While it’s true that skill often beats size in a fight, when the skill level is equal, size starts to play an even more significant role. The larger man would usually win if two fighters were evenly matched in terms of skill. This is why weight classes were invented, to ensure the competitiveness and safety of fighters in MMA, boxing, and almost all combat sports.
Today we will list all the weight classes in both men’s and women’s MMA and outline how those were created and how the UFC compares to other organizations.
Weight classes in MMA are relatively new. The first UFC editions did not have divisions at all. It wasn’t until UFC 12 when fighters were separated into the first two divisions- above 200 lb., called “heavyweight,” and below 200 lbs. called “lightweight.” Weight classes became uniform across all sanctioning bodies only after the Unified Rules of MMA were created and later implemented in all American states.
MMA fighters are required to weigh in the day before the fight and show that they don’t exceed the allowed upper weight limit of the weight class they are competing in.
Here are the 12 MMA weight classes under the Unified Rules with their names and upper weight limit.
|Weight class||Upper weight limit|
|Strawweight||115 lb (52.2 kg)|
|Flyweight||125 lb (56.7 kg)|
|Bantamweight||135 lb (61.2 kg)|
|Featherweight||145 lb (65.8 kg)|
|Lightweight||155 lb (70.3 kg)|
|Super lightweight||165 lb (74.8 kg)|
|Welterweight||170 lb (77.1 kg)|
|Super welterweight||175 lb (79.4 kg)|
|Middleweight||185 lb (83.9 kg)|
|Super middleweight||195 lb (88.5 kg)|
|Light heavyweight||205 lb (93.0 kg)|
|Cruiserweight||225 lb (102.1 kg)|
|Heavyweight||265 lb (120.2 kg)|
|Super heavyweight||No limit|
Women’s MMA Weight Classes
Weight class limits and names for men and women are the same. But naturally, some weight classes have no actual competition from one of the genders, like the lowest divisions for men and especially the heavier ones for the ladies.
But generally, fights in every division can be held for both men and women. It’s just that there are enough competitors to make a long-running division in any organization.
The only weight class exclusive to women is atom weight. The upper limit for an atom weight fighter is 105 lbs or 48 kg. The few organizations with the lightest division are the women’s only Invicta FC, One FC, Road FC, and One FC.
But One FC turned the whole weight cutting game on its head, and their weight division names do not correspond to those of other organizations. The atom weight limit in One FC is 114.6 lbs. (52 kg.), the same as a straight anywhere else.
The UFC doesn’t have a roster in all weight classes. They opted for the more popular ones (or we may say that they made these weight classes the popular ones). Like I said earlier, the first time the UFC introduced weight classes was in 1997, and the first heavyweight champion of the promotion was Marк Coleman.
A light heavyweight and a middleweight division were added in 1997 and 1998, respectively. Light and middleweights became part of the promotion under the current weight limits in 2001.
Then, in 2010, the UFC bought WEC, which operated in the lower weight categories and included many of the fighters in its roster, creating bantamweight and featherweight. The latest weight class added to the men’s division was flyweight back in 2012.
Despite Dana White swearing that women would never be part of the UFC, one female superstar named Ronda Rousey changed the bosses’ minds. The women’s bantamweight division was created in 2012, with Rousey winning the inaugural title.
It was a quick road upward for the ladies in the octagon, and in 2014, the UFC added a women’s strawweight division. In 2017, the UFC added two additional divisions at both ends of the scale in 2017- featherweight and flyweight.
Here is the list of all the active divisions currently in the UFC.
|Weight class||Minimum weight||Upper weight limit|
|Strawweight||none||115 lb (52.2 kg)|
|Flyweight||115 lb (52.2 kg)||125 lb (56.7 kg)|
|Bantamweight||125 lb (56.7 kg)||135 lb (61.2 kg)|
|Featherweight||135 lb (61.2 kg)||145 lb (65.8 kg)|
|Lightweight||145 lb (65.8 kg)||155 lb (70.3 kg)|
|Welterweight||155 lb (70.3 kg)||170 lb (77.1 kg)|
|Middleweight||170 lb (77.1 kg)||185 lb (83.9 kg)|
|Light heavyweight||185 lb (83.9 kg)||205 lb (93.0 kg)|
|Heavyweight||205 lb (93.0 kg)||265 lb (120.2 kg)|
There is no single reason that we can point to answer this question. MMA is a very young sport compared to boxing, and its growth during the last 30 years has been nothing short of extraordinary.
While the UFC began with no weight limits, it had to adapt to the changing nature of the sport, audience demands, and, not least, political pressure. So the addition of weight classes came gradually, creating new divisions with time.
When they created the Unified rules, the people who wrote them decided to borrow the names from boxing but keep very different weight limits than those used in the sweet science.
Today, boxing has a ridiculous number of weight classes, especially in the lighter weights, where divisions are separated by just 3 lbs. each. It’s only when you get to the upper end that increments become wider.
But when boxing was in its infant years, this was not the case. It grew gradually, and boxing introduced new and different divisions as the sport grew. The popular divisions in MMA’s names were taken from the “Glamour Divisions” in boxing, forgoing the categories that have “super” and “light” in their names.
All of those were created in the early 1920s. We can assume the heavier MMA weights in each class (for example, an MMA lightweight is 70 kg, a boxing lightweight is 61 kg) were decided because today’s athletes are generally bigger than their early 20th century forefathers.
Or it might just be that the people creating the unified MMA rules sat down and decided they wanted something different than boxing.
Weight Classes Outside The UFC
Although athletic commissions use the Unified Rules of MMA in the USA, most organizations operating in other countries also choose to follow them. This makes it much easier for both fans to know what they are watching and for fighters to train and prepare at a certain weight despite their contracted promotion.
One FC is the lone wolf in this regard. The Singapore-based origination holds the largest MMA fan base across Asia and is one of the major players alongside the UFC and Bellator.
While everyone recognizes the dangers of extreme weight cutting for fighter health and competition fairness, One FC is the only organization that has taken drastic measures to prevent it.
They implemented a revolutionary system that tracks a fighter’s “walking weight” before and during fight week. One FC ensures fighters fight close to this weight by making multiple weigh-ins and tests.
This ensures no one is cutting extreme amounts of weight or dehydrating themselves to gain a competitive advantage come fight night. This is why each of the 10 weight divisions in One FC has a weight limit one division higher than its associated name in the UFC. So a welterweight in One FC must weigh in at 83.9 kg. The same weight class in the UFC has a limit of 77 kg.
Weight classes in combat sports exist to maintain competitiveness and ensure a fighter’s safety. MMA is a young sport and is still evolving in all aspects, including its rules. Just as boxing did a century ago, we may see new weight divisions added in MMA and existing ones being changed or renamed.