Ultimate Fighting Championship
UFC logo mark.
UFC logo mark.

Ultimate Fighting Championship is a U.S.-based mixed martial arts (MMA) organization, currently recognized as the major MMA promotion in North America.

Started by Art Davie & Rorion Gracie - WOW Promotions as a tournament to find the world's best fighter, no matter their style, the UFC was to be based upon a version of Brazilian vale tudo fighting. Often violent and brutal with minimal rules, the UFC's brand of vale tudo, initially known as no holds barred fighting, allowed fighters of various disciplines to prove which martial arts style prevailed above others in realistic, unregulated situations. Early UFC fights, while accomplishing the goal of determining which style was best, were less sport than spectacle, which led to accusations of brutality and "human cockfighting" by opponents. Political pressures eventually led the UFC into the underground, as pay-per-view providers nixed UFC programming, nearly extinguishing the UFC's public visibility.

As political pressure mounted, the UFC reformed itself, slowly embracing stricter rules, becoming sanctioned by athletic commissions, and marketing itself as a legitimate sporting event. Dropping the no holds barred label and carrying the banner of mixed martial arts, the UFC has emerged from its political isolation to become more socially acceptable, regaining its position in pay-per-view television. With a cable television deal with Fox Sports Net and now Spike TV, and legalization of MMA in California, a hotbed for MMA fandom, the UFC is currently undergoing a remarkable surge in popularity, along with heightened media coverage. UFC programming can now be seen in the United States, as well as in Britain, Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Brazil.

The UFC is currently based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and owned and operated by Station Casinos executives Frank Ferttita III and Lorenzo Ferttita under the name Zuffa, LLC.



The concept for a tournament to discover the world's best fighter was the brainchild of Art Davie [1], a Southern California based advertising executive. Davie met Rorion Gracie in 1991 while researching martial arts for a marketing client. Gracie operated a jiu-jitsu school in Torrance, California and the Gracie family had a long history of mixed martial arts matches in Brazil. Davie became Gracie's student.

In 1992, Davie proposed an eight-man, single-elimination tournament with a working title of War of the Worlds to Rorion Gracie and John Milius. The tournament would feature martial artists from different disciplines facing each other in no holds barred combat. Milius, a noted film director and screenwriter, as well as a Gracie student, agreed to be the event's creative director. Davie drafted the business plan and twenty-eight investors contributed the initial capital to start WOW Promotions with the intent to develop the tournament into a television franchise.[2]

In 1992, WOW Promotions sought a television partner and approached Showtime, HBO and Semaphore Entertainment Group (SEG). Both HBO and Showtime declined but SEG, a pioneer in Pay-Per-View TV who had produced a mixed tennis match between Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova, became WOW's partner in May 1993. SEG devised the name for the show: The Ultimate Fighting Championship.[3] The two companies produced the first event at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado on November 12, 1993. Davie functioned as the show's booker and matchmaker. [4] The television broadcast featured two kickboxers (Patrick Smith and Kevin Rosier), a savate black belt (Gerard Gordeau), a karate expert (Zane Frazier), a shootfighter (Ken Shamrock), a sumo wrestler (Teila Tuli), a professional boxer (Art Jimmerson), and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt (Royce Gracie). The show was an instant success, drawing 86,592 television subscribers on Pay-Per-View TV. In April 1995, following UFC 5, in Charlotte, North Carolina, Davie and Gracie sold their interest in the franchise to SEG and disbanded WOW Promotions. Davie continued as the show's booker and matchmaker, as well as the Commissioner of Ultimate Fighting, until December 1997.


A core appeal for the show was to find an answer for sports fans: "Can a wrestler beat a boxer." [5] As was the case with most martial arts at the time, fighters were typically skilled in just one discipline (for example boxing, Judo, Jiu Jitsu) and had little experience against opponents with different skills. Some competitors were also rumored to have inflated their credentials to legitimize their presence. (Kimo Leopoldo, for example, was touted in UFC 3 as having a "third degree black belt" in taekwondo. Kimo's fighting is best described as freestyle and he holds no such rank.) [6]

With no weight classes, fighters often faced significantly larger or taller opponents. For example, Keith "The Giant Killer" Hackney faced Emmanuel Yarborough at UFC 3, with a 9" height difference and a 400-pound weight difference. [1] Many martial artists believed that technique could overcome these advantages, that a skilled fighter could use an opponent's size and strength against him, and with the 170-pound Royce Gracie dispatching many larger opponents, the UFC quickly proved that size does not always determine outcome.

Although "There are no rules!" was the tagline, the term was not strictly true; the UFC operated with limited rules. There was no biting, no eye gouging, and techniques such as hair pulling, headbutts and groin strikes were frowned upon, but allowed. In fact, in a UFC 4 qualifying match, two competitors Jason Fairn and Guy Mezger agreed not to pull hair as they both wore pony tails tied back for the match. UFC was similarly characterized, especially in the early days, as an extremely violent sport while having very gracious and respectful competitors.


The UFC became a hit on Pay-Per-View and home video almost immediately due to its originality, realism and wide press coverage, although not all of it favorable. The nature of the burgeoning sport quickly drew the attention of the authorities and UFC events were banned in a number of American states. After repeated criticism, and letter writing campaigns led by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the UFC was dropped from the major cable pay-per-view distributor Viewer's Choice, and individual cable carriers such as TCI Cable. The UFC continued to air on DirecTV PPV though its audience was miniscule compared to the larger cable PPV platforms of the era.

To survive, the UFC increased its cooperation with state athletic commissions and redesigned its rules to remove the less palatable elements of fights, while retaining the core elements of striking and grappling. Weight classes were introduced at UFC 12, and gloves became mandatory at UFC 14. UFC 15 saw the introduction of limits on permissible striking areas, barring headbutts, groin stikes, strikes to the back of the neck and head, kicks to a downed opponent, small joint manipulation, pressure point strikes, and hair pulling. And with five minute rounds introduced at UFC 21, the UFC gradually became rebranded as a sport rather than a spectacle.


As the UFC continued to work with state athletic commissions, events were held in smaller US markets including Iowa, Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming and Alabama. SEG could not secure even home video releases for UFC 23 through UFC 29, in a period known by some fans as the UFC's "Dark Ages." With other MMA promotions working towards US sanctioning, the International Fighting Championships secured the first US sanctioned MMA event, which occurred in New Jersey on September 30, 2000. Just two months later, the UFC held its first sanctioned event, UFC 28, under the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board's "Mixed Martial Arts Unified Rules". [2]

After the long battle to get sanctioned, and on the brink of bankruptcy, SEG was approached by Zuffa, LLC, a partnership between Station Casinos executives Frank and Lorenzo Ferttita, and boxing promoter Dana White in 2001, with an offer to purchase the UFC. A month later, in January of 2001, Zuffa took control of the UFC. [3] With ties to the Nevada State Athletic Commission (Lorenzo Ferttita was a former member of the NSAC), Zuffa secured sanctioning by the Nevada State Athletic Commission in 2001. [4] Shortly thereafter, at UFC 33, the UFC returned to PPV cable television.


After Zuffa purchased the UFC, it steadily rose in popularity, due partly to effective advertising, corporate sponsorship, the return of cable pay-per-view, and subsequent home video and DVD releases. With larger live gates at casino venues like the Trump Taj Mahal and the MGM Grand Arena, and pay-per-view buys beginning to return to levels enjoyed by the UFC prior to the political backlash in 1997, the UFC secured its first television deal with Fox Sports Net, showing one hour blocks of the UFC's greatest bouts. By UFC 40 in 2002, pay-per-view buys numbered 150,000 (a mark not hit by the UFC since going "underground" in 1997). [5]

In 2005, the UFC launched its own reality television series, The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV, in which MMA fighters who had not appeared in the UFC lived and trained together, competing against each other for the title of Ultimate Fighter and a three-fight, six-figure contract with the UFC. The show was an instant success, becoming one of Spike TV's highest rated shows. A second series of The Ultimate Fighter launched in August of 2005, and a third series began airing in April 2006. Following the success of The Ultimate Fighter, Spike picked up UFC Unleashed, a one-hour weekly show, featuring the same format as the UFC FSN show. Spike TV also signed on to air UFC's Ultimate Fight Night, a series of events aired live on Spike TV.

Following the breakout successes of The Ultimate Fighter, Ultimate Fight Night Live, and UFC Unleashed, the UFC reached new heights in popularity, nearly doubling their pay per view buys, with an estimated 280,000 buys for UFC 52. As the company continued to grow throughout 2005, and following the second successful season of The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC's much hyped rubber match between Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell drew an estimated 410,000 pay per view buys. Just three months later, Royce Gracie's return to the octagon drew an estimated 600,000 buys, surpassing even the WWE's Wrestlemania. [6]

In March 2006, the UFC announced the hiring of Marc Ratner, former Executive Director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, as vice-president. Ratner, once an ally of Senator McCain's campaign against MMA, was credited as one of the people responsible for the emergence of sanctioned mixed martial arts in the United States, and has been seen numerous times on television weighing the competitors on UFC's The Ultimate Fighter. Ratner is expected to help raise the UFC's profile in the media and to help legalize mixed martial arts in states that do not sanction MMA bouts.

Today, Ultimate Fighting Championship events have become popular in the United States, Japan, Brazil, Canada, the United Kingdom, where live fights are often seen on cable television and pay per view.


The current rules for the Ultimate Fighting Championship were originally established by the New Jersey Athletic Control Board[7]. The Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts that New Jersey established has been adopted in other states that regulate mixed martial arts, including Nevada, Louisiana and California. These rules are also used by many other promotions within the United States and are mandatory for those states that have adopted the Unified Rules, and so have become the standard de facto set of rules for professional mixed martial arts across the country.


Every round in UFC competition is 5 minutes in duration. Title matches have five rounds, and non-title matches have three rounds. There is a one minute rest period in-between rounds.

Weight divisions

The UFC currently uses five weight classes:

In addition, there are four other weight classes specified in the Unified Rules which the UFC does not use: Flyweight (125 lb and under), Bantamweight (126-135 lb), Featherweight (136-145 lb), and Super Heavyweight (265 lb and above). [7]


The UFC uses its trademarked octagonal caged arena to stage bouts. The cage is composed of an eight-sided metal fencing coated with black vinyl, with a diameter of 38 ft, allowing of 30 ft of space from point to point. The fence is 6 ft high, and the cage is atop a platform 4 ft from the ground. It has foam padding around the top and between each of the eight sections and has two entry/exit gates opposite of each other. [8]

The mat, painted with sponsorship logos and art, is used only once per event.


All competitors must fight in approved shorts, without shoes or any other sort of foot padding. Shirts, gis or long pants (including gi pants) are not allowed. Fighters must use approved light gloves (4-6 ounces) that allow fingers to grab. These gloves enable fighters to use tremendous punching power with less risk of an injured or broken hand. The gloves also mean that a fighter who gets hit with a strong blow will likely go down quickly, reducing the risk of brain damage after a long career that is often seen in boxing, where heavy gloves allow repeated blows to the head.

Originally the attire for UFC was very open if controlled at all. Many fighters still chose to wear tight fitting or boxing type shorts, while others wore long pants, tight wrestling suits and Champion Royce Gracie even wore a Ju Jitsu style gi in all his early appearances in UFC.

Match outcome

Matches usually end via:

  • Submission: a fighter taps on the mat or his opponent three times (or more) or verbally submits.
  • Knockout: a fighter falls from a legal blow and is either unconscious or unable to immediately continue.
  • Technical Knockout: stoppage of the fight by the referee if it is determined a fighter cannot "intelligently defend" himself or by ringside doctor due to injury.
  • Judges' Decision: Depending on scoring, a match may end as:
  • unanimous decision (all three judges score a win for one fighter),
  • split decision (two judges score a win for one fighter with the third for the other),
  • majority decision (two judges score a win for one fighter with one for a draw),
  • unanimous draw (all three judges score a draw),
  • majority draw (two judges score a draw).
  • split draw (the total points for each fighter is equal)

A fight can also end in a technical decision, technical draw, disqualification, forfeit or no contest.

Judging criteria

The ten-point must system is in effect for all UFC fights; three judges score each round and the winner of each receives ten points, the loser nine points or less. If the round is even, both fighters receive ten points. In New Jersey, the fewest points a fighter can receive is 7, and in other states by custom no fighter receives less than 7.


The Nevada State Athletic Commission currently lists the following as fouls: [9]

  1. Butting with the head.
  2. Eye gouging of any kind.
  3. Biting.
  4. Hair pulling.
  5. Fish hooking.
  6. Groin attacks of any kind.
  7. Putting a finger into any orifice or into any cut or laceration on an opponent. (see Gouging)
  8. Small joint manipulation.
  9. Striking to the spine or the back of the head. (see Rabbit punch)
  10. Striking downward using the point of the elbow. (see Elbow (strike))
  11. Throat strikes of any kind, including, without limitation, grabbing the trachea.
  12. Clawing, pinching or twisting the flesh.
  13. Grabbing the clavicle.
  14. Kicking the head of a grounded opponent.
  15. Kneeing the head of a grounded opponent.
  16. Stomping a grounded opponent.
  17. Kicking to the kidney with the heel.
  18. Spiking an opponent to the canvas on his head or neck. (see piledriver (professional wrestling))
  19. Throwing an opponent out of the ring or fenced area.
  20. Holding the shorts or gloves of an opponent.
  21. Spitting at an opponent.
  22. Engaging in an unsportsmanlike conduct that causes an injury to an opponent.
  23. Holding the ropes or the fence.
  24. Using abusive language in the ring or fenced area.
  25. Attacking an opponent on or during the break.
  26. Attacking an opponent who is under the care of the referee.
  27. Attacking an opponent after the bell has sounded the end of the period of unarmed combat.
  28. Flagrantly disregarding the instructions of the referee.
  29. Timidity, including, without limitation, avoiding contact with an opponent, intentionally or consistently dropping the mouthpiece or faking an injury.
  30. Interference by the corner.
  31. Throwing in the towel during competition.

When a foul is charged, the referee in their discretion may deduct one or more points as a penalty. If a foul incapacitates a fighter, then the match may end in a disqualification if the foul was intentional, or a no contest if unintentional. If a foul causes a fighter to be unable to continue later in the bout, it ends with a technical decision win to the injured fighter if the injured fighter is ahead on points, otherwise it is a technical draw.[10]

Match conduct

  • The referee has the right to stop the fighters and stand them up if they reach a stalemate on the ground (where neither are in a dominant position nor work toward one) after a verbal warning. This rule is codified in Nevada as the stand-up rule.
  • If the referee pauses the match, the match is resumed with the fighters in the position they were before.
  • Any grabbing of the cage will result in a verbal warning, followed by an attempt by the referee to release the grab by pulling on the grabbing hand. If that attempt fails or if the fighter continues to hold the cage, the referee may charge a foul.

Evolution of the UFC rules

  • UFC 1 - Although the advertising said there are no rules, there were in fact four rules: No biting, no eye-gouging, no groin attacks and no fish-hooking. Fights ended only in the event of a knockout, a submission usually signalled by tapping the hand three times on the mat or opponent, or by the corner throwing in the towel. Despite this, the first match in UFC 1 was won by referee stoppage, even though it was not officially recognized as such at the time.
  • UFC 3 - The referee was given the authority to stop a fight in case of a fighter being unable to defend himself. Groin attacks were legalized; only biting and eye-gouging were recognized as illegal.
  • UFC 4 - After tournament alternate Steve Jennum won UFC 3 by winning only one bout, alternates (replacements) were required to win a pre-tournament bout to qualify for the role of an alternate.
  • UFC 5 - After Gracie and Severn's 16-minute bout, the organizers introduced a 30-minute time limit. UFC 5 also saw the first Superfight, a one-off bout between two competitors selected by the organizers with the winner being crowned 'Superfight champion' and having the duty of defending his title at the next UFC.
  • UFC 6 - The referee was given the authority to restart the fight. If two fighters were entangled in a position where there was a lack of action, the referee could stop the fight and restart the competitors on their feet, in their own corner.
  • UFC 8 - Time limit changed to 10 minutes in the first two rounds of the tournament, 15 minutes in the tournament final and Superfight.
  • UFC 9 - Disqualifications for illegal techniques introduced for the first time. Fights could now be decided by a judges decision if the fight reached the end of the time limit. The panel was made up of three judges who simply raised a card with the name of the fighter they considered to be the winner. In this fashion, a draw was not possible since the only two possible outcomes of a decision were 3 to 0 or 2 to 1 in favor of the winner.
  • UFC 12 - The main tournament was split into a heavyweight and lightweight division; and the eight-man tournament was abandoned. Fighters now needed to win only two fights to win the competition. The Heavyweight Champion title (and title bouts) was introduced, replacing the Superfight title (albeit matches were still for a time branded as "Superfights").
  • UFC 14 - The wearing of padded gloves, weighing 4-6 oz., becomes mandatory. Gloves were to be approved by the UFC.
  • UFC 15 - Limits on permissible striking areas were introduced. Headbutts, groin strikes, strikes to the back of the neck & head, kicks to a downed opponent, small joint manipulation, pressure point strikes, and hair-pulling became illegal.
  • UFC 21 - Five minute rounds were introduced, with preliminary bouts consisting of two rounds, regular non-title bouts at three rounds, and title bouts at 5 five minute rounds. Also, the "ten point must system" was introduced for scoring fights (identical to the system widely used in boxing).
  • UFC 28 - The New Jersey Athletic Control Board sanctions its first UFC event, using the newly developed Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. Major changes to the UFC's rules included barring knee strikes to the head of a downed opponent, and elbow strikes to the spine and neck. Limits on permissible ring attire, stringent medical requirements, and regulatory oversight were also introduced. A new weight class system was also introduced. [8] This new set of rules is currently the de facto standard for MMA events held in the USA and is still in use by the UFC.

The Ultimate Fighter

Bouts that occur on The Ultimate Fighter are technically classified as "exhibition matches" under NSAC sanctioning, and thus do not count toward the professional record of a fighter. Match outcomes also do not need to be immediately posted publicly, which allows for fight results to be unveiled as the series progresses.

These exhibition matches variably have two or three rounds, depending on the rules used for each season. In seasons one and three, preliminary matches (before the semi-final bouts) were two rounds, in season two, all matches had three. For two-round matches, if there is a draw after two rounds, an extra sudden victory five-minute round is contested. If the extra round goes the distance, the judges' decision will be based on the extra round only. All semi-final matches use three rounds as per standard bouts. During the finales for each series, the division finals will have the standard three rounds plus a fourth sudden victory round if the judges score a tie.


Main article: List of UFC events

UFC current champions

Chuck Liddell, current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
Chuck Liddell, current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
Main article: List of UFC champions
Division Champion Since
Heavyweight Tim Sylvia UFC 59
Light Heavyweight Chuck Liddell UFC 52
Middleweight Rich Franklin UFC 53
Welterweight Matt Hughes UFC 50

Notable UFC fighters

UFC Hall of Fame inductees

UFC Viewer's Choice Awards

(From UFC 45; Top 10 most popular UFC fighters of all time)

Other notable fighters

The following fighters not listed above have won a tournament, championship title, or an Ultimate Fighter six-figure contract.

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