Chuck Liddell (L) takes on Tito Ortiz (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

Understanding the Distinctions: UFC and MMA

If you’re a sports enthusiast or even just a casual observer, you’ve likely come across the terms MMA and UFC. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) are making waves in the sports world, swiftly surpassing boxing as the go-to combat spectacle. But hey, if you’re scratching your head and wondering what MMA and UFC really mean and what sets them apart, no worries; we’ve got you covered. It’s simpler than you might think!

Clarifying the Concepts: MMA as the Sport, UFC as the Prominent Organization Within that Sport

Let’s break it down a bit: MMA, short for Mixed Martial Arts, is a sport that’s been around for a good while—think hundreds, maybe even thousands of years—but has only recently skyrocketed into the limelight. At its core, MMA is a full-contact sport that permits a blend of striking and wrestling, whether you’re on your feet or grappling on the ground.

Picture the ancient Olympic combat sport of Pankration, once the toast of Ancient Greece and later, the Romans—a near mirror image of MMA’s rule set. However, it wasn’t until the twilight of the 20th century that MMA burst into popular culture, largely thanks to the inception of the UFC, better known as the Ultimate Fighting Championship.


A UFC preview event took place in 1993, and the organisation debuted on pay-per-view the following year. It was an instant hit.

Tracing the Legacy: The Pillars of Modern MMA

Before the UFC kicked off, MMA was already making some noise through organisations like Brazil’s Vale Tudo, a playground dominated by the Gracie Jiu Jitsu clan, and Japan’s heart-racing shoot wrestling shows. While they were kind of a big deal in their neck of the woods, they never quite cracked the US TV market. That’s where the UFC came in, and boy, did they change the game in ’93!

The inaugural Ultimate Fighting Championship was meant to be a one-time extravaganza, sizing up the world’s most potent martial arts—think Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, Muay Thai, Karate, and Taekwondo. Everyone was gobsmacked when Royce Gracie, the younger brother of a show founder, snagged the championship using Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to outmaneuver opponents who often outweighed him!

The viewers ate it up, so the UFC decided to host more events, and guess what, Royce won three of the first five! The UFC has been on a roll ever since, becoming the go-to MMA platform attracting top-tier fighters globally.

UFC: The Cradle of Modern MMA Development

Welcome to the early days of UFC! Picture this: a Judo champ squaring off against a Taekwondo master. Or how about a wrestler in a match with a Karate expert? Sounds pretty wild, right? Well, that’s exactly how the UFC began. It was like watching your favourite martial arts flick come to life! But here’s the kicker: as the UFC grew, it became glaringly obvious that mastering one style just wasn’t cutting it. This eureka moment transformed MMA forever.

It was no longer about Judo vs. Taekwondo or Wrestling vs. Karate. This was about creating the ultimate fighter, a martial artist who could do it all. So, the fighters adapted and evolved. Grapplers added striking skills to their arsenal, and strikers learned how to grapple. MMA became more than just a mix of martial arts styles—it morphed into its very own style. It took the greatest hits from all martial arts and rolled them into one formidable package.

These days, the MMA isn’t just a sport; it’s a martial arts style in its own right. And the UFC? They’re not just a promoter—they’re the major league, drawing in top-notch fighters from every corner of the globe. Now, that’s what we call evolution!

The Rules of the Game: A Quick and Fun Primer

Alright, sports fans. Let’s dish out the rules of the game, shall we? We’ll keep it snappy so you can dive right into enjoying the action. We’ll be spotlighting the Unified Rules of MMA, brought to you by the Nevada Athletic Commission and embraced pretty much everywhere. Sure, a few organisations like ONE Championship are shaking things up, but overall, it’s the same song and dance:

  1. Round and round we go: Regular bouts consist of 3 five-minute rounds. If there’s a championship title or a main event at stake, we’re talking 5 five-minute rounds.
  2. Size Matters: Fighters are grouped into weight classes to ensure an even playing field and, of course, everyone’s safety. But let’s face it, we’re all humans, and we love bending the rules, don’t we? So here’s what actually happens: Weigh-ins are held the day before the fight, and fighters often “cut weight”. This means they go to extremes to shed those extra pounds, often through dehydration and fasting, just to fit into a lower-weight category and gain an upper hand. It’s a common practice in many combat sports, but let’s be honest, it’s quite absurd and downright dangerous. And since everyone’s doing it, fighters have to play along or risk going up against opponents who are significantly heavier on fight day. But hey, there’s an alternative to this weighty problem, pioneered by ONE Championship. We’ll dive into that a bit later in this piece.

Swinging It: The Nitty-Gritty of Scoring and Fight Outcomes

In the cage, the fighters aren’t alone. There’s a referee, kinda like a guardian angel in striped black and white, keeping an eye out for their safety and calling it quits if things get too gnarly. But the real number-crunchers are the three judges parked on the sidelines, scoring each round. It’s a 10-point must system: 10 to the round winner, 9 to the runner-up, 8 if it’s a one-sided beatdown. Foul play? That’s a point deduction, buddy!

So, what’s on the judging menu? We’ve got effective striking, precision wrestling, who’s the big boss in the cage, and who’s keeping the pedal to the metal. With the unified rules, they’re trying to dish out more 10-8 rounds to add a little spice and prevent fighters from playing it too safe (though, let’s be real, there’s not much “safe” about this sport).

Sometimes the judges might not be MMA aficionados. The result? Some eyebrow-raising decisions. New York, where MMA recently became legal, is especially notorious for this.

A fight can end with a knockout (KO) if one of the fighters is knocked out cold, a technical knockout (TKO) if the ref steps in because a fighter can’t defend themselves, or via submission when a fighter either verbally surrenders, taps out or passes out from a choke.

And if no one’s knocked out or tapping, it’s down to the scorecards for a decision that can be unanimous, split, or even a draw. In rare cases, fights can also end as no-contests, like if a fighter lands an illegal strike in good faith.

Not-So-Fair Play: The MMA No-No List

It’s time for some juicy tidbits. What’s off-limits in MMA? There’s a lot you can do in that cage, but not everything’s fair game. As a rule of thumb, if something seems too brutal or just straight-up wrong, it’s probably a foul. So, here’s the MMA no-no list:

  • Headbutting
  • Eye-gouging, fish hooking, or hair pulling
  • Biting or spitting at an opponent
  • Strikes to the spine or back of the head
  • Throat strikes of any kind, including grabbing the trachea
  • Downward-pointing elbow strikes (the 12-to-6 strike)
  • Groin attacks of any kind
  • Kneeing or kicking the head of a grounded opponent
  • Stomping a grounded opponent
  • Holding or grabbing the fence or ropes with fingers or toes.