Why Do UFC Fighters Get Frisked?

So if you’ve ever seen a UFC fighter walkout to the cage, you’ll notice that something happens right before they walk in. They get frisked/patted down by the referee. As a newer fan, you may be left questioning the reason behind this. So why do UFC fighters get frisked?

In short, UFC fighters get frisked by the referee to ensure that the fighter does not have any foreign objects or illegal weapons that are hidden on their person. During this time, the ref will also check the fighter’s nails for length, and ensure that they have their mouthpiece and groin protector.

Let’s take a closer look at why fighters get frisked, as well as other things the referee is looking for before letting them into the cage.

What A Ref Looks For When Frisking A Fighter

So first, I’m going to talk about the frisking part. If you don’t know, ‘frisking’ is when someones moves there hands over another person, similar to the way a cop would to someone they’re searching. In other words, the fighters basically get patted down. Later in the post, I’ll talk about other things the ref looks for (nails, gloves etc).

So anyways, as soon as a fighter walks out to the cage, the referee is there waiting for the fighter, just outside the Octagon. Vaseline is applied to the fighter’s face by the cutman (which I’ll talk about more later), and then the referee starts frisking the fighter.

Below you can see what happens before a fighter walks into the cage, courtesy of Darren Till when he fought Stephen Thompson at UFC Liverpool.

Basically, what the referee is looking for here is any illegal object that could help the fighter once in the cage, or any weapon that could be used to hurt his opponent.

Of course, if a fighter hid a weapon on their person, and used it during the fight, it would be blatantly visible to the referee and everyone watching. In this way, the frisking is more of a formality, as the chance that a fighter would hide a razor blade or something similar on them is very small.

Here is Conor McGregor getting frisked prior to walking into the cage at UFC 246.

However, something that a referee might more realistically look for is slippery substances. Using slippery substances to obtain an unfair advantage is colloquially known as ‘greasing’ in MMA. Greasing provides an advantage when trying to escape a submission, as it is harder to apply a submission when there is less friction.

A quick frisk of the fighter could reveal a significant amount of oil or a glob of vaseline or something like that. These substances could change the outcome of the fight dramatically, and so it is important that referees check for this.

If you watch the fighters get frisked, you’ll see that referees almost always check the same areas. They first check behind the fighters’ ears, then hair, then their torso, arms, and legs. Frisking these major areas would quickly reveal anything abnormal that would alert the ref.

The frisking usually starts around the ears and the hair, then down to the arms and legs.

Aside from weapons (which as I said, are highly unlikely), and slippery substances, there is not much else that the referee is looking for. Anything out of the ordinary might result in questioning from the ref, but I’ve never seen a significant issue resulting from a fighter getting frisked.

Now let’s talk about the other things that happen before a fighter walks into the cage, starting with the vaseline that gets applied to the fighter’s face.

What Does The Cutman Put On UFC Fighters’ Faces?

If you’ve ever wondered what gets applied to a fighter’s face before they walk into the Octagon, the answer is vaseline. Vaseline is a slippery substance that is applied to a fighter’s face to prevent cuts. Because it makes the face more slippery, vaseline allows the skin to absorb and brush off impact without opening up.

For the same reason, the vaseline is applied to areas that are at high-risk for cuts, particularly around the eyebrows and on the cheekbones. Vaseline is only allowed on the face, due to the advantage it could give fighters when applied to the body, as well as the fact that the face is the most high-risk area for cuts.

Colby Covington gets vaseline applied to his face prior to stepping into the Octagon.

The UFC and the fighters alike want to put on a good show for the fans. However, neither the UFC nor the fans would like for fights to constantly be stopped due to cuts. This is the main reason vaseline is used, to prevent a doctor stoppage, therefore creating a more enjoyable fight.

After vaseline is applied by the cutman and the fighter has been frisked by the referee, the ref makes a last few checks of the fighter. This includes checking their gloves, mouthpiece, groin protector, and nails. Let’s look at what the ref is looking for during each of these checks.

Checking Mouthpiece, Cup, Gloves, And Nails

Aside from frisking the fighter, there are other things or areas that the ref will check for, with varying reasons as to why. In this section, we’ll be covering each part of the ref’s inspection.

Mouthguard and Cup

So the mouthpiece and cup (groin protector) aren’t always in the same order. Usually, a ref will check for both of them together, but some refs check for them before frisking, and some check after. It’s not that important, but it just depends on the ref.

Covington after being asked to show his mouth piece.

This part isn’t too in-depth, as the checks are mostly a reminder for the fighter in the case that they forgot to put on their mouth guard or cup. The fighter will smile at the ref to show their mouthguard, and then tap their groin area to signal that they are wearing their cup.

Gloves and Nails

After the fighter is frisked, the referee will grab the gloves of the fighter, and look at them both palm up and palm down. The purpose of this is similar to the purpose of frisking, as the fighter could hide a small foreign object in the edge of their gloves.

The ref may also be looking for loose wraps, in which case the cutman would cut the excess.

Colby Covington gets his gloves and nails checked.

At the same time, the ref will be looking at the fighter’s nails for length. Of course, MMA is different from other gloved combat sports (such as boxing) in that the fingers are exposed. Long fingernails can cause unnecessary risk to the fighter’s opponent, especially in the case of an accidental eye poke.

An eye poke with longer nails could cause the end of a bout due to a torn cornea. A fighter’s fingernails could also potentially cause a cut on their opponent’s skin, which would be considered an illegal move.

Of course, a fight ending due to an eye poke would be anti-climactic and would likely upset the fans. One such case occurred during the first fight between Yair Rodriguez and Jeremy Stephens. Yair accidentally grazed Stephens’ eye with his fingernail, causing the bout to end in a ‘No Contest’ just 15 seconds into the first round, at the ire of the fans.


So at the end of the day, frisking is done for the safety of the fighters. However, the frisking in particular is more of a formality, as it is very unlikely that a fighter would attempt to cheat by hiding an object on their person.

So in short, UFC fighters get frisked in order to ensure that they are not hiding a weapon or other object on their person. However, due to the unlikely nature of a fighter cheating in this way, frisking a fighter is more of a formality. Referees also frisk fighters to ensure that they are not greasing prior to a fight.

I hope this post helped you understand why fighters get frisked. If it did, please consider checking out similar posts on the Fan Questions page. Thanks for reading!