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Rules of Mixed Martial Arts Fighting

The rules of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) differ slightly from one promotion to the next because each fighting organization can create unique rules. For example, the regulations for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) may differ slightly from the rules for Strikeforce.

Every event must comply with the athletic commission rules of the state in which the event is being held. MMA rules regulate weight classes, no-no’s during fighting, and approved ways to end a fight.

Athletic commissions from several states created the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, a set of rules that have been adopted by fighting promotions worldwide. These rules are the most widely used rules for MMA.

Weight classes in MMA competitions

No matter where you’re fighting, one of the most basic rules of MMA is that you must fight within your weight class. For instance, a male lightweight who weighs 150 pounds would never be matched with a male heavyweight who weighs 240 pounds. That kind of pairing is saved solely for cartoons.

If you don’t make weight for a match, you can be disqualified and possibly fined by the promotion. The following tables are rundowns of the specific weight classes defined in the Unified Rules of MMA.

MMA Weight Classes for Men
Class Weight Range
Flyweight Up to 105 lbs
Super flyweight 105.1–115 lbs
Bantamweight 115.1–125 lbs
Super bantamweight 125.1–135 lbs
Featherweight 135.1–145 lbs
Lightweight 145.1–155 lbs
Super lightweight 155.1–165 lbs
Welterweight 165.1–175 lbs
Super welterweight 175.1–185 lbs
Middleweight 185.1–195 lbs
Super middleweight 195.1–205 lbs
Light heavyweight 205.1–225 lbs
Heavyweight 225.1–265 lbs
Super heavyweight Over 265 lbs
MMA Weight Classes for Women
Class Weight Range
Flyweight Up to 95 lbs
Bantamweight 95.1–105 lbs
Featherweight 105.1–115 lbs
Lightweight 115.1–125 lbs
Welterweight 125.1–135 lbs
Middleweight 135.1–145 lbs
Light heavyweight 145.1–155 lbs
Cruiserweight 155.1–165 lbs
Heavyweight 165.1–185 lbs
Super heavyweight Over 185 lbs

MMA no-no’s in fighting

Although every MMA fighting organization has its own specific rules, some universal no-no’s do exist. They’re listed in the Unified Rules of MMA, but here’s a quick look at what’s not allowed:

  • No groin attacks.

  • No knees to the head on a grounded opponent.

  • No strikes to the back of the head or the spine.

  • No head butts. (Sorry, soccer fans.)

  • No eye gouging.

  • No fish hooking.

  • No fingers in an opponent’s orifices. (Eww!)

  • No biting.

  • No hair pulling. (Besides, that’s so second grade.)

  • No strikes or grabbing of the throat.

  • No manipulation of the fingers or toes.

  • No intentional grabbing of the ring or cage.

  • No intentional throwing of your opponent outside of the ring or cage. (That stuff belongs in professional wrestling.)

Accidentally performing one of these actions in a fight earns you an automatic warning from the referee. If your opponent was injured from your accidental action, he’ll get five minutes to recover.

Approved ways to end an MMA fight

An MMA competition can end in one of several ways:

  • Decision. If a fight lasts all rounds, the outcome is decided by three judges. Each fighting promotion has its own unique point system.

  • Disqualification (DQ). Think of this as a sort of “three strikes and you’re out” policy. Each time a fighter engages in an illegal move, he receives a warning. After three warnings, he’s disqualified. A DQ can also be called if a fighter has been injured by an illegal move that seemed intentional.

  • Forfeit. A fighter can announce a forfeit before a match begins if he’s injured.

  • Knockout (KO). A knockout is when a fighter loses consciousness thanks to his opponent’s strikes.

  • No contest. If both fighters violate the rules, or if a fighter is injured by an unintentional illegal action, a no-contest call can result. No contest is rarely called in MMA fights.

  • Submission. If one fighter achieves a submission hold, the fighter trapped in the hold can call defeat by tapping out on his opponent’s body or the mat, or by making a verbal announcement. Some defeated fighters fail to tap out and become incapacitated. In such cases, the referee calls an end to the fight.

  • Technical knockout (TKO). A technical knockout, when a fight is ended by the referee, doctor, or fighter’s corner, can be called in a few ways. The referee can call one when a fighter is no longer defending himself, usually due to an effective attack by his opponent.

    A doctor can also call a TKO if it’s clear that continuing the fight could be dangerous. And finally, a fighter’s corner can throw in a towel to admit defeat, resulting in a TKO.

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