Does MMA Have Weight Classes?


Fighters who compete in Mixed Martial Arts, also known as MMA, come in various shapes and sizes. However, it wouldn’t be fair to have two people of vastly different weights fight against one another because the bigger one would likely have a higher chance of winning. You might be wondering if there’s some sort of system to create equal and safe competitions. 

Does MMA Have Weight Classes?

MMA organizations worldwide implement a weight class division by separating each fighter by their weight in order for them to compete fairly. This division begins with fighters as light as 105 pounds and goes all the way up to 265 pounds. There are a total of 10 existing weight classes. 

Read on to find the basic understandings of weight class systems in MMA organizations. Although weight class differs from one organization to another, all MMA promotions implement weight class systems for equal and safe measures for the fighters.

What Does Weight Class Mean? 

In terms of combat sports, weight classes are essentially different weight divisions that a combat sports organization utilizes. These weight divisions are used to match an opponent against another on their chosen weight for safety and fairness reasons. 

Combat sports organizations worldwide have a weight division system to provide fair competition and to ‘level the playing field’ while protecting the integrity of the sport. At the same time, weight classes allow the audience to display who is the best in that specific weight division.

Weight classes are very prominent in a variety of combat sports, including:

  • Boxing
  • Kickboxing
  • Muay Thai
  • MMA
  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Wrestling

With the implementation of weight class in combat sports, the practice of weight cutting becomes an essential factor as well. Therefore, if you were the largest fighter in a weight division, you would somewhat have the advantage compared to the other athletes who lost less weight to make it to that weight division. 

How Many Weight Classes Are In MMA? 

Different MMA promotions have different weight divisions and rules. For example, some MMA promotions may have eight weight divisions, while others have 10. Another example, in most MMA promotions, any weight division above lightweight is restricted to male fighters only. Below we will be taking a few examples from three prominent MMA promotions.

The UFC

Fighters competing under the UFC promotion currently fight in a total of nine different weight divisions. The male athletes compete in a total of eight weight divisions, while the female athletes compete in a total of four weight divisions.

Below are the weight divisions for the UFC:

  • Strawweight: 115lbs or 52kg (Female fighters only)
  • Flyweight: 125lbs or 61kg (All fighters)
  • Bantamweight: 135lbs or 61kg (All fighters)
  • Featherweight: 145lbs or 66kg (All fighters)
  • Lightweight: 155lbs or 70kg (Male fighters only)
  • Welterweight: 170lbs or 77kg (Male fighters only)
  • Middleweight: 185lbs or 84kg (Male fighters only)
  • Light heavyweight: 205lbs or 93kg (Male fighters only)
  • Heavyweight: 265lbs or 120kg and over (Male fighters only)

Bellator Championship

Bellator, one of the rivals of UFC and One Championship, is the second-largest MMA promotion in North America. Bellator has a total of eight weight divisions; Male fighters compete in seven while female fighters compete in two. 

Below is Bellator’s weight division:

  • Flyweight: 125lbs or 61kg (Female fighters only)
  • Bantamweight: 135lbs or 61kg (Male fighters only)
  • Featherweight: 145lbs or 66kg (All fighters)
  • Lightweight: 155lbs or 70kg (Male fighters only)
  • Welterweight: 170lbs or 77kg (Male fighters only)
  • Middleweight: 185lbs or 84kg (Male fighters only)
  • Light heavyweight: 205lbs or 93kg (Male fighters only)
  • Heavyweight: 265lbs or 120kg and over (Male fighters only)

One Championship

ONE Championship differs from the UFC or Bellator. They have ten weight classes, which is one or two classes more than other promotions. Additionally, since ONE Championship is a promotion with significantly more Asian fighters (Which sometimes means smaller and lighter fighters), competing for male fighters are allowed to fight as light as a strawweight. 

Below are ONE Championship’s weight divisions:

  • Atomweight: 105lbs or 47kg (Female athletes only)
  • Strawweight: 115lbs or 52kg (All fighters)
  • Flyweight: 125lbs or 61kg ((All fighters)
  • Bantamweight: 135lbs or 61kg (All fighters)
  • Featherweight: 145lbs or 66kg (All fighters)
  • Lightweight: 155lbs or 70kg (Male fighters only)
  • Welterweight: 170lbs or 77kg (Male fighters only)
  • Middleweight: 185lbs or 84kg (Male fighters only)
  • Light heavyweight: 205lbs or 93kg (Male fighters only)
  • Heavyweight: 265lbs or 120kg and over (Male fighters only)

Why Are There Weight Classes in MMA?

In order to promote fair, equal, and exciting MMA bouts, combat sports organizations implement weight-class systems. Additionally, weight class systems also help to reduce injuries among its fighters. If an MMA promotion signs up fighters who are constantly getting injured, they are most likely going to lose the promotion, and the fighter can’t generate profit for themselves as they fight less.

Back then, when weight class systems were not yet implemented, smaller fighters were more susceptible to injuries when competing against bigger opponents. The differences in body mass,power, and strength significantly increase the smaller fighter’s risk while reducing the risk for the more prominent fighter.

Due to the implementation of weight division rules in MMA organizations, many professional fighters often practice short-term weight regulation, also known as weight cutting.

Many fighters cut weight to fight below their walking weight, thereby gaining an advantage in MMA competitions. You can expect professional fighters to compete in weight divisions roughly around 5 to 10 percent below their average body weight. 

How Does a Fighter Make it to Their Weight Class?

The majority of professional MMA fighters cut a significant amount of weight in order to compete. In order for MMA fighters to achieve their desired fighting weight, many would usually rely on weight loss strategies. 

One of the most common ways to cut weight within a short period of time is to reduce both food and fluid intake while also being active to sweat out all the liquids. Another common way to cut weight is through passive sweating by sitting in a steam room, sauna, hot bath, or covering themselves entirely with layers of towels. 

However, these “short and quick” weight cutting methods can result in adverse effects as the professional fighter attempts to rapidly reduce the following: 

  • Body water
  • Glycogen
  • Electrolytes
  • Lean tissue muscle

The lack of those mentioned above could also affect professional fighters’ physical, physiological, and mental functions. If a fighter were to suffer from a severe side-effect of dehydration, it could significantly affect the fighter’s athletic performance and ultimately cost the fighter their fight. Some examples of a fighter’s psychological state during weight cut include:

  • Anger
  • Upset
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Lack of vigor

It is important to note that these methods are dangerous only because it is conducted in a short period of time. If the fighter spans out its weight-cutting regime by a month or more, the body will be able to shed weight without suffering from adverse effects at all.

How Dangerous is Weight Cutting?

One great example of the danger from cutting weight is an incident in December 2015 involving a Chinese fighter signed to ONE Championship. The Chinese fighter, Yang Jian Bing, passed away due to complications after attempting to cut 20lbs or 9kg within a short period of time. The 21-year-old Chinese fighter reportedly went through severe dehydration.

Following the passing of Yang Jiang Bing, ONE Championship immediately banned drastic weight cuts. The promotion can only allow fighters to compete close to their walking weight without requiring drastic weight-cut regimes such as Yang Jiang Bing.

In order to make sure that ONE Championship fighters are not bypassing the strict weight cutting policy, ONE Championship requires their fighters to undergo hydration tests as the date of the fight nears. Only fighters who pass the tests can continue further to fight. For those who fail the tests are immediately disqualified from the fight.

So far, ONE Championship is the only promotion to have a strict weight-cutting policy. Other promotions, including the UFC and Bellator, do not have any weight cutting policy other than disqualification if fighters do not make weight.

Conclusion

All legitimate MMA organizations have a weight class in place. This ensures that the professional fighters can compete fairly and safely against an equal match-up. Although there are inherent risks for fighters to make weight, the ultimate goal of a weight class system is for their own safety.

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