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How the Ultimate Fighting Championship Works

How to Win a UFC Match
Image courtesy Josh Hedges © Ultimate Fighting Championship
Wilson Gouveia submits Seth Petruzelli with a Guillotine Choke

So you can strike and grapple with your opponent in a UFC match, but how do you actually win?

You can win by submission, indicated when your opponent either physically taps out or verbally submits. A fighter might submit if he is unable to defend effectively against strikes or if he is caught in a painful hold such as an armbar or ankle lock. A fighter can even knock out an opponent with a submission hold such as a rear naked choke, where either his opponent's air supply or blood flow is cut off. Unlike other sports, submitting to your opponent is considered an honorable way to lose a fight. In some competitive sports you might see your career end if you were to "give up," but not in the UFC.

You could also win by technical knockout (TKO). In a technical knockout, the referee stops the fight when he determines that a fighter is no longer able to defend himself intelligently. Referees are responsible for determining a fighter's status in rapidly changing and often chaotic conditions. Unlike boxing, there is no standing eight count. A technical knockout can be declared whether a fighter is on the ground or still standing.

Image courtesy Josh Hedges © Ultimate Fighting Championship
Luke Cummo defeats Josh Haynes by KO

If a fight goes the distance and the last round ends without a submission or knockout, the results are determined by decision. A panel of three judges scores each round using a 10-point must system, meaning that when a judge determines a fighter won a round, that fighter receives 10 points (barring any penalties due to fouls). His opponent receives a nine or lower. Lower scores are usually the result of penalties for fouls, for being inactive or for being timid during a round. At the end of the fight, each judge adds up the scores given to each fighter. If all three judges score the same fighter as the winner, it is called a unanimous decision. If two judges score one fighter the winner, but the third judge scored the fight in favor of his opponent, it's called a split decision. If two judges determine that one fighter is the winner and the other judge determined the bout a draw, it's called a majority decision.

You could also win by technical decision, meaning your opponent is too injured to continue. If the referee determines your opponent is violating the rules, you could win through disqualification. Finally, your opponent may forfeit a match, giving you the win. Fighters might forfeit if they are suffering from an injury or illness.

Too Scared to Fight?
Why is timidity considered a foul in mixed martial arts? The Nevada State Athletic Commission equates timidity in MMA with a boxer "purposely going down without being hit" [Source: Nevada Administrative Code Chapter 467, Unarmed Combat]. It's considered an unsportsmanlike delaying tactic. Referees are encouraged to step in when a fight's pace slows, even going so far as to stand the two opponents up if they reach a stalemate on the ground.

Fights can also end in a draw. A standard draw results when the three judges' scores for both fighters are the same or cancel each other out. If both fighters are too injured to continue the match, the referee can declare a technical draw. A referee can declare a match as a no contest if both fighters violate the rules or if a fighter is unable to continue due to an injury sustained as a result of a foul.

Because there are so many ways to win (or lose) a fight, bouts in the UFC can be very exciting. A fight may seem to be a one-sided affair while both athletes are standing but completely change when the fight goes to the ground. Just when you think a match is over, a fighter can turn the tables on his opponent with a well-timed escape or by taking advantage of a simple mistake.

Fights in the UFC are more complicated than boxing matches, and so judges must take more into consideration when scoring a round. They look at how many strikes fighters land, whether a fighter manages to take down his opponent and the fighters' ground technique. While the bottom position in ground fighting is usually considered weaker than the top position, some fighters can defend themselves so effectively that a judge could award the round to the fighter on bottom. UFC President Dana White says, "There's a lot of controversy right now over judging. Being a judge is very subjective . . . the main thing you have to judge, round by round, is who did the most damage."

In the next section, we'll look at the controversial history of the UFC.

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