The UFC holds events nearly every weekend and each event has an average of 10-14 fights. The lowest amount of fights at an event is 7 (UFC 29), while the highest is 15.
Fights in the UFC can vary in length because of many factors, and have changed in many ways since the promotion’s inception in 1993.
In this article, we’ll look at fight lengths, how they’ve changed, how often a fight goes the distance, and how long a UFC event is.
How Long Do UFC Fights Last?
UFC fights are either three or five rounds long, with each round being 5 minutes long and having 1-minute rest intervals in between rounds. The official maximum length of UFC fights is 15 minutes long or 25 minutes long, but if you include the rest intervals, they’re 17 and 29 minutes long.
Fight times are unofficially increased by any time stoppages as a result of an injury, such as the five minutes a fighter is allowed to use when recovering from an eye poke or groin strike.
Five-round fights are for title fights and main events but occasionally include other fights the UFC deems as worthy of a championship-style fight (Edwards vs Diaz, UFC 263), while three-round fights are for the majority and all other UFC fights.
Both men and women can participate in three or five-round fights and the UFC never has overtime. If a fight goes the distance, the judge’s scorecards are used for a decision.
Let’s use UFC 274’s main card as an example of how long a UFC fight can vary:
|Fight||Total Rounds||Total Fight Time (minutes)||Method of Victory|
|Charles Oliveira (W) vs Justin Gaethje||2/5||8.22||Submission|
|Rose Namajunas vs Carla Esparza (W)||5/5||25.00||Split decision|
|Michael Chandler (W) vs Tony Ferguson||2/3||5.17||KO/TKO|
|Mauricio Rua vs Ovince Saint Preux (W)||3/3||15.00||Split decision|
|Randy Brown (W) vs Kalinn Williams||3/3||15.00||Split decision|
As seen, the fights vary in methods of victory, how long they lasted, and the number of rounds the fighters had to work with. These times don’t include rest periods or any timeouts called by the referee; which significantly add to the real-time of a fight.
The actual fight time for the card was 68.39, meaning an average fight time length of 13.67.
As this fight card had two 5-round fights, the potential average fight time is longer than most cards only having one 5-round fight. Some PPV cards have three 5-round fights, increasing the potential average fight time of a card and each fight.
Why Did the UFC Introduce a Round System?
From 1993 to 1999 the UFC had no official round system, and before UFC 8 there were no time limits, no rounds, and no breaks. The fights were considered no holds barred (despite there being some rules), and went on until a fighter was finished or the towel was thrown in by their corner.
After 6 years without any structure, the UFC used rounds in 1999 at UFC 21, and their reasons for this were as follows:
Stalemate Fights Without a Winner
Initially, UFC 5 introduced 20 and 30-minute time limits for the quarterfinals and onwards in the tournaments they were showcasing. The final was between Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock, who fought for a total of 36 minutes (6 minutes over the allotted time); making it the longest UFC fight to this day.
The fight could’ve gone on for an hour if it was allowed to, but the fight was ended by the referee after 36 minutes, declaring the fight a draw.
This fight brought up an issue the UFC hadn’t thought about, which was fights lasting too long or not finishing at all. Without time-limited rounds, a fighter has no pressure to push forward or get up from a defensive position, and the fight can become a stalemate.
This resulted in UFC 8 (1996) becoming the first event to have a 10-minute cap on fights, and a 15-minute cap on finals, however, there were still no rounds until 1999.
The Implementation of Allotted Satelite Time
The introduction of time-limited rounds in 1999 helped the UFC keep within the per-hour air time they’d purchased. Before this, broadcasters had cut them off after the UFC overran their 2-hour timeslot, due to fights lasting too long.
State Athletic Commissions and UFC Rebranding
The UFC had a bad image throughout the 90s, and athletic commissions were trying to establish a set of rules for MMA which would protect fighters and clean up the sport by making it more professional.
The Iowa State Athletic Commission was the first to establish professional rules for MMA in 1997, which coincided perfectly with the UFC looking to fix its brand image; therefore deciding to hold UFC 21 in Iowa.
These new rules meant preliminary fights were now two 5-minute rounds, main card fights were three 5-minute rounds, and championship fights were five 5-minute rounds.
This was later updated in 2011 when all main event headliners became 5-rounds, and preliminary fights became 3-rounds.
Soon after in 2012, women arrived in the UFC and fought under the same rules meaning all fight lengths were equal. This also meant the number of female fights on a UFC event didn’t much affect how long an event is.
Why Does the UFC Have 5 Round Fights?
The first reason the UFC has 5-round fights is it makes them more money. As 5-rounds signify a big event, this generates more viewers and more business for the UFC, as they usually include the biggest fights in pay-per-view events.
More business means they can continually reinvest in themselves and grow as an MMA promotion and brand. It also means they can continue to provide more content and excitement for UFC fans.
Another reason for 5-round fights is it makes the fights and events longer, which is good for entertainment as it allows for fans to see more action. It also brings out the best in fighters as they have longer to show their skills and test each other to find out who the best is; which is why the fourth and fifth rounds are known as championship rounds.
Five rounds remove uncertainty and doubt in results, as the fighter who wins by decision has to win three rounds instead of two.
How Often Do UFC Fights Go the Distance?
As the UFC gets more competitive with each passing year, more fights than ever are going the distance. This is a dangerous game to play for all fighters, as leaving the result in the hands of the judges has brought many controversial decisions.
Fights go the distance mostly in the women’s strawweight division, at 67.6%, and the least in the men’s heavyweight division, at 26.2%. Of all the fights in the men’s 8 divisions, 45.23% have gone the distance, while of the women’s 4 divisions, the average is 58.75%.
Most fighters see cardio as the most important aspect of MMA, meaning the average fight length is increasing.
On top of this, since the UFC partnered with USADA in 2015 which saw an increase in testing for performance-enhancing drugs, fewer fighters are now cheating which means they have less power, and they’re less likely to knockout one another; therefore resulting in longer fights.
How Long Do UFC Events Last?
On average, UFC events last 5-6 hours. They can be as short as 4 hours and were shorter prior to the introduction of lower weight classes such as the men’s flyweight division and women’s bantamweight division in 2012; simply because the lower weight divisions have fewer finishes and more decisions.
Also, as the UFC has become a huge global promotion, it can hold people’s attention for longer, and they have the money to be able to have as much air time as they need. Events can run over 6 hours and up to a total of 7 hours if they need to.
An event’s total time represents full fight time including rest periods, referee stoppages, commercial breaks, analyst breaks, any UFC promotion, fighter interviews, and more.
UFC Event Separation
A UFC event is separated into three cards, early preliminary, preliminary, and the main card.
Early prelims usually have 2-5 fights and last between 1-2 hours. They feature fighters early in their career, or fighters with not such great records, meaning a lot of the fights last the full 15 minutes. To combat this, early prelim fighters are not interviewed and are not announced in the octagon.
Preliminary cards have 3-6 fights and last between 1-3 hours. They feature more well-known fighters higher up in the rankings and a mixture of experienced fighters and highly touted newcomers.
Sometimes both preliminary cards are combined and last between 2-4 hours, making this the longest card. Preliminary fighters have a post-fight interview and are announced in the octagon, adding around 30 minutes in total.
Main cards have 4-6 fights and last between 2-3 hours; they’re usually the longest card because of the 5-round fights. On top of the octagon interviews and ring announcements, 5-round title fights have extra time for the belts to be awarded and extra time for fight build-up and advertisements.
Factors Affecting Fight Length
The type of fights affects the length of events. For example, events with more heavyweight fights and fewer female fights will typically have more knockouts (as evidenced above), resulting in shorter average fight lengths and events.
The type of event determines the length of events. UFC Fight Nights roll out the fights much quicker than other nights, which is where they get their name; fewer promotions and more action.
However, as these nights usually have more lesser-known fighters with less skill, fewer finishes are likely, therefore resulting in a longer event. Fight Nights usually last around 5 hours but can last up to 6 hours.
PPV events such as UFC 274 have a similar amount of fights to fight nights but the fights have longer breaks in between, mostly for promotion. This slower pace is used as an anticipation builder for fans and fighters. PPV events usually always use the full 6 hours as there are more viewers and fans in attendance.
Fight cancellations the day before or on the day of the fight have the biggest impact on how long an event is. If the UFC has time, they will arrange short-notice replacements or catchweight fights if they can, as they don’t want an event to have under 10 fights. If there are many fight cancellations, an event will likely last around 4 hours or just over.
Here’s an example of the maximum length of a UFC event:
|Card||Fight||Fight Duration (minutes)||Rounds||Extras (minutes)|
|Main||Championship / Main event||29.00||5||10.00|
|Main||Championship / Co-main||29.00||5||10.00|
|Early Prelims||Fight 3||17.00||3||0|
|Early Prelims||Fight 2||17.00||3||0|
|Early Prelims||Fight 1||17.00||3||0|
Here, for 13 bouts the total fight time is 245 minutes (including rests), plus interview and octagon announcements of 60 minutes, which equals a total of 305 minutes or 5 hours and 5 minutes.
If however, we take the early average fight time of 13.67 and times that by 13 fights, we get a total fight time of 177.71 minutes, and with the same factors as above, we get a total time of 238 minutes or just under 4 hours.
The above examples show the maximum time and a more realistic time, and after including advertisements, analyst breaks, ring walks, referee stoppages, and ringside physician inspections; it’s easy to see how a UFC event can last 6 hours.
Despite the total fight times varying wildly, the UFC will attempt to fill the events having lower fight times with more advertisements, analyst breaks, and UFC-related content – as a way to have the length of their events consistent.
The Longest and Shortest UFC Event Fight Times
The event with the longest amount of official fight time was UFC FN:121, which had a total fight time of 3 hours, 4 minutes, and 18 seconds. There were 13 fights, meaning the average fight length was 14 minutes, and 10 seconds. The event lasted around 6 hours and 30 minutes.
The event with the shortest amount of official fight time was UFC 29, which had a total fight time of 34 minutes and 30 seconds. There were 7 fights, meaning the average fight length was 4 minutes, and 55 seconds. The event lasted around 2 hours.
These are two extremes, but show how the length of fights can vary in the UFC. The average between the two is 9 minutes and 32 seconds for each fight, while the average length of these two events is 4 hours and 15 minutes.
The Long and Short of It
How long is a UFC fight? In the end, UFC fights are either 15 minutes for a 3-round fight, or 25 minutes for a 5-round fight, at their maximum.
There are many extra things adding on to the unofficial time of a fight, and on to the overall length of a UFC event – which the UFC aim to keep consistent at 5-6 hours as they can use the time outside of fights to include more advertisements while they have eyes on their events.