Fan Questions | Martial Arts History

How Long Does A UFC Fight Last?

As a newfound MMA fan, you might wonder how long an MMA match lasts, especially if you’ve never watched other combat sports, such as boxing. How many rounds is a fight? What decides the number of rounds? How much rest time is given between rounds?

If you’re looking for the answer to these questions, well then look no further my friend, because in this post, I will cover all the factors involved in deciding the length of a UFC fight. How long does a UFC fight last?

A UFC fight can last either 3 or 5 rounds, with each round being 5 minutes long. In between rounds, the fighters are given one minute of rest time. This means a 3-round fight can last up to 17 minutes, while a 5-round fight can last up to a maximum of 29 minutes when you include rest time.

However, this short answer doesn’t look at the whole picture. In the rest of the post, I will cover all the details that go into the length of an MMA match.

Also, this post specifically covers the length of a single UFC match. If you were instead looking for the length of an entire UFC card, check out this post: How Long Is A UFC Event?

What Decides 5 Rounds Vs 3 Rounds

So now you know how long a UFC fight can be. But now you’re wondering, Why are some fights 5 rounds instead of 3? Well in short, 5 round fights are reserved for Championship fights, as well as main event fights.

Five-round fights test the mettle of the fighters and create entertaining fights. Such was the case of the five-round war between Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker.
Five-round fights test the mettle of the fighters and create entertaining fights. Such was the case of the five-round war between Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker.

Typically, MMA fights are 3 rounds, as already mentioned previously. However, championship fights are expected to not only demand a greater challenge from the fighters, but also a better viewing experience for the fans.

Increasing a fight from 3 rounds to 5 makes it more entertaining, and also lengthens possible viewership time. So whenever a UFC Championship title is on the line, the fight will be scheduled for five rounds.

What about main events? The last fight on a UFC event, otherwise known as the main event, will usually also be scheduled for five rounds. This is for the same reasons as before, such as challenging the fighters and increasing the entertainment value.

Despite being moved to the main event of UFC 234, Adesanya vs Silva remained a three-round fight.
Despite being moved to the main event of UFC 234, Adesanya vs Silva remained a three-round fight.

This includes both pay-per-view events as well as other less watched UFC cards. Of course, there are exceptions to this 5-round rule, typically when the main event changes on short notice.

Such was the case when Israel Adesanya vs Anderson Silva was moved to the main event of UFC 234, when Middleweight Champion Robert Whittaker was rendered unable to fight one day prior to the event. Despite Adesanya vs Silva being made the new main event, the fight remained scheduled for 3 rounds.

How Often Does An MMA Fight Go The Distance?

So we know how long a fight can be scheduled for, a maximum of 29 minutes. But perhaps you came here looking for the average length of an MMA fight, including finishes.

Of course, the average length of a fight will be less when we take into consideration the fights that end early. So to find the true length of an average UFC fight, I took the current top 15 pound-for-pound fighters in the UFC. I then looked at each fighter’s last three fights, to see at what time it ended.

Jon Jones and Khabib Nurmagomedov are currently #1 and #2 on the pound-for-pound list, respectively.
Jon Jones and Khabib Nurmagomedov are currently #1 and #2 on the pound-for-pound list, respectively.

Taking three fights from 15 fighters gives us a data set of 45 fights to collect times from. From there, we simply find the average fight time of all the fights collected. So what were the results?

For the 45 fights collected, the average fight length was 17 minutes (almost exactly). This means the average UFC fight ends 2 minutes into the 4th round.

Of the fights collected, 25 did NOT go the distance, meaning they ended in a TKO, KO, or submission. This means about 55.5% of UFC fights end before the scheduled time limit.

Of the 45 fights collected, 55.5% of them ended in a finish, either by knockout, submission, or doctor stoppage.
Of the 45 fights collected, 55.5% of them ended in a finish, either by knockout, submission, or doctor stoppage.

These averages should be taken with a grain of salt, as we can’t possibly expect 45 fights to match the average of thousands of UFC fights that have happened in the past. If you would like to see the stats, you can see the spreadsheet here.

Fight Length In The Early UFC Days

I am now going to cover fight length in the early days of the UFC, on the off chance that you were searching for that. It would be a reasonable thing to search, as you might be watching UFC 5, having watched 30 minutes of the main event, wondering, “Will this ever end?!”

The 5-minute rounds that we are familiar with today were not introduced into the UFC until UFC 21, after which the round system became a rule for most MMA fights. However, prior to this, there was no round system in MMA, and there initially wasn’t a time limit.

The main event of UFC 5 was the anticipated rematch between Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock. It ended up being the longest match in UFC history, and unfortunately ended in a draw after 36 minutes.
The main event of UFC 5 was the anticipated rematch between Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock. It ended up being the longest match in UFC history, which unfortunately ended in a draw after 36 minutes.

The longest fight in the UFC’s history was Royce Gracie vs Ken Shamrock at UFC 5. The match lasted 36 minutes, with no rounds or rest periods, before being stopped and declared a draw.

So there is really no way of knowing how long a UFC fight held before UFC 21 will last, except that it will be last than 36 minutes.

Conclusion

I hope this post helped clear up any confusion you might have had about the UFC’s round system.

In short, a UFC fight can last either 3 or 5 rounds, and each round is 5 minutes long. At the end of each round, there is a one-minute rest period. This means a fight can last a maximum of 17 minutes for a three-round fight, and 29 minutes for a five-round fight.

If you liked this post, feel free to check out similar ones on the Martial Arts History page. Thanks for reading!