (or still a recent joiner – welcome!) and find yourself getting confused more often than not while watching the latest UFC event.
I know how you’ve felt because I’ve been there too. It’s embarrassing when you don’t know as much as your friends are watching, and the commentators say things like “onto the canvas” or start talking about “control time.”
Don’t fret. This is the ultimate guide to UFC for beginners.
This is a collection of some of our best articles that act as the UFC for dummies manual – all sorted in order of the likelihood of you needing them answered. Here are a few highlights:
- What are the UFC weight classes?
- What happens if a UFC fighter misses weight?
- How many rounds are there in UFC fights?
- How long do UFC fights last?
- Why do UFC fighters have weird ears?
Feel free to bookmark this page or share it with friends so you’ll always find your way back to it when you need it! Let’s get on with the guide!
Table of Contents
1. What is the UFC?
The UFC is the Ultimate Fighting Championship and is the premier mixed martial arts organization in the United States and the world. It’s the most commonly known form of combat sport and is a legitimate sport with judges, rules, and scorecards.
My other article, titled what is the UFC covers this in more detail and answers more common questions like who started the UFC, who owns the UFC, and how much the UFC is worth.
2. What does UFC stand for?
“UFC” stands for Ultimate Fighting Championship, the fight promotion. The acronym “UFC”, is often used interchangeably with the acronym for mixed martial arts, “MMA”. Sometimes this can confuse new or casual watchers of the sport. They can mean the same thing depending on the context.
It’s easy to get them mixed up. MMA covers the entire mixed martial arts as a sport (like soccer or basketball), and UFC is technically just one fight promotion of many. Others include Bellator, ONE Championship, and more.
In my other article, titled what does UFC stand for, I’ve gone into more detail on all these things and answered what else UFC could mean, how the UFC name began, and more.
3. The best way to get into watching the UFC
The ideal way to get into watching the UFC is to pick out the biggest turning point for the UFC’s popularity, thanks to Conor McGregor, by starting with watching UFC 189 from 2005. Followed by UFC 194, UFC 202, and finally, UFC 229. Then start watching new events as they come out.
Most sports fans generally know who Conor McGregor is and his impact on the sport of MMA. Undoubtedly, he helped mainstream the sport and solidify the UFC’s spot as the best promotion.
In my article titled best way to get into watching MMA & UFC I have detailed a lot more about my recommendations for watching key historical fights in the UFC, the best year to start watching and learning the fundamentals of mixed martial arts.
4. What are the UFC weight classes?
There are a total of nine weight classes/divisions in the UFC. They are Strawweight (women only), Flyweight, Bantamweight, Featherweight, Lightweight (men only), Welterweight (men only), Middleweight (men only), Light Heavyweight (men only), and Heavyweight (men only).
The weight classes help to keep fights fairer between competitors. Fighters usually train to compete in a specific weight class, but sometimes they can move up or down a weight class (sometimes more) if they have a good reason to do it.
If you want to know the full details of how weight divisions work, my article UFC weight classes will give you all you need.
In there, I cover the weight class differences between men and women, UFC history of weight class changes, weight classes of popular UFC fighters, and many more common questions!
5. How do UFC fighters cut weight?
UFC fighters cut weight to meet the designated weight class for their matchup (e.g., 155 lbs for Lightweight). They cut extra fat and water weight for their pre-fight weigh-in by restricting calories, dehydrating their body, and sweating out excess salts through heat and cardio training.
Although fighters cut to meet a particular weight, they often immediately rehydrate after the official weigh-in and are much heavier and hydrated by the time of the fight, only 24 hours later.
The practice is a bit barbaric and can be bad for a fighter’s long-term health if they lose too much weight too quickly.
I’ve covered this whole process in detail in my article on how do UFC fighters cut weight which includes the process of UFC weight cutting, UFC fighters with crazy weight cuts, and common questions about UFC weight cuts.
6. What happens if a UFC fighter misses weight?
If a UFC fighter misses weight, the fight will typically go ahead under a “Catchweight” but with the offender’s winnings purse reduced by 30% and awarded to the opponent. The offending fighter also loses any potential fight bonuses.
“Catchweight” is an arbitrary name for when both fighters are of different weights that wouldn’t fit within the ruling of a standard UFC weight class. Sometimes they could be as much as a 5-15 lbs difference.
If the fight doesn’t go ahead, both fighters could get paid nothing. So it’s in their best interests to continue with the fight because the fans want to see it, and they need to get paid.
I’ve covered this in way more detail in my article about what happens if a UFC fighter misses weight. In this article, I cover the official UFC rules on weight cutting, what happens if a champion misses weight, and more.
7. What is a Catchweight?
Catchweight is a general term used to describe fights that happen at a weight different from regular weight classes.
These can happen when one, or both, fighters can’t make the weight they intended to.
The fight will only go ahead if both fighters agree on a Catchweight limit. But the fighter that missed the weight will often give up 20-30% of their fight purse.
To understand all scenarios involving the Catchweight, read my full article about what is Catchweight in UFC.
8. UFC viewership statistics
The UFC had its biggest year for PPV buys in 2016, with an average of 665,000 buys per event. UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor generated the single most PPV buys for one event, with a total of 2,400,000.
These are just a few of the statistics behind the UFC, and if you want to know more about just how big the UFC has become, then my article on UFC viewership statistics will show you all you need to know.
In that dedicated article, you can find plenty more facts like the UFC event with the biggest live attendance record, the biggest growth markets for the UFC and MMA, and many more common questions answered.
9. How is UFC scored?
The UFC uses a 10 Point Must scoring system, similar to boxing, except for different rules that accumulate points. In each round, both fighters start at a perfect score of 10 and lose a point based on effective striking & grappling, effective aggressiveness, and control of the fighting area (octagon).
Most fighting rounds in the UFC will be 10-9, with a close advantage being displayed by one fighter. Each fight has three judges, and there are between 3-5 rounds. The fighter with the most points across all rounds wins – simple.
Here’s an example from a recent UFC event of what a scorecard looks like from the judge’s perspective:
Even though the fight from this scorecard ended with a 2nd round stoppage due to submission, you’ll see the scores from the first round and the total.
Although we can see scorecards post-fight, the UFC is yet to embrace “open scoring,” whereby fighters, fans, and coaches can see their score at the end of each round. It’s still a debated topic.
If you’re ready to learn even more about octagon scoring, then my article how is UFC scored is right up your alley.
You’ll learn more detailed explanations of each scoring category, how judges score fights (10-9, 10-8, etc.), and the different winning decisions, plus more common questions answered.
10. How many rounds are there in UFC fights?
Most UFC fights are three rounds of 5 minutes per round for any regular matchup. But fights which are the main event, which is sometimes a fight for a championship belt, are typically five rounds of 5 minutes per round.
These are the standard round times in the UFC, but the rounds could go on for longer if there are any mid-fight timeouts like an accidental low blow, eye poke, or when the referee calls in a doctor to check one of the fighters.
I covered how rounds work and a full analysis of how long an example fight card went for in my article how many rounds in UFC.
11. How long do UFC fights last?
UFC fights could last 17 minutes for a three-round fight or 29 minutes for a five-round fight (including all rounds and breaks between rounds). Fights could last longer if there are timeouts called by the referee, usually for a groin hit or eye poke.
If you’re wondering how long you have to sit around watching a UFC event, it can all depend on the number of early preliminary fights, preliminary fights, and main card fights.
A large pay-per-view event often has all three, and the whole TV broadcasting can be up to 6 hours long. But a typical UFC fight night will only last for about half that, 3 hours.
Most people turn on (or arrive at their seats at the arena) for the main card, which could all be completed within 1-1.5 hours.
I’ve explained this in much more detail and answered many other common queries in my article how long do UFC fights last.
12. Are UFC fights fixed or rigged?
Some fans often claim that UFC fights are fixed, but there has never been any hard evidence to prove such claims. Recent questionable scorecards from judges, like those for UFC 282, keep this debate alive and further push the support for open scoring.
Contributing writer to MMA Hive, Tom Holmes, covered this argument nicely with my article are UFC fights fixed where he looks at four of the most famous examples involving Leonard Garcia, Brock Lesnar, Conor McGregor, and Tito Ortiz.
13. How many UFC fighters are there?
There are currently 721 active athletes on the UFC roster. Men take up 590 of those, while only 131 female fighters are currently active.
The roster is constantly evolving and changing. New fighters can enter the promotion almost every week based on contracts, pulling them from other promotions or fighter conveyer belt entertainment shows like Dana White’s Contender Series.
The Twitter account @UFCRosterWatch is one of my favorite ways to keep an eye on the comings and goings of UFC fighters.
I go into way more detail about the number of UFC fighters and how those break down per weight class/division in my article how many UFC fighters are there.
14. How much do UFC fighters get paid?
The average salary for a UFC fighter is $84,000 per fight. Most fighters get much less than that; a minimum of $10,000 to appear in a UFC event. The best or most popular fighters can earn upwards of $100,000 to fight on the main card and even $500,000 or more on the main event.
The earnings numbers can change wildly between fighters based on their success rate and popularity. Some fighters fans love to hate, making them a more attractive prospect for a “big fight” that brings eyeballs and PPV sales.
Fighters like Colby Covington have earned big bucks on big fights by the talents of their trash-talking.
You might often hear from journalists and fans that fighters aren’t paid enough, and there are even calls for fighters to create their own union so they can demand more balanced pay between fighters.
The problem is that the biggest (and best-paid) fighters don’t have much incentive to join to help those on the lower end earn more. The fight game, especially in the UFC, is very self-initiated regarding revenue potential.
In my dedicated article, how much do UFC fighters get paid, I researched to collect data from hundreds of fights, and I’ve covered how much they get paid per fight, how much they get paid if they lose, highest paid/lowest paid, and more!
15. Why are UFC fighters so skinny?
UFC fighters often seem skinny because they have cut unnecessary weight to have the maximum strength, endurance, and explosiveness for their weight class. Some fighters drop a lot of weight to fit into a division under their natural weight, so they appear too skinny.
Only Heavyweight division fighters have the luxury of not cutting much weight, as they can weigh up to a whopping 265 lbs (that’s 60 lbs more than Light Heavyweight) for a title bout or 266 lbs for a non-title bout.
At the lower weight classes, like Bantamweight, Featherweight, and Lightweight, you’ll often see more Skeletor-looking faces at the official weigh-ins because fighters in these divisions often cut lower than their natural weight.
A classic example is when Conor McGregor cut down to 145 lbs for his fight against Dennis Siver, looking incredibly dehydrated. Something he’s never tried to repeat since.
I’ve already covered this topic in detail in the article why are MMA fighters so skinny, which covers advantages/disadvantages, why UFC fighters aren’t so muscular, and the typical body fat percentage of an MMA fighter.
16. Why do UFC fighters have weird ears?
UFC fighters’ ears often appear gross to the common eye, with misshapen cartilage or a constantly swollen appearance. This happens from countless hours of grappling training, like in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or wrestling. The pressure put on the ears causes hematomas.
It’s essentially the constant blunt trauma from friction and getting hit there, which causes blockages to the blood flow, and if it isn’t drained out (via syringe), it builds up quickly.
Most MMA fighters just gave up trying to handle the problem directly because it’s inconvenient to drain the blood from your ears multiple times per week after a hard training session. So, instead, they “deal with it.”
That’s why most UFC fighters will have a “cauliflower ear.”
I’ve covered this topic in much more detail in my article why do UFC fighters have weird ears where I explain the pathophysiology of cauliflower ears, answer whether it is dangerous, how UFC fighters can prevent it, and give examples of several UFC fighters with this common issue.
17. Can you tickle in UFC fights?
Newcomers watching UFC/MMA might wonder if you can tickle your opponent during grappling to force particular movements to open up for better attack. There isn’t any rule preventing fighters from tickling each other, but it would probably be the weirdest thing to happen in MMA and heavily frowned upon.
It’s also a waste of your focus and energy to tickle your opponent when the activity that will earn you points on the scorecard is trying to damage your opponent as much as possible – because that’s what wins fights.
I go into more detail about this and the lack of UFC rule in my article can you tickle in UFC & MMA. In that article, I also discuss unsportsmanlike conduct, the history of tickling in the UFC, and whether it’s allowed in other MMA promotions.
18. Do UFC fighters wear cups?
UFC fighters are often seen taking shots to the groin by accident, and the referee will usually call a timeout. The fighters are required to wear cups by the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts since adoption in 2009. The risks of taking a groin hit are too severe, so the rules are set to protect fighters against it.
Hits to the groin happen all the time in the majority of UFC fights. It’s easy for a body punch or kick to slip or be slightly too low and affect the area.
The fact that fighters must wear cups can make them more susceptible to getting hit there. The cup is often larger and has a distinctive shape. Even a brushing strike past the area can knock the cup and cause a vibration of discomfort for the receiver.
So groin cups can make the timeouts more common in MMA fights, but they are necessary to ensure male fighters can still have families beyond the fight game!
In another article, do UFC fighters wear cups, I’ve gone into more detail about what UFC fighters wear under their shorts, whether female fighters wear cups and other protective gear worn during fights.
19. Do UFC fighters wear knee pads?
UFC fighters are allowed to wear knee sleeves made of soft neoprene material. They are not allowed to wear knee pads which add a sponge over the front of the knee because of the impact it could have on grappling.
The most famous display of knee sleeves in recent UFC history was when Francis Ngannou took on Ciryl Gane at UFC 270 despite having a persistent knee injury.
Francis chose to wear knee sleeves, seemingly to add compression around the joints to get him through the fight. And he did win the fight by taking down Ciryl and beating him on the ground.
In my article do UFC fighters wear knee pads I go into more detail about the rules for them in MMA, whether knee braces are allowed, examples of UFC fights with fighters wearing knee pads, and what else UFC fighters are allowed to wear in a match.
20. Do UFC fighters break their nose?
UFC fighters break their nose fairly often in their MMA matchups. Nose injuries account for 10.4% of injuries sustained in mixed martial arts fights, making it about the third most common issue.
The most common is, of course, head injuries. 51/100 fights include a musculoskeletal or head injury. Behind that is orbital fractures (around the eye) because that area sustains many direct strikes with feet, fists, elbows, and even knees!
In my other article, titled do UFC fighters break their nose, I go into more detail about how UFC fighters break their nose, how often they break and what they do to prevent it!
21. Would the UFC without gloves be safer?
4oz MMA gloves are a requirement in the UFC mainly because it protects the hands of the fighter throwing the strikes. The hands contain many small bones and ligaments, which can be easily injured, so adding padding to them helps them have fewer injuries which can stop them from fighting altogether.
The UFC did begin without gloves, but it became clearer to some that throwing bare knuckle punches at your opponent was an easy way to break your hand more than it would break their face.
Simple science, the skull is stronger than the bones of the hand.
Tank Abbott was somewhat of a pioneer in the early Ultimate Fighting Championship days as he was the first fighter to wear gloves for his MMA fight at UFC 6. He knew that wearing the glove would allow him more protection to reign shots down on his opponents.
If you’d like to learn more about the impact of safety if the UFC didn’t use gloves, using boxing gloves in the UFC, and learn about more MMA promotions that don’t use gloves, then read my article titled UFC without gloves.
22. What is the UFC octagon floor made of?
The UFC’s octagon floor – also called the canvas – is made of heavy-duty cotton. It is then tightly wrapped around foam, plywood, and metal layers. This allows for the right level of springiness for competing while being protective enough for fighters to complete throws or takedowns onto a reasonably supportive floor.
The use of heavy cotton allows for the right absorption of bodily fluids and remains soft enough for safe competition. It’s not as thick as a wrestling canvas because pro wrestling requires a lot more spring and safety for wrestlers to throw each other around.
In another article I wrote, titled UFC octagon floor material, you can learn more about the materials used for the canvas, how hard it is, whether they clean it between fights, and why they use an octagon shape in the first place!
More reading about the UFC
This comprehensive beginners guide should have helped you understand plenty of the essentials, but there is more to explore about the UFC — check out these articles: