UFC fighters are split into different weight classes where they compete against opponents similar in weight and size. But how many UFC weight classes are there, and how do they work in practice?
UFC Weight Classes (Divisions)
- Heavyweight: 265 lb (120.2 kg)
- Light Heavyweight: 205 lb (102.1 kg)
- Middleweight: 185 lb (83.9 kg)
- Welterweight: 170 lb (77.1 kg)
- Lightweight: 155 lb (70.3 kg)
- Featherweight: 145 lb (65.8 kg)
- Bantamweight: 135 lb (61.2 kg)
- Flyweight: 125 lb (56.7 kg)
- Strawweight: 115 lb (52.5 kg)
UFC consists of 12 weight classes, of which 8 are for men and 4 for women. According to the Unified MMA rules, the sport has 15 weight classes, but promoters like the UFC do not have to include all the divisions.
Keep reading this article as we discuss UFC weight classes in more detail and teach you more about how this system works in practice.
UFC Weight Classes In Order
The UFC includes 8 weight classes for men and 4 for female fighters.
UFC Men’s Weight Classes (Divisions)
|Weight Division (Men)||Minimum weight||Maximum weight|
|Men’s Heavyweight||205lbs (93kg)||265lbs (120.2 kg)|
|Men’s Light Heavyweight||185lbs (83.9 kg)||205lbs (93 kg)|
|Men’s Middleweight||170lbs (77.1 kg)||185lbs (83.9 kg)|
|Men’s Welterweight||155lbs (70.3 kg)||170lbs (77.1 kg)|
|Men’s Lightweight||145lbs (65.8 kg)||155lbs (70.3 kg)|
|Men’s Featherweight||135lbs (61.2 kg)||145lbs (65.8 kg)|
|Men’s Bantamweight||125lbs (56.7 kg)||135lbs (61.2 kg)|
|Men’s Flyweight||115lbs (52.2 kg)||125lbs (56.7 kg)|
UFC Women’s Weight Classes (Divisions)
|Weight Division (Women)||Minimum weight||Maximum weight|
|Women’s Featherweight||135lbs (61.2 kg)||145lbs (65.8 kg)|
|Women’s Bantamweight||125lbs (56.7 kg)||135lbs (61.2 kg)|
|Women’s Flyweight||115lbs (52.2 kg)||125lbs (56.7 kg)|
|Women’s Strawweight||/||115lbs (52.2 kg)|
When did the UFC Adopt Weight Classes?
UFC adopted weight divisions in 1997 when they split fighters into heavy and light heavyweights.
The concept of 12 divisions came a few years later with the birth of the Unified Rules of MMA in 2000.
In 1993 when the UFC came to be, the promotion didn’t have weight classes for the first four years. These early days are often seen as UFCs dark years. Differences in weight were as high as 100 pounds in some matches.
And if this wasn’t dangerous enough, there were no time limits or protective gear.
The UFC needed to regulate the sport and make drastic safety changes to keep operating.
The first significant change came in 1997 when they introduced the concept of weight classes, similar to the one in boxing.
In the beginning, there were only two divisions:
- Heavyweight (above 200 pounds)
- Light heavyweight (below 200 pounds)
The Unified Rules of MMA came three years later, in 2000, with a 9-weight-class concept.
As the sport kept evolving and growing, they would add 6 more divisions. These divisions were: Strawweight in 2015, Super Lightweight, Super Welterweight, Super Middleweight, and Cruiserweight added in 2017.
However, promotions do not have to adopt all MMA weight classes, which is why the UFC has 8 for men and 4 for women.
Why Are They Important?
The main purpose of weight classes is to improve the safety of the fighters and make the matches fair and equal. Having divisions levels the playing field as it forces fighters to compete against opponents similar in weight and size.
UFC weight classes prevent athletes from gaining a physical advantage over smaller opponents. Since fighters are similar in size, they both need skill and technique to win the fight.
Without the weight classes, a physically superior fighter can rely on sheer force to dominate the smaller opponent. Even if the smaller fighter is more skillful, they would have difficulty using this to their advantage.
Not to mention how dangerous it is for a 200+ pound fighter to blast a 155-pound opponent with a full-blow kick or punch to the head.
In modern times, not a single Athletic Commission would approve this match.
How Do They Work in Practice?
Each active UFC fighter competes in one weight class. They choose the division based on various factors such as physical attributes, body frame, and ability to cut weight.
Once they are ready to fight, the UFC books them to compete in their division against an opponent who weighs the same.
Official UFC weigh-ins are hosted around 24 hours before the event kicks off. Each athlete who competes on the card must step on the scale within the upper and lower weight limits of a division they compete in.
For instance, lightweight fighters must step on the scale at or below 155 pounds but no less than 145 pounds.
However, most UFC fighters weigh more than the upper limit of their division.
For instance, Alex Pereira competes in a 185-pound division but weighs 220 pounds outside the competition.
How is he able to pass the scale? Fighters undergo a brutal weight-cutting process in which they lose up to 40 pounds in under a week.
Why Are They Split by Weight and Not Height?
UFC weight classes are split by weight as weight directly impacts the severity of the injuries, while height does not.
Weight plays a huge factor, not just in MMA but in general combat. Having more weight means more muscle mass and the ability to generate a greater force in every strike.
More weight enables you to cause severe damage and hurt the opponent easier.
Being heavier also gives you a considerable advantage in the grappling department. It enables you to overwhelm the smaller opponent with size and strength.
Just remember how Israel Adesanya struggled against much heavier Jan Blachowicz during the grappling exchanges.
Height, on the other side, does not represent a significant advantage in a fight. Being tall can actually be considered a disadvantage in some cases as it makes you prone to takedowns, for instance.
Plus, not all fighters know how to get the most out of their long reach and height.
Can UFC Fighters Switch Between Weight Classes?
UFC fighters switch between weight classes quite often. They can either move up in weight or down as long as they can go through a weight cut and hit the scale at the required limits. There are no other specific requirements or rules to follow.
In some cases, a fighter might decide to drop down in weight since they feel physically inferior. They might have a hard time dealing with bigger and heavier opponents within a division. By moving down in weight class, they face opponents similar in size and enjoy better chances of winning.
Fighters may also decide to move up in weight to compete in heavier divisions. In most cases, they do this since they can no longer make weight or go through brutal weight cuts.
One such fighter was Kevin Gastelum, who, at 170 pounds, missed the weight a couple of times and needed to move up and compete in the 185-pound division.
Champions of a specific weight class often move up to challenge the winner of the other division. They do this to win another title and become double champions, create a superfight, and earn a lot of money.
The best example is Conor McGregor, a 145-pound champion at the time, who moved up a division to beat Eddie Alvarez to win the 155-pound title.
UFC heavyweight division has the upper weight limit of 265 pounds, which is the heaviest UFC fighter can be. Heavier fighters must cut weight to meet the upper limit.
Brock Lesnar is a former heavyweight champion who walked at around 280 pounds and needed to cut weight to compete in the UFC.
In the modern era, Francis Ngannou is also known for walking around 290 pounds outside the training camp.
In 2021, Justin Tafa became the first UFC heavyweight in history to miss weight as he came in at 267 pounds, 2 pounds above the upper limit.
Emmanuel Yarbrough was the heaviest UFC fighter, weighing in at around 600 pounds (272 kg) at the time. He fought during the early days of the UFC in an open division because there were no weight classes at the time.
He fought at the memorable UFC 3 event in which he lost by TKO against Keith Hackney, who weighed 200 pounds.
The Unified Rules prescribe a 165-weight division, and UFC can adopt it whenever they want to. But the president Dana White stated multiple times the UFC won’t adopt a 165-pound division as long as he is in charge.
On the other side, the MMA community advocated for this change. Above all, introducing a new weight class will improve the safety of the fighters, who will no longer have to put their health at risk by going through brutal weight cuts.