Referee Jason Herzog stops the UFC fight

The Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) have played a crucial role in the evolution and regulation of the sport since its inception.

Established in 2000 by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board and later adopted by various athletic commissions, the Unified Rules were designed to provide a standardized set of guidelines to ensure fighter safety and fair competition. This comprehensive document encompasses weight classes, judging criteria, fouls, equipment requirements, and more, creating a clear framework for MMA events worldwide.

This article aims to provide a detailed overview of the Unified Rules of MMA, explaining their significance and shedding light on the key aspects that govern the sport, helping fight fans to better understand UFC rules and regulations.

The Origins of the Unified Rules of MMA

In the early days of MMA, the sport was a wild, untamed frontier. “No holds barred” was the order of the day, with few UFC rules and regulations to guide the chaotic action. However, as the UFC’s popularity skyrocketed, so too did the need for a consistent, standardized set of rules for mixed martial arts as a sport.

The Unified Rules of MMA were born out of a collaborative effort between key stakeholders, including regulators, promoters, and fighters. Over the years, these rules have evolved to better protect fighters and maintain the sport’s integrity.

MMA Weight Classes

MMA features multiple weight classes, ranging from flyweight to heavyweight, to accommodate athletes of different sizes and ensure a level playing field. Each weight class has specific weight limits, and fighters must meet these limits during the official weigh-ins before their bouts.

The weight limits, as per the Unified Rules of MMA, are as follows:

  1. Strawweight: 115 lbs
  2. Flyweight: 125 lbs
  3. Bantamweight: 135 lbs
  4. Featherweight: 145 lbs
  5. Lightweight: 155 lbs
  6. Welterweight: 170 lbs
  7. Middleweight: 185 lbs
  8. Light Heavyweight: 205 lbs
  9. Heavyweight: 265 lbs
  10. Super Heavyweight (not recognized by the UFC): Over 265 lbs

Fighters typically undergo a weight-cutting process before the weigh-ins to meet their division’s limit. However, extreme weight-cutting practices have sparked discussions about fighter safety and the need for additional weight classes or regulations.

UFC rules and regulations abide by the weight classes outlined in the Unified Rules of MMA. However, the UFC does not include a super heavyweight division (for fighters over 265 pounds).

MMA Judging and Scoring Criteria

MMA bouts are scored by a panel of three judges who evaluate each round based on effective striking, grappling, aggression, and octagon control. The 10-Point Must System is used, meaning the winner of each round receives ten points, while the loser gets nine or fewer points. In dominant rounds, the losing fighter may be awarded only eight or seven points.

Effective striking refers to the impact of legal strikes landed on the opponent, with more significant strikes being valued higher. Effective grappling encompasses takedowns, submission attempts, reversals, and control on the ground or in the clinch.

Aggression is assessed by evaluating a fighter’s forward movement and their ability to initiate action, while octagon control refers to dictating the pace, place, and position of the fight. Judges prioritize effective striking and grappling over aggression and octagon control when scoring rounds.

The UFC follows the MMA judging and scoring criteria outlined in the Unified Rules of MMA.

Justin Gaethje has his hand raised by MMA referee Mike Beltran following a UFC victory. The Unified Rules of MMA outline scoring criteria.
Justin Gaethje has his hand raised by MMA referee Mike Beltran following a UFC victory (Zuffa LLC)

MMA Fouls and Penalties

The Unified Rules of MMA list 31 fouls that can result in penalties, point deductions, or disqualifications. Some common fouls include:

  • Eye-gouging or fish-hooking
  • Striking the back of the head or spine
  • Groin attacks
  • Kneeing or kicking the head of a grounded opponent
  • Grabbing the cage or fence
  • Holding the opponent’s shorts or gloves
  • Intentional spitting out of the mouthpiece

Referees have the authority to penalize fighters for committing fouls. A warning may be issued for minor infractions, while more severe or repeated fouls can result in point deductions or disqualification. The severity of the penalty depends on the referee’s discretion and the impact of the foul on the opponent.

Fighters in the UFC and many other promotions must follow the exact fight rules outlined in the Unified Rules of MMA.

MMA Fight Duration and Rounds

Professional MMA bouts typically consist of three 5-minute rounds, with championship and main event fights having five 5-minute rounds. There is a one-minute rest period between rounds, during which fighters receive coaching and medical attention in their corners.

Amateur MMA bouts may have different round durations and limits, depending on the regulating body or organization. These can range from two to three-minute rounds, with a total of three rounds per fight.

MMA Equipment and Attire

MMA fighters are required to wear specific equipment and attire to ensure their safety and fair competition. According to the Unified Rules of MMA, fighters must wear:

  • Fingerless gloves (4 to 6 ounces) to protect their hands and allow grappling techniques
  • Mouthguards to protect teeth and minimize the risk of oral injuries
  • Groin protectors for male fighters
  • Approved shorts or pants, with no pockets or exposed zippers
  • Women may wear a sports bra or tight-fitting top
UFC Rules: Understanding the Unified Rules of MMA 1
Referee Herb Dean and a medical official assess Brian Ortega mid-fight (Zuffa LLC)

MMA Medical Checks and Requirements

Fighters must undergo a series of medical checks and meet certain requirements before being allowed to compete. These include pre-fight medical examinations to assess their overall health and fitness, as well as tests for communicable diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. In addition, fighters may be required to provide ophthalmologic and neurological clearance, depending on the regulating body or jurisdiction.

During the event, a licensed physician must be present to provide immediate medical attention if necessary. After each bout, fighters may be subject to post-fight medical examinations to evaluate injuries and determine any potential medical suspensions.

MMA Doping and Drug Testing

The Unified Rules of MMA prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and other banned substances. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) oversees drug testing for the UFC, implementing a comprehensive program that includes random, out-of-competition testing, as well as pre and post-fight testing.

Fighters who test positive for banned substances may face suspensions, fines, or other penalties, depending on the severity of the infraction and the regulating body’s rules. The aim of these regulations is to maintain a clean and fair sport, while ensuring fighter safety.


The Unified Rules of MMA provide a comprehensive framework for the sport, promoting fighter safety, fair competition, and consistency across events worldwide. Contrary to popular belief, UFC rules and regulations are outlined almost entirely by the Unified Rules of MMA.

By understanding the regulations governing weight classes, judging criteria, fouls, equipment, and more, fans and fighters can better appreciate the complexities of the sport and the efforts made to ensure its continued growth and development. As MMA continues to evolve, so too will the rules and regulations, adapting to the changing landscape and demands of the sport.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is not allowed in UFC?

The Unified Rules of MMA outline various fouls, such as eye gouging, groin strikes, and strikes to the back of the head. Fighters must adhere to these rules to ensure fair competition and protect their opponents from unnecessary harm.

What are UFC rules?

UFC rules are based on the Unified Rules of MMA, which dictate the specifications for combat areas, weight classes, fouls, penalties, stoppages, and scoring. These rules provide a standardized framework for MMA organizations worldwide, including the UFC.

Who wrote the UFC rules?

The Unified Rules of MMA outlines UFC fight rules and was developed collaboratively by key stakeholders, including regulators, promoters, and fighters. Over the years, these UFC rules have evolved to better protect fighters and maintain the sport’s integrity.

When did UFC rules change?

The Unified Rules of MMA have undergone numerous changes since their inception, with the most recent revisions occurring in 2017. These changes mean that, effectively, the UFC fight rules and regulations change, as well. These amendments included changes to scoring criteria, the definition of a grounded opponent, and the addition of female weight classes.

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