The UFC – 20 Years Of Evolution

UFC_Logo_RedThe world’s favourite MMA promotion has come a hell of a long way in the 20 years since it showed its first event in November of 1993. The UFC, which at first was based around fighters taking on each other from various disciplines, has grown from strength to strength and has put MMA on the map as the fastest growing sport in the world without a doubt.

UFC 1 (aired live on pay per view on November 12th 1993) was the first event of its kind, which was done as an 8-man tournament format with no weight categories. The fights were done as 5 minute rounds and were billed as having ‘no rules’ although this was based around no groin strikes, no eye gouging and no biting! The final of the tournament saw Royce Gracie take on Gerard Gordeau with Gracie winning the fight via submission (RNC) at 1:44 of round 1. This is where it became apparent that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was a very effective skill to have in the MMA game.

So, in 20 years, where has the UFC and MMA gone and what has changed?

Well, you could say A LOT has changed since back in 1993!

Ult. Fighter/Gracie


The UFC, as we said before, was born as having ‘no rules’ but groin strikes, biting and eye-gouging was prohibited. Since this first event we have had the addition of another 29 rules that have been added to the ‘prohibited’ list. A list is below.

  1. Biting
  2. Eye-gouging
  3. Fish-hooking
  4. Groin attacks
  5. Small joint manipulation
  6. Hair pulling
  7. Head-butting
  8. Putting a finger into any orifice or into any cut or laceration on an opponent (see Fish-hooking)
  9. Striking to the spine or the back of the head (see Rabbit punch)
  10. Striking downward using the point of the elbow (see Elbow (strike))
  11. Throat strikes of any kind, including, without limitation, grabbing the trachea
  12. Clawing, pinching or twisting the flesh
  13. Grabbing the clavicle
  14. Intentionally attempting to break an opponent’s bone
  15. Kicking the head of a grounded opponent
  16. Knees to the head of a grounded opponent
  17. Stomping a grounded opponent
  18. Kicking to the kidney with the heel
  19. Spiking an opponent to the canvas on his head or neck (see Piledriver)
  20. Throwing an opponent out of the ring or fenced area
  21. Holding the shorts or gloves of an opponent
  22. Spitting at an opponent
  23. Engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct that causes an injury to an opponent
  24. Holding the ropes or the fence
  25. Using abusive language in the ring or fenced area
  26. Attacking an opponent on or during the break
  27. Attacking an opponent who is under the care of the referee
  28. Attacking an opponent after the bell (horn) has sounded the end of a round
  29. Flagrantly disregarding the instructions of the referee
  30. Timidity, including, without limitation, avoiding contact with an opponent, intentionally or consistently dropping the mouthpiece or faking an injury
  31. Interference by the corner
  32. Sexual contact

The addition of some of these rules has ensured that it is a lot harder for a various serious injury to occur!


Here is also a timeline of how the rules gradually changed in the early UFC years.

  • UFC 1 – Although the advertising said There Are No Rules, there were in fact some rules: no biting, no eye-gouging and no groin attacks. Fights ended only in the event of a knockout, submission or the corner throwing in the towel. Despite this, the first match in UFC 1 was won by referee stoppage, even though it was not officially recognized as such at the time.
  • UFC 2 – Groin attacks were unbanned. Time limits were dropped ending the need for judges. Modifications to the cage were added (the fence became 5 feet tall but would continually grow in height afterwards and the floor became the canvas that is still used today).
  • UFC 3 – The referee was officially given the authority to stop a fight in case of a fighter being unable to defend himself. A fighter could not kick if he was wearing shoes. This rule would later be discarded, then changed to ‘no kicking with shoes while on the ground’ and then reinstated, before finally being discarded.
  • UFC 4 – After tournament alternate Steve Jennum won UFC 3 by winning only one bout, alternates (replacements) were required to win a pre-tournament bout to qualify for the role of an alternate.
  • UFC 5 – The organizers introduced a 30-minute time limit. UFC 5 also saw the first Superfight, a one-off bout between two competitors selected by the organizers with the winner being crowned ‘Superfight champion’ and having the duty of defending his title at the next UFC.
  • UFC 6 – The referee was given the authority to restart the fight. If two fighters were entangled in a position where there was a lack of action, the referee could stop the fight and restart the competitors on their feet, in their own corner. In UFC 6 they officially adopted the 5-minute extension to the 30-minute rule which had been used in UFC 5.
  • Ultimate 1995 – This event was the first to introduce the no fish-hooking rule and to reinstate judges. Time limits were changed to 15 minutes in the quarter-finals, 18 minutes in the semi-finals and 27 minutes in the finals.
  • UFC 8 – Time limits changed to 10 minutes in the first two rounds of the tournament, 15 minutes in the tournament final and Superfight. Time limits would continually change in the later UFC events. Fights could now be decided by a judge’s decision if the fight reached the end of the time limit. The panel was made up of three judges who simply raised a card with the name of the fighter they considered to be the winner. In this fashion, a draw was not possible since the only two possible outcomes of a decision were 3 to 0 or 2 to 1 in favor of the winner.
  • UFC 9 – To appease local authorities, closed fisted strikes to the head were banned for this event only. The commentators were not aware of this last-minute rule that was made to prevent the cancellation of the event due to local political pressures. Referee “Big John” McCarthy made repeated warnings to the fighters to “open the hand” when this rule was violated. However, not one fighter was reprimanded. UFC 9 was also the last UFC event to feature the superfight.
  • Ultimate 1996 – This event was the first to introduce the “no grabbing of the fence” rule.
  • UFC 12 – The main tournament split into a heavyweight (over 200 lbs.) and lightweight (200 lbs. and under) division; and the eight-man tournament ceased. Fighters now needed to win only two fights to win the competition. The Heavyweight Champion title (and title bouts) was introduced, replacing the Superfight title (albeit matches were still for a time branded as “Superfights”).
  • UFC 14 – The lightweight division was re-branded middleweight. The wearing of padded gloves, weighing 110 to 170 g (4 to 6 ounces), becomes mandatory. Gloves were to be approved by the UFC. Hair-pulling, groin strikes and kicks to a downed opponent became illegal.
  • UFC 15 – Limits on permissible striking areas were introduced. Headbutts, elbow strikes to the back of the neck and head and small joint manipulation became illegal.
  • UFC 21 – Five minute rounds were introduced, with preliminary bouts consisting of two rounds, regular non-title bouts at three rounds, and title bouts at five rounds. The “ten-point must system” was introduced for scoring fights (identical to the system widely used in boxing).
  • UFC 28 – The New Jersey State Athletic Control Board sanctions its first UFC event, using the newly developed Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. Major changes to the UFC’s rules included barring knee strikes to the head of a downed opponent, elbow strikes to the spine and neck and punches to the back of the neck and head. Limits on permissible ring attire, stringent medical requirements, and regulatory oversight were also introduced. A new weight class system was also introduced. This new set of rules is currently the de facto standard for MMA events held in the U.S. and is still in use by the UFC.
  • UFC 31 – Weight classes are re-aligned to the current standard. Bantamweight moves from 150 to 155 and becomes known as lightweight. Lightweight becomes known as welterweight, middleweight becomes light heavyweight, and a new middleweight class is introduced at 185 pounds.
  • UFC 43 – In the event of a stoppage fights restart in the position the fight was stopped.
  • UFC 94 – After an incident where Georges St-Pierre was accused of putting vaseline on his back, corner men were disallowed from bringing vaseline into The Octagon. Lubricant may now only be applied outside The Octagon before the commencement of the first round.
  • UFC 97 – Foot-stomps are banned. (For this event only)
  • UFC 133 – Speedo style trunks are banned.
  • UFC 138 – First 5-round non-title main event.


Match Outcome

There were 3 outcomes that could win the fight back in 1993. These were by knockout, submission or throwing in the towel. Back then there was no decision from judges which would mean the fight would carry on until the loser was knocked out, submitted or his corner throw in the towel. There are now 7 ways that a fight can be ended.

  • Knockout: a fighter is put into a state of unconsciousness resulting from any legal strike.
  • Technical Knockout (TKO): If the referee decides a fighter cannot continue, the fight is ruled as a technical knockout. Technical knockouts can be classified into three categories:
    • referee stoppage (the referee ends the fight because one fighter is deemed unable to intelligently defend himself)
    • doctor stoppage (a ring side doctor decides that it is unsafe for one fighter to continue the bout, due to excessive bleeding or physical injuries)
    • corner stoppage (a fighter’s cornerman signals defeat for their own fighter)
  • Judges’ Decision: Depending on scoring, a match may end as:
    • unanimous decision (all three judges score a win for fighter A)
    • majority decision (two judges score a win for fighter A, one judge scores a draw)
    • split decision (two judges score a win for fighter A, one judge scores a win for fighter B)
    • technical decision (a fighter is rendered unable to continue as a result of an unintentional illegal element or move, resulting in a decision based on the finished and unfinished rounds if the number of rounds to be judged is sufficient)
    • unanimous draw (all three judges score a draw)
    • majority draw (two judges score a draw, one judge scoring a win)
    • split draw (one judge scores a win for fighter A, one judge scores a win for fighter B, and one judge scores a draw)
    • technical draw (the bout ends in a manner similar to that of a technical decision, with the judges’ scores resulting in a draw)
  • Disqualification: a fighter intentionally executes an illegal move that is considered by the referee or opponent to be injurious or significant enough to negatively alter the opponent’s performance should the fight continue, resulting in the opponent’s victory.
  • Forfeit: a fighter fails to compete or intentionally and prematurely ends the bout for a reason besides injury, resulting in the opponent’s victory.
  • No Contest: a fighter is rendered unable to continue or compete effectively as a result of an unintentional illegal element or move and there is not a sufficient number of finished rounds to be judged to make a technical decision viable, or both fighters are rendered unable to continue or compete effectively. Also, a fight may be ruled a no contest if the original outcome of the bout is changed due to unsatisfactory or illegal circumstances, such as a premature stoppage or a fighter’s testing positive for banned substances.

Weight Categories

There were no weight categories when the UFC started! How crazy does that sound! Could you imagine a Brock Lesnar sized monster taking on a Frankie Edgar? It would be a very one-sided fight! The UFC until very recently only adopted 5 weight categories for men which were Lightweight, Welterweight, Middleweight, Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight.

It was only until a few years ago that the UFC introduced 3 new weight categories into its events which include Flyweight, Bantamweight and Featherweight.

UFC Fighter Portraits

Female Fighters

The UFC saw its first signing of a female fighter to its roster in November of 2012. This was the introduction of Ronda Rousey to the UFC. Ronda became the first female UFC champion, first olympic champion with a UFC title and first female to defend a UFC title.

The introduction of female fighters to the UFC saw the bantamweight division being born. Very recently we saw the new strawweight division being brought into play!

Company Merging

Over the years, many other organisations have been born and attempted to be on par with the UFC as the biggest MMA organisation in the world. Pride was born in Asia as well as various other American organisations such as Strikeforce, WEC and EliteXC to name a few. The UFC over the years has merged all of these organisations together to continue its reign as the superior promoter of MMA for around the world.


International Expansion

The UFC originated in the USA. This is where the first ever events took place. It has now showed events in a total of 12 countries which include England, Ireland, Japan, Brazil, Germany, Canada, UAE, China, Australia, Mexico and Sweden. There are plans for the UFC to have more events to hit the shores Europe and the Middle East in the very near future!


These are just a few major changes that have happened since the promotion was born back in 1993! It is hard to even get to grips of thinking of what could happen next for the UFC over the next 20 years.

What do you think could happen in the  future and what would you want to happen?

MMA UK would like to hear what you have to say about this!




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