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How the Ultimate Fighting Championship Works

UFC Basics

Image courtesy Josh Hedges/ © Ultimate Fighting Championship
An overhead view of the UFC Octagon.

Fights in the UFC don't take place inside a ring -- they take place inside the Octagon. As you probably have guessed from its name, the Octagon is an eight-sided octagonal mat and cage. Its walls are made of fencing material, with padding covering all the edges and corners, and it's 30 feet across. The mat is made of canvas, which is custom painted for each event and then never used again. Two gates lead into the Octagon, and they're secured shut at the beginning of each round.

When a fight is in progress, only the referee and the two fighters are allowed inside. Between rounds, officials open the gates to allow a fighter's corner men to enter. Corner men can give their respective fighters strategic advice and help stop cuts and scrapes from bleeding.

Tank Abbott
Image courtesy © Ultimate Fighting Championship
Tank Abbott

Competitors are not allowed to go outside the Octagon during a bout, nor are they allowed to try and throw their opponents over the side of the cage (you might laugh, but UFC legend Tank Abbott once appeared to try and throw Carl Worsham over the fence in a UFC bout).

Why does the UFC use an octagonal mat in the first place? According to Dana White, there are several reasons. The original UFC event was conceived as a way to match styles against each other to find which was best. Various styles of fighting take place in different kinds of rings or mats -- for example, boxing is in a square and wrestling is in a circle. The Octagon was designed to avoid giving any one martial arts discipline an advantage. Because the angles in an Octagon are wider than those for each corner of a boxing ring, there is little chance for a fighter to get stuck in a corner with no way out. The UFC bordered the Octagon with fencing so that fighters couldn't fall or get thrown out of the ring. The Octagon is a stable structure designed with the fighter's safety in mind, while still providing a good view for spectators.

The UFC has no formal ranking system, though each weight class does have its own champion. UFC President Dana White says that ranking systems often get in the way of putting together the best fights and invite corruption. Instead, the UFC relies on Joe Silva, vice president and matchmaker. Mr. Silva uses his own system, analyzing the style and records of fighters to determine the most exciting fights. When a fighter has proven himself sufficiently, he can earn himself a title shot against the reigning champion.

The UFC recognizes five weight classes:

Lightweight 145 to 155 pounds
Welterweight 155 to 170 pounds
Middleweight 170 to 185 pounds
Light Heavyweight 185 to 205 pounds
Heavyweight 205 to 265 pounds

Fighters only face opponents in their same weight class, but they are free to move up or down weight classes. Most fighters find that moving up in a weight class (gaining weight) means they sacrifice speed, while moving down a weight class could mean losing striking power.

In the next section, we'll talk about the fighting techniques allowed in the UFC.

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