Just like every over martial art in the world, MMA offers weight classes. The main purpose of popular “divisions” is to enable relatively similar opponents to meet each other inside the Octagon.
When a 125-pounder fights a Heavyweight, the bout could end after one big punch, and that would be unfair, right? Weight classes exist for a reason; the early days of UFC when a 170-pound grappler was competing with a 260-pound muscle mountain are finished!
This article will focus on the history of UFC weight classes, their champions, and the development of new divisions.
Weight divisions in UFC
The number one mixed martial arts promotion in the world, UFC, contains 8 male (no Strawweight) and 4 female (straw, fly, bantam, and feather) weight classes. Now explaining each weight class would take too much time, so this table is a quick summary.
Table 1. UFC divisions explained
|Weight Classes||Maximum Weight|
|Strawweight (female only)||115 lbs (52.2 kg)|
|Flyweight (male + female)||125 lbs (56.7 kg)|
|Bantamweight (male + female)||135 lbs (61.2 kg)|
|Featherweight (male + female)||145 lbs (65.8 kg)|
|Lightweight (male only)||155 lbs (70.3 kg)|
|Welterweight (male only)||170 lbs (77.1 kg)|
|Middleweight (male only)||185 lbs (83.9 kg)|
|Light Heavyweight (male only)||205 lbs (93 kg)|
|Heavyweight (male only)||265 lbs (120.2 kg)|
What happens if a fighter is too light or too heavy?
The next logical question would be “What if you don’t weigh between 115 and 265?” The UFC decided that a fighter must adjust weight or test his/her luck in other promotions. KSW is dying for super heavyweight Octagon warriors, just like many other MMA promotions all around the globe.
Females that weigh over 145 pounds can take part in PFL lightweight roster (-155 lbs) or RIZIN (fighters sign special contracts about weight, for example, Gabi Garcia’s walking weight is around 240 lbs)!
The history of male UFC weight classes
UFC 1 took place in 1993, but there were no divisions at all, so it was called “the era of unfair matches”. How would a 190-pound fighter feel meeting a 300+ pound fighter? Consider this – you can be the best striker in the world, but a heavier Octagon warrior gets an unfair advantage. One big strike and you can end up on the canvas.
The oldest division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship is Heavyweight. It was founded back in 1997 at UFC 12. The first-ever UFC champ of the heavyweight division was Mark Coleman, who won the HW strap back in 1997.
Light Heavyweight was also invented in 1997, and the first champ was Frank Shamrock, who destroyed Kevin Jackson in less than 25 seconds!
The Welterweight division was mentioned for the first time in December 1998. The most successful fighters are Kamaru Usman and Georges St-Pierre.
Lightweight and Middleweight were added in 2001. The most notable names, respectively, are undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0) and Anderson “The Spider” Silva.
UFC later created Bantamweight (current champ Petr Yan) and Featherweight (most notable name Jose Aldo) to its roster in 2010.
The youngest division is the Flyweight division, created in 2012. Demetrious Johnson was the most dominant 125-pounder with 11 title defenses. Unfortunately, he failed to sell PPVs because of his humble personality, which led to parting ways with the UFC and inking ONE FC contract.
Female UFC divisions: How did it start?
UFC was not interested in letting female competitors bleed inside the ring for a long time. Dana White finally changed his mind and created a Bantamweight class for women in 2012 (Ronda Rousey was the first champ).
2014 brought the introduction of the female Strawweight division, while Featherweight and Flyweight weight classes kicked off in 2017.
The most dominant 125 pounder is Valentina Shevchenko, while Amanda Nunes currently holds both 135 and 145-pound straps.
UFC and Openweight tournaments
In the beginning, fighters were fulfilling forms. The promotion accepted most of them. Fans knew nothing about the Octagon warriors, and the majority of them were lying about their background.
Diehard fans may remember the famous taxi driver with a fake 200-0 score Thomas Ramirez, who got smoked by Don Frye in 8 seconds?
Today, you usually get the invitation or the promotion pairs fighters. Yet, some Openweight tournaments were related to a weight class. Everybody could have tested his skills if he wanted to.
Let’s stop talking, this table is going to explain everything. Some tournaments took part on the same day, in more than one weight class.
Table 2. All Openweight UFC combats throughout the history
|Tournament name||Year||UFC weight class||Champion and martial art|
|UFC 1||1993||None||Royce Gracie (BJJ)|
|UFC 2||1994||None||Royce Gracie (BJJ)|
|UFC 3||1994||None||Steve Jennum (Ninjitsu)|
|UFC 4||1994||None||Royce Gracie (BJJ)|
|UFC 5||1995||None||Dan Severn (Wrestling)|
|UFC 6||1995||None||Oleg Taktarov (Sambo)|
|UFC 7||1995||None||Marco Ruas (Vale Tudo)|
|The Ultimate Ultimate||1995||None||Dan Severn (Wrestling)|
|UFC 8||1996||None||Don Frye (Boxing/Wrestling)|
|UFC 10||1996||None||Mark Coleman (Wrestling)|
|UFC 11||1996||None||Mark Coleman (Wrestling)|
|The Ultimate Ultimate 2||1996||None||Don Frye (Boxing/Wrestling)|
|UFC 12||1997||Heavyweight||Vitor Belfort (Boxing)|
|UFC 12||1997||Lightweight||Jerry Bohlander (Submission Wrestling)|
|UFC 13||1997||Heavyweight||Randy Couture (Wrestling)|
|UFC 13||1997||Lightweight||Guy Mezger (Karate, Taekwondo)|
|UFC 14||1997||Heavyweight||Mark Kerr (Wrestling)|
|UFC 14||1997||Lightweight||Kevin Jackson (Freestyle wrestling)|
|UFC 15||1997||Heavyweight||Mark Kerr (Wrestling)|
|Ultimate Japan||1997||Heavyweight||Kazushi Sakuraba (Catch wrestling)|
|UFC 16||1998||Lightweight||Pat Miletich (Wrestling)|
|UFC 17||1998||Middleweight||Dan Henderson (Wrestling)|
|UFC 23||1999||Middleweight||Kenichi Yamamoto (Wrestling)|
|UFC 41||2003||Lightweight||BJ Penn (BJJ) vs. Caol Uno (Shootfighting, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu) – split draw|
|UFC on FX||2012||Flyweight||Demetrious Johnson (MMA)|
|UFC on FX 2||2012||Flyweight||Demetrious Johnson (MMA)|
|UFC 152||2012||Flyweight||Demetrious Johnson (MMA)|
In the early stages of the UFC, fighters weighed in on the day of the bout because there was no weight cutting. Nowadays, you’ve got the official weigh-in (you must hit the scale) and the ceremonial weigh-in (serves to build up the hype, you are allowed to step to the scale heavier).
The tolerance at official weigh-in is 1 lb when the Octagon warriors do not take part in a title bout. When the two fighters fight for the belt, there is no tolerance. Even 0.1 pounds above the limit means you won’t be able to become the champion.
Fighters cut many pounds, so the majority of them are 8-12% above the weight class limit at the ceremonial weigh-in and the day of the fight. A lot of them drain fluid from their bodies, rehydrate and eat later to get the advantage.
For example, you’ll often see 220-pound fighters at 205-pound division on the day of the bout.
What happens when you miss weight?
The fighter must give 20% of his purse to the opponent (sometimes even more) and the fight proceeds when the competitor who hit the scale is willing to fight.
For example, Aspen Ladd recently weighed 137 pounds, which was slightly above the limit, but Macy Chiasson turned down the bout versus the heavier foe and got the fight purse.
The UFC will allow the fight unless the weigh-in difference is too significant. The promotion mostly doesn’t allow the bout when the fighter comes 6+ pounds heavier. Let’s just remember Rafael Alves, who weighed 157.5 pounds for a Featherweight (145 lbs) match-up – he got sick during the weight cut.
Another great example is Yoel Romero who was ineligible for a title fight against Luke Rockhold because he weighed 185.2 lbs (the limit was 185). Interestingly, the Cuban knocked his opponent out cold but the promotion penalized him because of the weigh-in miss and he didn’t get the belt.
The era of two-division champions
This became a hot topic as soon as the UFC created different weight divisions. The majority of warriors dream of writing history and holding the two-division belt.
As of now, only seven fighters were able to fulfill this achievement:
- Randy Couture – the first-ever double champ, he won 205-pound in 2003 and Heavyweight strap on many occasions, the first time being in 1997.
- BJ Penn – Lightweight champ in 2008, Welterweight titleholder in 2004.
- Georges St-Pierre – long-time Welterweight division king and the 185-pound belt winner in 2017.
- Daniel Cormier – 205 and 265-pound former king.
- Conor McGregor – Featherweight and Lightweight champion (2015 and 2016) and the greatest cash cow in the history of the sport.
- Henry Cejudo – Flyweight belt in 2018, Bantamweight strap in 2019, currently retired.
- Amanda Nunes – Bantamweight strap in 2016, Featherweight queen since 2018, still holds both belts. She is arguably the greatest female fighter ever.
UFC was campaigning for Israel Adesanya and let him meet 205-pounder Jan Blachowicz after a great Middleweight title defense over Robert Whittaker. The Nigerian taekwondo kickboxer was too weak for the strong Polish striker and BJJ expert.
The promotion plans a lot of super-fights or two-division belts in the future, but none of them are official at the moment.
Is UFC planning to add new weight classes?
Well, there were hints of new divisions in the past. Many fighters would be happy with the Super Heavyweight class (+265 pounds), as there are so many powerful fighters eager to showcase their skills.
They lack speed, so the promotion is not down for “freak fights” as it probably wouldn’t sell enough pay-per-views. The UFC is all about business.
The same rule applies to female 105-pound and male 115-pound weight class. Those Octagon warriors can be the greatest trash talkers in the world, but there just aren’t that many big names.
Also, while fights would be super-dynamic, there wouldn’t be many knockouts. Knockouts are what sell pay-per-views.
Could there be a 165-pound division in the future?
Many Octagon warriors would be happy to see that. Nate Diaz even published the fake news. It was a world-class example of clickbait on his Twitter account in the past, claiming he’s slated for the first 165-pound belt against Dustin Poirier.
Many fighters were excited as lightweight and welterweight are stacked with top-notch prospects – Kevin Lee, Rafael dos Anjos, Diego Sanchez.
Unfortunately, angry Dana White shut down the rumors almost instantly and said he’d never be interested in such a weight class. The head of the UFC seems to think it would be pointless.
We hope that we could provide enough interest and information about the UFC weight classes, making weight, and how the promotion evolved from an Openweight street brawl to one of the fastest-growing sports in the world with an exact ruleset.
Which is your favorite UFC division? Do you have your favorite fighter? Would you like to become a UFC name one day?