On Feb. 28, The Venue at the University of Central Florida became the backdrop for a night that will go down in MMA history. That night marked the sport’s expansion to the collegiate level thanks to the National University and College Association of Mixed Martial Arts (NUCA MMA).
According to its Facebook page, NUCA MMA “is the first intercollegiate based mixed martial arts organization to govern and regulate MMA at the college level in the United States.”
NUCA’s first event on Feb. 28 was the culmination of years of work from Conor McGregor’s striking coach Owen Roddy and his business partners. Roddy told ESPN that events will be sanctioned by state athletic commissions.
NUCA MMA, which was founded in 2017, utilizes a six-ounce glove as opposed to the standard four-ounce glove. A rashguard and shin pads are also required. NUCA MMA will not permit weight cutting and has also excluded “high impact techniques” in fights for the safety of its athletes. NUCA MMA rules allow for super-heavyweight fighters (fighters over 265 pounds) in addition to the standard divisions from strawweight (115 pounds) to heavyweight (265 pounds).
MMA is not a sport sanctioned by the NCAA, hence the emergence of NUCA MMA. However, NUCA is composed mostly of NCAA Division I schools, the top level of college athletics, and one Division II school.
NCAA Division I
- Arizona State University (Sun Devils)
- University of Arizona (Wildcats)
- State University of New York at Albany (Great Danes)
- Ohio University (Bobcats)
- Western Illinois University (Leathernecks)
- Grand Canyon University (Antelopes/ “Lopes”)
- Saint Peter’s University (Peacocks)
- University of North Florida (Ospreys)
- *University of Central Florida (Golden Knights)
NCAA Division II
- West Chester University (Golden Rams)
*UCF is a NUCA school according to Roddy. UCF competed at and hosted the event, but the institution is not listed on the NUCA website at this time.
It is unclear if NUCA MMA will divide schools into divisions like the NCAA, but schools will be divided into 14 regional conferences.
Southwest: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona
West Coast: California, Nevada
North Pacific: Oregon, Washington, Idaho
Midwest 1: North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota
Midwest 2: Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan
Rocky Mountain: Utah, Colorado
Great Planes: Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas
Southeast: Florida, Georgia
Deep South: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi
New England: Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island
Northeast: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut,
Mid Atlantic: Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania
Appalachian: Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia
Independent: Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Wyoming
Athlete eligibility is broken down below and further detailed in NUCA’s eligibility guide. NUCA rules also include recruiting regulations in a similar fashion to the NCAA. NUCA MMA’s banned-substances list and drug testing will “mirror” that of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). WADA oversees Olympic sports, and the U.S. branch (USADA) is partnered with the UFC.
- Students must have SAT score of 800 combined reading and math OR graduate in the top 50 percent of their class.
- Student must have graduated high school or preparatory school within the last three years.
- Students must have never fought professionally or have been ever paid to fight.
- Students must sign drug-test consent for medical clearance.
- Students transferring from a two- or four-year school must have completed 24 credit hours each academic year while attending.
- Students can only compete for one school in any given academic year.
- Students transferring within their same region must have permission from their current coach. If permission is not granted, then the student may file an appeal with NUCA MMA.
Upper classmen (Sophomores through Seniors):
- Each student-athlete has seven years to complete their college education once graduated from high school, but can only compete for six years.
- To maintain eligibility, each student-athlete must enroll full time, meaning 24 credits per academic year.
- Student-athletes must maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA to compete each semester.
- Failing a drug test will carry a 12-month suspension, and athlete cannot compete until clean results are submitted
- If a student has taken an extended period away from education, they may be required to provide more detailed information about any participation they have had in sports outside of school during that time.
NUCA MMA bouts are a maximum of three three-minute rounds and can end in all of the ways fans are accustomed to seeing. This can include knockouts and technical knockouts, but these fall under the subsection Referee Stops Contest (RSC), which includes other reasons for a stoppage, such as a fight being uneven in the eyes of the referee.
A win results in the individual combatant earning five points for the victory, plus two points for a first-round stoppage or one for a stoppage in the second or third round.
Based on the language of the rule book, a full fight card seems to be referred to as a match. Team rankings are first based on the team with the most match wins earning the top spot. If two schools have won the same amount of matches, the team ranking is based on bouts won. If that fails, it will come down to which team has lost fewer rounds. If there is still a tie, it comes down to the strength of the schedule as determined by a rankings committee.
Roddy told ESPN prior to the first event that 2020 would hopefully feature three showcase events, with a full season, regional, and national championship coming in 2021. An announcement on the NUCA website from 2019 indicates dates will be announced for upcoming 2020 events in Arizona, New York and Las Vegas.
Portions of the organization’s website appear to still be under development, but it does reference the launch of NUCA TV, a future streaming platform for “live content and competition, highlights, analysis, storytelling, athlete and school features and more.”
- The Olympic MMA Movement
The United States is currently producing MMA athletes under a set amateur structure that could see them take up the sport as early as age eight under the United States Fight League. While high school MMA is nonexistent, athletes can compete in the USFL through age 17. The U.S. national team is the defending youth world champion.
NUCA MMA and the USFL are not affiliated, but an athlete could potentially move on to college competition with NUCA before joining the adult U.S. national team and eventually turning pro. The adult U.S. team competes under the UFC-partnered International MMA Federation. IMMAF is part of the movement for Olympic recognition of MMA.
Roddy acknowledged the IMMAF in an interview with Submission Radio and said he felt NUCA could help bridge the gap. He also sees an MMA draft happening in the future.
- Climbing The Developmental Ranks
Upon turning pro, fans could potentially see fighters sign to top developmental organizations like the Legacy Fighting Alliance (think NBA G-League or what the NCAA is to the NFL and NBA). From there, it could mean progression to Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series and possibly the UFC.
In short, MMA has taken a big step in its continued evolution. Check back for more information as it develops.
[Ed. Note: This article was reprinted with the permission of OddsUSA.com]