Why Is There a UFC Heavyweight Weight Limit? (Simplified)

Andrei Arlovski

Many are unaware of a UFC heavyweight weight limit existing, and before 2001 it didn’t.

But why is there a UFC heavyweight weight limit?

In this article, we’ll look at why there’s a limit, what the upper and lower weight limits are, the history of these limits, and how this weight limit compares to other MMA promotions.

Why Have a UFC Heavyweight Weight Limit?

Other popular combat sports like boxing and kickboxing don’t have weight limits for the heavyweight division, so why does the UFC?

Short answer: The reason the UFC has a heavyweight limit is they adhere to the Official Unified Rules of MMA, which dictate the upper weight limit of all MMA weight divisions.

However, there’s more to it than this, and there are three main reasons.

1. Official Rules of MMA
The first and main reason is the Official Unified Rules of MMA dictate the upper weight limit for each division, and MMA promotions knowingly adhere to these limits when taking on a weight class division.

Interestingly though, MMA promotions have different lower weight class limits than in the official rules. As an example, the UFC heavyweight lower weight limit is 205 lbs, whilst in the official rules, the lower limit is 225 lbs.

This is because the official rules have many more weight classes, and keep the weight spread in each division to 10 lbs until the cruiserweight division, which is from 205 to 225 lbs, and the heavyweight division jumps to a spread of 40 lbs (225-265).

2. All divisions have weight limits
Secondly, all UFC weight classes have weight limits, so the UFC believes the heavyweight division shouldn’t be any different. They could push through an unlimited heavyweight division if they wanted to, but it wouldn’t make sense for them.

As it stands, the UFC heavyweight division has the biggest spread of weight, as the lower weight limit is 205 lbs, while the upper weight limit is 265 lbs for title fights and 266 lbs for nontitle fights. 

This is a spread of 60 lbs, which is much less restrictive than all other weight classes, which have maximum spreads of 15 lbs, or 16 lbs if counting the extra pound permitted for nontitle fights.

Heavyweights like everyone else have a weight limit as it keeps the division professional, strict with their diet, and facing the toughness of weight cutting. They shouldn’t be the only weight class who get it easy, while they already have the most leeway.

A weight limit also stops someone from winning by being much heavier than their opponent. Without a heavyweight limit of 265 lbs, fighters could potentially be fighting at any weight they please against fighters weighing much less. The commissions wouldn’t allow this as it would be deemed unsafe.

3. Branding
Thirdly, the UFC is the leading MMA promotion, so they want their athletes to look physically imposing, trim, and athletic; not fat and lacking discipline. 

The UFC has built an incredible brand over the past 29 years, where they’ve steered away from the stigma attached to them after former US senator John McCain labeled the UFC as ‘human cockfighting’ in 1996.

Part of this rebranding was to include more rules, and regulations, and to help professionalize MMA and turn it into the sport it is today. This meant the inclusion of weight class limits and keeping their fighters disciplined and professional by looking lean, ripped, and muscular.

People are more amazed when they see huge, athletic, and ripped heavyweights such as Francis Ngannou or Ciryl Gane, as opposed to fighters looking overweight and unhealthy.

Why Not Raise the UFC Heavyweight Weight Limit?

Again, it can’t be raised because the upper weight limit of each division is dictated by the Official Unified Rules of MMA.

The commissions chose a weight of 265 lbs because men’s Olympic freestyle wrestling has long had an upper weight limit of 265 lbs, and the early life of MMA and the UFC was hugely influenced by wrestling, with wrestlers entering and having success in the UFC and many other MMA promotions.

MMA promotions like the UFC are free to pick and choose the divisions they want, but they must abide by the upper-class limits set.

Also, raising the heavyweight limit means moving into the MMA weight class, super heavyweights, which has a minimum weight limit of 265 lbs and no upper limit.

While the UFC has fewer weight classes than the official rules permit, they don’t allow their upper weight limits to cross into divisions they don’t have. This is because they keep their divisions strict and separate, which is why there are penalties for a fighter missing weight.

Also, there’s no need to raise the limit as 265 lbs give heavyweights a huge spread from the lower weight limit of 205 lbs, while also keeping the fighter’s health in mind and allowing them to perform at maximum performance.

If a fighter can’t make the 265 lbs limit, they’re likely overweight and failed to cut enough fat in training camp. Most heavyweights don’t need an aggressive water flush to make weight, and only need to cut body fat by increasing cardio.

As it stands, fighting and weighing a maximum of 266 lbs is already a health risk, especially when considering how pervasive steroids and performance-enhancing drugs are in the sport; extra weight means increased heart and organ problems, as well as other health complications.

Overall, the UFC is happy with an upper weight limit of 265 lbs, as they have fighter safety as one of its top priorities, and know the consequences for their brand image, sponsorships, and longevity if there were any UFC deaths.

Why Isn’t There a Super Heavyweight UFC Division?

The two reasons there isn’t a super heavyweight UFC division are that the fights lack quality and professionalism, and there’s a lack of skilled martial artists to enter this weight class.

1. Fights lack quality and professionalism
Having fighters above 265 lbs makes it likely they’re increasing weight with body fat, as opposed to lean muscle. Again, the UFC wants to keep fighters looking a certain way, and that way isn’t overweight.

Having increased body weight and fat means many other fighting factors suffer. Cardio, technique, mobility, and speed are all decreased or made worse, which the UFC doesn’t want to promote or show.

There are very few fighters effective above a weight of 265 lbs, where the extra fat and muscle become more of a hindrance than a help. 

There’s a reason most of the great heavyweights in UFC history have weighed well under 265 lbs: Daniel Cormier, Cain Valesquez, and Stipe Miocic all weighed around 240 lbs.

2. Lack of skilled martial artists for super heavyweight
The other reason is there’s a lack of skilled fighters to fight in the super heavyweight UFC division, similar to the women’s featherweight division, which the UFC added in 2017.

5 years on, Amanda Nunes has been the champion for over 4 years as there’s a lack of competition, and rarely fights there because of this. After winning the featherweight title in December 2018, she next defended it in June 2020, 18 months later.

The UFC currently signs roughly 1 female featherweight per year, because there aren’t enough heavier skilled fighters to join. If you look at the UFC rankings, there isn’t even a list of ranked women’s featherweights; the division is quite literally on hold.

Often the UFC recruits from other top MMA promotions, but as this division isn’t developed, they’re unable to poach great female featherweights, as they have done with many other weight class divisions.

The result would be the same for a super heavyweight division, which no major MMA promotion has introduced. Therefore, the title would likely be dominated for many years by the same couple of fighters having very limited competition; reducing fan excitement.

Furthermore, introducing a super heavyweight division makes it too obvious athletes are using steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. 

With USADA buzzing around, what are the chances it doesn’t pop every fighter in a UFC super heavyweight division? Quite high, and this would result in a lot of fights overturned as no contests.

Talk of a super heavyweight division was at its peak when Brock Lesnar was in the UFC. His walk-around weight was around 285 lbs, so he had to cut 20 lbs to make the 265 lbs UFC heavyweight weight limit, and even at this weight, he was popped for steroids multiple times.

Brock Lesnar was one of the biggest UFC heavyweights ever, and at the 265 lbs limit, he developed diverticulitis twice, likely caused by drugs and a poor diet.

A super heavyweight division would make illnesses commonplace as drugs are rampant, weight cutting becomes more taxing, and it’s generally an unhealthy weight.

Ultimately, a super heavyweight division would either be dozens of unhealthy fat or heavily juiced fighters, which the UFC doesn’t want and can’t create.

Do Other MMA Promotions Have Differing Heavyweight Weight Limits?

No, there is currently no differing heavyweight upper limit amongst any of the top MMA promotions. This includes promotions like Bellator, One, Absolute, Rizin, and M1 Global.

This is because many of the top MMA promotions, choose to adhere to the Official Unified Rules of MMA, which dictate the upper weight limits for all weight classes.

However, some MMA promotions have differing heavyweight lower limits. For example, One championship’s lower weight limit for heavyweights is 225 lbs, as their light heavyweight division ranges between 205 to 225 lbs.

This is because their weight classes start 10-20 lbs heavier, due to not fully adhering to the Unified Rules of MMA, and not having weight cutting due to the death of one of their fighters

One is based in Singapore and has irregular US events in Arizona, likely the only state they’re currently allowed to promote in because of the slightly different rules they have.

These are One Championship’s weight classes:

There have been promotions in the past that had openweight and unlimited heavyweight divisions, such as Pride and Dream, and also heavyweight divisions such as Pancrase’s which were formerly 198.4 lbs to 220.5 lbs.

Also, from its inception in 1993 through til UFC 12 in 1997, all UFC fights and tournaments were openweight, meaning there were no minimum or maximum weight limits.

Since UFC 12, lightweight and heavyweight divisions were introduced, divided by 200 lbs. The heavyweight division was unlimited, meaning fighters could come in at any weight and be matched together, as long as they were a minimum of 200 lbs.

As an example, this led to a fight at UFC 3 between Keith Hackney who weighed 200 lbs, vs Emmanuel Yarborough who weighed 616 lbs. 

Despite the huge weight difference, Keith won the fight via KO/TKO in round 1, proving how extra weight produces diminishing returns and why the UFC doesn’t want a super heavyweight division.

What’s the UFC Heavyweight Minimum Weight?

The UFC heavyweight minimum weight is 205 lbs, and it has never changed since it was set to this in 2001 with the adoption of the unified rules. Fighters must weigh a minimum of 205 lbs because if they’re under this, they’re considered light heavyweights, which range from 185 to 205 lbs.

However, this has never happened because a heavyweight fighter would be giving themselves a huge disadvantage, considering they could be facing someone 60 lbs heavier; or could drop down to the light heavyweight division.

What’s the UFC Heavyweight Maximum Weight?

The UFC heavyweight maximum weight is 265 lbs for title fights and 266 lbs for nontitle fights.

Fighters can’t weigh above 265/266 lbs, as they’d be above the weight limit and entering the super heavyweight division. However, if a heavyweight does miss weight, a weight-miss catchweight fight can be arranged, with the fight taking place at the heavier fighter’s weight.

However, 265 lb is the weigh-in weight, and UFC heavyweights are often fighting 15-25 lbs heavier than this when fighting. For example, former NFL defensive Greg Hardy has to cut to make the 266 lbs heavyweight limit for nontitle fights and usually fights in the octagon at around 285 lbs or more.

Has a UFC Heavyweight Ever Missed Weight?

Yes, heavyweight Justin Tafa missed weight by 1lb when he weighed in at 267 lbs, becoming the first UFC heavyweight to miss weight.

He missed weight because of a botched weight cut and didn’t attempt a second weigh-in because he thought it would affect his ability to fight if he continued to sweat out more water. Therefore, the fight became a 267 lb catchweight (UFC Vegas: 45)

Also, Greg Hardy formerly had a weigh-in weight of 266.5 lbs at UFC Vegas: 12, half a pound over the heavyweight non-title fight limit. He was given an extra hour and made weight the second time at 266 lbs.

Greg Hardy struggled because his walk-around weight is around 285 lbs, so he had to cut 20 lbs to make weight.

However, these are the only two cases of heavyweights missing weight, or nearly missing weight. It gives the UFC more reason to not introduce a super heavyweight division or increase the current weight limit, because fighters aren’t struggling to make weight, and many choose to come in well under the limit.

The best example of this is Derrick Lewis, whose normal weight is 285 lbs and sometimes cuts around 30 lbs before fights, weighing in around 255 lbs for UFC 244. His weigh-in weight depends largely on his opponent, and whether he wants to be lighter or faster on his feet.

To Conclude

There’s a UFC heavyweight weight limit because the UFC adheres to the Official Unified Rules of MMA, which dictates the upper weight limits for weight classes.

The UFC could introduce a super heavyweight division, similar to how they had openweight tournaments and a 200 lb plus heavyweight division, up until UFC 31 when they adopted the Official Unified Rules of MMA.

However, there’s a lack of skilled martial artists to compete in this division, much like how the women’s featherweight division lacks fighters, competition, and activity.

It’s also not something the UFC would like as they’ve gone down that road before. And while it could be fun, it’d take away from their excellently built brand image based on athleticism and skill.

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