The Difference Between MMA and UFC (Everything You Need to Know)

When people talk about MMA, they’re almost always talking about the UFC. However, just like when someone discusses basketball versus specifically the NBA, MMA is not the UFC and the UFC is not MMA. Here’s everything you need to know about these two popular talking points.

The MMA sport vs. the UFC organization

Mixed martial arts, or MMA, is the sport while UFC is an institution that organizes MMA fights. So, for example, the NBA would be similar to the UFC while MMA would be similar to the game of basketball. Anyone can train in MMA or play basketball, but few people can fight in the UFC or compete in the NBA.

Because of that, MMA may have different rules in other parts of the world compared to the UFC. In fact, these regulations can vary drastically. For example, in Japanese MMA organizations, fighters can kick an opponent’s head even if the opponent is on the ground. This is illegal in the UFC, and fighters, like Greg Hardy, have been disqualified for this. While most MMA organizations have similar rules, the differences in rule sets varied more wildly in the past.

Early MMA 

No one knows when the concept of MMA was created. However, one of the earliest examples took place in 1976. Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest boxers ever, fought in a mixed-rules match against Antonio Inoki, a famous Japanese professional wrestler.

This could be seen as one of the first MMA fights, but it was a terrible one. The fight was supposed to be fixed until the last minute when the two men found out they had to fight each other for real. Ali didn’t know how to wrestle, and Inoki didn’t want to box, so Inoki did something sneaky.

Due to the last-minute rules, Inoki fell on his back and crawled to Ali, kicking Ali’s legs multiple times. Ali didn’t want to go to the ground with Inoki; he wanted to stand and box with him. This fight was ruled a draw but it laid the groundwork for MMA.

In Japan and Brazil, early MMA organizations like Vale Tudo and shoot wrestling began. These organizations had a similar idea, to have skilled people fight each other. Those MMA organizations weren’t popular in the U.S., however, until the UFC came on the scene in 1993. 

Early UFC beginnings

The early days of the UFC were similar to the beginning of MMA. People of different martial arts backgrounds, like karate and boxing, fought each other to see which martial art was the best. However, the UFC also marketed itself as an extremely brutal sport where anything can happen. There were only three rules: no biting, no eye-gouging, and no groin strikes.

Unlike early MMA fights in other organizations, rounds didn’t exist in the early days of the UFC. The two fighters would battle until one of them either got knocked out, tapped out, or their team threw in the towel. This led to extreme fights that turned off some people from the sport. However, after Dana White and his associates bought the UFC, things turned around. The UFC became cleaner and more presentable. 

As Bleacher Report explains, the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts were created in 2001, and the UFC began abiding by those regulations. Ultimately, these rules are what the organization follows to this day. As a result, the UFC is now able to host events around the world.