Official MMA Rules Staff


The following describes some rules commonly found in MMA competition in most MMA organizations.

  • Ways to victory

    • Knock Out (KO): as soon as a fighter becomes unconscious due to strikes, his opponent is declared the winner (because MMA rules allow ground fighting, the fight is stopped to prevent further injury to the unconcious fighter.)
    • Submission: a fighter may admit defeat during a match by:

      • tapping three times on his opponent’s body;
      • tapping three times on the mat or floor;
      • verbal announcement.

    • Technical Knockout (TKO)

      • Referee Stoppage: the referee may stop a match in progress if:

        • a fighter becomes dominant to the point where the opponent is unable to intelligently defend himself from attacks (this may occur as quickly as a few seconds);
        • a fighter appears to be unconscious from a grappling hold.
        • a fighter appears to have developed significant injuries (such as a broken bone) in the referee’s view.

      • Doctor Stoppage: the referee will call for a time out if a fighter’s ability to continue is in question as a result of apparent injuries (such as a large cut). The ring doctor will inspect the fighter and stop the match if the fighter is deemed unable to continue safely, rendering the opponent the winner. However, if the match is stopped as a result of an injury from illegal actions by the opponent, either a disqualification or no contest will be issued instead.
      • Corner stoppage: a fighter’s cornermen may announce defeat on the fighter’s behalf by throwing in the towel during the match in progress or between rounds.

    • Decision: if the match goes the distance, then the outcome of the bout is determined by three judges. The judging critera are organization-specific.
    • Forfeit: a fighter or his representative may forfeit a match prior to the beginning of the match, thereby losing the match.
    • Disqualification: a “warning” will be given when a fighter commits a foul or illegal action or does not follow the referee’s instruction. Three warnings will result in a disqualification. Moreover, if a fighter is injured and unable to continue due to a deliberate illegal technique from his opponent, the opponent will be disqualified.
    • No Contest: in the event that both fighters commit a violation of the rules, or a fighter is unable to continue due to an injury from an accidental illegal technique, the match will be declared a “No Contest”.

  • Weight categories

    • Although each organization divides its fighters into weight classes, the details are organization-specific.

  • Fouls

    • No head-butting, eye gouging, hair pulling, biting or fish hooking (pulling at the cheek with a finger).
    • No attacking the groin
    • No strikes to the back of the head, spinal area and kidneys.
    • No strikes to, or grabs of the trachea
    • No small joint manipulation (control of four or more fingers/toes is necessary).
    • No intentionally throwing your opponent out of the ring.
    • No running out of the ring.
    • No purposely holding the ring ropes or octagon fence.

Rules variations

Each organization determines its own rules (in accordance with government regulation). Below are some of the significant differences in the rules of the popular MMA organizations.

Ultimate Fighting Championship

  • Allows elbow strikes except downward elbow strikes with the point of the elbow.
  • Prohibits spiking a fighter onto his head during takedown or slam.
  • Prohibits stomps, soccer kicks and knees to the head of a grounded opponent (more than feet touching ground). A fighter on the ground can kick upwards at their opponent’s head only if their opponent is standing.
  • Prohibits shoes, shirts and pants.
  • Uses three 5-minute rounds. Championship bouts are five 5-minute rounds.
  • No longer uses a tournament format.
  • Has five weight classes: Heavyweight (<265 lbs), Light Heavyweight (<205 lbs), Middleweight (<185 lbs), and Welterweight (<170 lbs) a Lightweight (<155 lbs) class.
  • Tests fighters for steroids and other illegal substances in championship bouts.

Pride Fighting Championships

  • Uses a 10-minute first round with 5-minute second and third rounds.
  • Prohibits elbow strikes to the head.
  • Allows stomps, soccer kicks and knees to the head of a grounded opponent.
  • Uses tournament format to award Grand Prix champions.
  • Has two weight classes: Heavyweight (no limit), and Middleweight (<92 kg).
  • “Bushido” event series consists of lightweight (<73 kg) and light-middleweight (<83 kg) fighters.

K-1 HERO’s

  • Uses two 5-minute rounds, with an extra round option should the judges be unable to determine a clear winner of the fight.
  • Prohibits elbow strikes to the head.
  • Weight classes are currently being established. Lightweight is under 70 kg, others to be announced shortly.
  • Has moved to a tournament format similar to that seen in K-1, with an eight man tournament. However, the final matches are not decided on the same evening, but at later events. In the case of the 2005 HERO’s lightweight tournament, the final fight will be held at K-1 Dynamite!. It is unsure if this format will become the standard at this time.


  • Uses two 5-minute rounds.
  • Does not use judges. The fight is declared a draw if there is no KO, TKO, Submission.
  • Allows elbow and knee strikes only if they are covered by padding.
  • Does not allow attacking head with strikes when one fighter is in downed position.


  • Uses A, B, and C levels. The C level is considered for amateurs only.
  • Every level has his own rules and restrictions.
  • The C level rules require headgear to be worn and prohibit striking to the head on the ground.
  • In case of a knockdown (when any part of a competitor’s body touches the mat solely as the result of a strike) the referee will perform a 10-count. The competitor has until the count of 10 to return to a standing position. Three knock downs in a single round will end the bout. There is also a mandatory standing 8-count.