Different combat sports have different fight times, both in terms of the number of rounds and the length of those rounds. In the late 1990s, the UFC decided that 5 minutes was the best round duration for mixed martial arts contests, and this remains the norm today.
In the UFC, a non-title fight is 3 rounds, while title fights are always 5 rounds and main events. When you add the 1-minute breaks between those rounds, you get 17 minutes for a 3-round fight and 29 minutes for a 5-rounder.
Many fights, however, do not make it to the final bell. So what are the average fight times by weight class and the average event length?
Under the unified rules of MMA, all MMA rounds must be 5 minutes in duration. These rules are applied by athletic and other supervising commissions in the USA. Still, the UFC uses them always, regardless of where the event is held in the world.
Other organizations in Europe or Asia opted to use the same rules for better homogeny in the sport, so MMA rounds everywhere are 5 minutes long.
Initially, the first UFC events had no scheduled time limits. Fights were fought until one of the fighters simply couldn’t continue.
While this is a good idea in terms of realism on paper, it’s a terrible idea for entertainment. Rest allows fighters to gather their strength, talk to their coaches, and fight with more ferocity and vigor.
After the notoriously boring fight between Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie, where fans had to suffer for 36 minutes before the ref declared it a draw, the UFC implemented time limits and rounds until it came to the current ruleset. The first time MMA used the round system was at UFC 21 in 1999.
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How Long Do UFC Fights Last?
UFC fights can last up to 15 minutes for most fights and 25 minutes for 5-round main events, but only half of the fights last the designated time. A fight can end in just a few seconds, or the finish may come in the closing moments of the last round.
The UFC keeps very detailed metrics about anything that you can measure. Luckily for us, many of these resources are available to the general public. The second volume of their cross-sectional analysis collected data from 1443 fights between 2017 and 2019 in all weight divisions. Here is the official data for the average fight duration.
|Average Fight Duration
It’s evident that the ladies have longer fights than the men. Many reasons can be attributed to this, but generally speaking, they have less knockout power and have а harder time finishing fights.
You can follow the same correlation in the male divisions- the two lowest divisions have the longest fight times. On the other hand, you might expect heavyweights to have the shortest fight time, but this honor is held by the 205 lb. division of light heavyweights.
Across the entire UFC, the percentage of fights finishing by a decision is 51.05%, a significant factor for overall fight length.
Most UFC fights do not overreach the limits, but in the case of incidental fouls, the clock is stopped. A doctor may have to enter the octagon and decide if the fighter can continue. In such cases, the overall fight time may exceed 17 and 29 minutes for 3 and 5 rounds, respectively.
Other times, fights finish in the blink of an eye. Jorge Masvidal holds the record for the fastest UFC finish. He obliterated Ben Askren with a hellish knee in just 5 seconds (this is the official time, the KO came sooner).
He managed to better the 6 seconds it took for Duane Ludwig to knock out Jonathan Goulet back in 2006. Still, there are quite a few sub-10 second finishes in the promotion’s history.
How Long Do UFC Events Last
Now that we know how long individual UFC fights are, we can see how long a whole event lasts. The UFC holds a few different events broadcasted to various outlets that have changed throughout the years.
Their highest quality events remain the “numbered” ones almost always aired on pay-per-view. Unlike Fight Night events, which usually only have a high-caliber main and co-main event, the numbered events are stacked from top to bottom.
Regardless of the profile of the events, they all have the same three-part structure: early prelims, prelims, and main card. Naturally, each following segment hosts more important fights than the previous.
The early preliminary fights are usually not televised, but you can view them on UFC’s platform, Fight Pass. They typically start around 6 PM local time (when the events are in the USA). The prelims start 2 hours later at around 8 PM, and the main attraction begins at about 10 PM and can last well beyond 3 hours.
This means a UFC event can be anywhere between 5 and 7 hours long. You can imagine it can be pretty tiresome to be in the building and watch fights for 7 hours, so this explains why most of the audience arrives sometime during the end of the prelims.
Of course, the overall event length depends on the outcome of the fights. Sometimes there are plenty of finishes. Other times the judges are busier. But once the main event starts, the individual start times are set. Even if previous fights end sooner, the schedule is filled with more interviews and advertisements.
Generally, only half of the program is actual fight time. You have entrances, fighter announcements, the actual fight, decision, interviews, time for the fighters to leave the octagon, and the all-important advertisement breaks.
This can take up to an hour for the more important fights on the main card. I hope you now understand why a whole UFC event is typically around 6 hours.
Since 1999, when the UFC introduced the round system, fights can be 3 or 5 rounds depending on the importance of the bout. This means that the maximum fight time can be 15 or 25 minutes, respectively.