Are you wondering what the UFC weight classes are and how they’ve changed over time?
In this article, we’ll look at the UFC weight classes, how they’ve changed over time, why they have them, how they compare to other MMA promotions and their use.
- How Many UFC Weight Classes Are There (Divisions)?
- Do the UFC Weight Classes Differ From Other MMA Promotions?
- When Did the UFC Start Using Weight Classes?
- How Do UFC Weight Classes Work?
- Will the UFC introduce Any New Weight Classes?
- The Bottom Line
How Many UFC Weight Classes Are There (Divisions)?
There are a total of 12 weight class divisions in the UFC, 8 divisions for men, and 4 divisions for women.
Here’s a table showing the UFC weight classes (divisions) for both men and women:
|Weight Division||Minimum and Maximum Weight Limit|
|Strawweight (women only)||105 to 115 lbs (47.6 to 52.16 kg)|
|Flyweight (men and women)||115 to 125 lbs (52.16 to 56.7 kg)|
|Bantamweight (men and women)||125 to 135 lbs (56.7 to 61.2 kg)|
|Featherweight (men and women)||135 to 145 lbs (61.2 to 65.77 kg)|
|Lightweight (men only)||145 to 155 lbs (65.77 to 70.3 kg)|
|Welterweight (men only)||155 to 170 lbs (70.3 to 77.1 kg)|
|Middleweight (men only)||170 to 185 lbs (77.1 to 83.91 kg)|
|Light Heavyweight (men only)||185 to 205 lbs (83.91 to 93 kg)|
|Heavyweight (men only)||205 to 265 lbs (93 to 120.2 kg)|
As can be seen, women fight in the 4 lightest divisions, while men fight in the 8 heavier divisions. Despite there being only 9 divisions presented here, men’s and women’s divisions are separate (8+4) and make a total of 12 UFC weight classes.
Do the UFC Weight Classes Differ From Other MMA Promotions?
The UFC weight classes differ from other MMA promotions as although operating under the Official Unified Rules Of MMA, the rules don’t state a minimum or maximum amount of divisions an MMA promotion must have, meaning they’re free to pick the divisions they want.
In 2022, the UFC has 12 weight class divisions while the Official Rules Of MMA present 15 possible weight classes, and this is before separating them into men’s and women’s divisions.
|Weight Division||Minimum and Maximum Weight Limit|
|Atomweight||Up to and including 105 lbs (47.6 kg)|
|Strawweight||105 to 115 lbs (47.6 to 52.16 kg)|
|Flyweight||115 to 125 lbs (52.16 to 56.7 kg)|
|Bantamweight||125 to 135 lbs (56.7 to 61.2 kg)|
|Featherweight||135 to 145 lbs (61.2 to 65.77 kg)|
|Lightweight||145 to 155 lbs (65.77 to 70.3 kg)|
|Super Lightweight||155 to 165 lbs (70.3 to 74.84 kg)|
|Welterweight||165 to 170 lbs (74.84 to 77.1 kg)|
|Super Welterweight||170 to 175 lbs (77.1 to 79.37 kg)|
|Middleweight||175 to 185 lbs (79.37 to 83.91 kg)|
|Super Middleweight||185 to 195 lbs (83.91 to 88.45 kg)|
|Light Heavyweight||195 to 205 lbs (88.45 to 93 kg)|
|Cruiserweight||205 to 225 lbs (93 to 102 kg)|
|Heavyweight||225 to 265 lbs (102 to 120.2 kg)|
|Super Heavyweight||265 lbs and over (120.2 kg +)|
The UFC’s weight classes differ from Bellator, which has 9 weight class divisions, separated into 7 for men, and 2 for women. Russia’s biggest MMA promotion, Absolute Championship Ahkmat, has 8 men’s divisions, while none for women.
Lastly, One Championship has 13 weight classes, separated into 4 women’s divisions and 9 men’s divisions. This is different from the UFC as they have a female atomweight division and a men’s strawweight division, but not a female featherweight division.
Why Does the UFC Have Weight Classes?
The UFC has weight classes because they neutralize the advantage extra weight gives to one fighter over another, meaning UFC fights are determined by skill, intelligence, and natural ability.
Lastly, weight class divisions are used as a way to keep the promotion organized. They make it easy for fans to identify fighters by their divisions, and easily see the best within each weight class.
When Did the UFC Start Using Weight Classes?
The UFC first used weight class divisions at UFC 12 in 1997, which were the lightweight division and the heavyweight division. The two divisions were separated by 200 lbs, meaning you were in the lightweight division if you were under 200 lbs and in the heavyweight division if you were over.
UFC Weight Class History
The UFC was founded in 1993, and until UFC 12 all UFC events were openweight tournaments meaning any fighter of any weight could compete. The reason for this is the UFC was trying to identify the most effective martial art in a no holds barred format, meaning there were minimal rules and no weight classes.
Royce Gracie is famous for being the much lighter fighter, and showing the effectiveness of jiu-jitsu to beat fighters much heavier than him.
Here’s a table showing how the UFC’s tournaments started as openweight and gradually took on weight class divisions until the tournaments were eventually phased out:
|UFC 1||November 12, 1993||Openweight||Royce Gracie (BRA)|
|UFC 2||March 11, 1994||Openweight||Royce Gracie (BRA)|
|UFC 3||September 9, 1994||Openweight||Steve Jennum (USA)|
|UFC 4||December 16, 1994||Openweight||Royce Gracie (BRA)|
|UFC 5||April 7, 1995||Openweight||Dan Severn (USA)|
|UFC 6||July 14, 1995||Openweight||Oleg Taktarov (RUS)|
|UFC 7||September 8, 1995||Openweight||Marco Ruas (BRA)|
|The Ultimate Ultimate||December 16, 1995||Openweight||Dan Severn (USA)|
|UFC 8||February 16, 1996||Openweight||Don Frye (USA)|
|UFC 10||July 20, 1996||Openweight||Mark Coleman (USA)|
|UFC 11||September 20, 1996||Openweight||Mark Coleman (USA)|
|The Ultimate Ultimate 2||December 7, 1996||Openweight||Don Fyre (USA)|
|UFC 12||February 7, 1997||Heavyweight||Vitor Belfort (BRA)|
|Lightweight||Jerry Bohlander (USA)|
|UFC 13||May 30, 1997||Heavyweight||Randy Couture (USA)|
|Lightweight||Guy Mezger (USA)|
|UFC 14||July 27, 1997||Heavyweight||Mark Kerr (USA)|
|Lightweight||Kevin Jackson (USA)|
|UFC 15||October 17, 1997||Heavyweight||Mark Kerr (USA)|
|Ultimate Japan||December 21, 1997||Heavyweight||Kazushi Sakuraba (JAP)|
|UFC 16||March 13, 1998||Lightweight||Pat Miletich (USA)|
|UFC 17||May 15, 1998||Middleweight||Dan Henderson (USA)|
|UFC 23||November 19, 1999||Middleweight||Kenichi Yamamoto (JAP)|
|UFC 39||February 28, 2003||Lightweight||BJ Penn (USA) / Caol Uno (JAP) – draw|
|UFC 152||September 22, 2012||Flyweight||Demetrious Johnson (USA)|
Note: this table doesn’t include the ‘superfight’ winners which the UFC implemented since UFC 5. BJ Penn and Caol Uno drew both times at UFC 39 & UFC 41.
Following on from the table, the middleweight division was introduced in December 1997 at UFC Japan (which was actually today’s light heavyweight division), with the welterweight division and light heavyweight division in March 1998 at UFC 16.
All weight class divisions were then revised and updated at UFC 31 (May 2001) as per the Official Unified Rules of MMA. This meant the introduction of the lightweight division, which was formerly the Bantamweight division, and had an upper weight limit of 155 lbs. The bantamweight division was removed.
The middleweight division was changed to having an upper limit of 185 lbs, welterweights had an upper limit of 170 lbs, light heavyweights at 205 lbs, and heavyweight at 265 lbs.
After this, the UFC didn’t adopt any additional divisions until its merger with World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) in 2010 when they added the bantamweight (135 lbs) and featherweight (145 lbs) divisions.
The last men’s division added was the flyweight division in 2012, introduced by a 4 man tournament in which Demetrious Johnson became the first flyweight champion, bringing the total to 8 divisions.
Introduction of the Women’s UFC Weight Classes (Divisions)
As introduced in the table above, women compete in only four divisions, which are the strawweight, flyweight, bantamweight, and featherweight. The first women’s weight class was the bantamweight division, created in 2012.
Ronda Rousey was the first bantamweight champion, who became the undisputed champion (December 2012) because she was the champion in Strikeforce, whom the UFC had just purchased. Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche (2013) was the first UFC women’s fight, which ended with Rousey defending her title.
Two years later in 2014, the UFC introduced the women’s strawweight division, and three years later in 2017, came the women’s featherweight and flyweight divisions. This brought the total UFC divisions to 12, and it has remained the same ever since.
How Do UFC Weight Classes Work?
UFC weight classes work by placing every scheduled fight into a contracted and agreed-upon division between two fighters. To make sure both fighters come in at the upper limit of the specified weight class, both fighters must attend a weigh-in the day before a fight.
For example, if the fight is scheduled as a lightweight bout, both fighters can weigh in no more than 156 lbs for non-title fights, and a maximum of 155 lbs for title fights.
What Is Cutting Weight in the UFC?
Cutting weight is the process of losing water weight from the body and is used by fighters in the week before weigh-ins in order to fight in the division below their normal weight.
Fighters aim to lose anywhere from 10-25 lbs of water weight before weigh-ins, only to rehydrate and regain most, if not all of the flushed water weight.
Because fighters are trying to lose so much weight in an unhealthy fashion, missing weight is fairly common.
What Happens if a UFC Fighter Misses Weight?
If a UFC fighter on a weigh-in day misses the maximum limit for their weight class division, the fight will either be moved to the next weight class above or will be fought at catchweight. A catchweight is a fight falling outside of the weight class divisions.
For example, if a fight is scheduled to be a 170 lbs welterweight non-title bout, and one fighter weighs in at 175 lbs, if the other fighter agrees to fight, the fight can either take place in the middleweight division at an upper weight limit of 185 lbs or at a 175 lbs catchweight; as arranged in the contract negotiations.
If a UFC champion misses weight, they’re stripped of the title, as recently seen with Charles Olivera at UFC 274, and if a challenger misses weight, they can no longer win the championship title and belt. Any fighter missing weight will also forfeit a percentage of their purse.
Will the UFC introduce Any New Weight Classes?
The most talked-about weight class being introduced is a UFC 165 lbs weight class, known as the super lightweight division in the unified rules.
Most recently Eagle FC introduced the 165 lb super lightweight division alongside a 175 lbs super welterweight division, showing how Khabib understands what fighters want; and this got many believing the UFC would introduce new divisions.
It’s the most talked-about because it’s just under the welterweight division, where it’s the first weight class fighters have to climb 15 lbs from the lightweight division (155-170), and many fighters feel more comfortable at a weight between 160-165 as adding 15 lbs of muscle is a lot of extra weight.
This is the situation Poirier finds himself in after losing the lightweight title fight against Charles Oliveira, where he wants to move to welterweight but finds himself a lot more able to compete at 165 lbs.
However, Dana White is against the idea and said there’s no chance of this division until at least 2026 when his current contract expires.
White feels that 165 is too close to the welterweight division and doesn’t make sense as it would take fighters from this division. He also feels adding more weight class divisions would make the UFC more like boxing, where it loses its simplicity and is hard to follow.
The Bottom Line
The UFC weight classes have changed massively since the promotion’s inception, going to 8 in just 8 years, while the final 4 divisions took an extra 16 years to bring the total to 12.
Weight class divisions are a necessary part of the sport, and MMA promotions vary in their amount of divisions.
The UFC hasn’t changed their weight classes for over 5 years now – meaning they’ll likely stay this way until there are many fighters falling between divisions, with the most likely being a UFC 165 lb super lightweight division.