UFC Weight Classes: Best Fighters by Division
UFC, the pinnacle of MMA competition, draws the world’s finest fighters. Central to fair competition in this global arena are UFC weight classes, which ensure a balanced matchup, preventing larger fighters from having an overwhelming advantage over smaller ones. Let’s delve into the specifics of these weight classes.
Initially, there were no weight classes in the UFC. The original concept for the UFC was to see which fighting disciplines would come out on top when matched up against one another. That, unfortunately, led to a Wild West scenario where vastly undersized opponents would take on guys twice their size.
Beginning with UFC 12 in 1997, the UFC implemented weight classes. At first, there were only lightweight (under 200 lbs) and heavyweight (over 200 lbs). The biggest change would come in 2000 when the New Jersey State Athletic Commission helped to create the “Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts.”
The implementation and development of weight classes brought an even playing field. Fighters are now put into safe, fair, and equal fights where everyone is of a similar height, size, and weight.
The concept of weight classes seems simple in hindsight. Keeping fighters below a certain threshold ensures a fairer fight than in the early days of the UFC. Weight classes jump up roughly every 10 pounds or so, though there are larger differences the higher up the classes go. Alongside these weight classes, UFC scoring plays an essential role in determining a match’s outcome, reflecting the fighters’ performance and skill.
For the men, things start with the strawweight division at 115 pounds. The lightweight division gets into the 155-pound range, and we start to see an increase in size and power from there. The largest division in the UFC is the heavyweight division, where the max is 265 pounds.
For the women, there aren’t as many classes, but fighters aren’t nearly as big as their male counterparts. They have the same names and weight limits, but the divisions end at 145 pounds, with the featherweight division.
The 10,000-foot view doesn’t cover everything in nearly enough detail. Let’s take a deeper dive into every weight class and find out what the biggest and best fighters were, as well as who some of the greatest champions have been.
Strawweight: The Agile Warriors
Strawweight doesn’t get the attention that it should, featuring fighters with great speed, agility, and endurance. Fighters require discipline, quick reflexes, and excellent speed. Top fighters include Mitsushisa Sunabe, Alex Silva, and Yoshitaka Naito.
Flyweight: Finesse and Speed
Flyweight is where we really start to see a blend of speed and finesse. Despite maxing out at 125 lbs, top fighters pack a mighty wallop. Henry Cujedo and Demetrius Johnson have made impacts here, with Johnson being featured in several major fights against Cejudo, Ian McCall, and other notable names in the class.
Bantamweight: Balance and Power
We start to see an increase in power in the 135-lb division. Fighters in this class typically require a balance in speed and striking ability, with top names like Urijah Faber, Dominick Cruz, and Miguel Torres being the most recognizable. Cody Garbrandt had several of the top fights in the class, having wars with Cruz and TJ Dillashaw that fans won’t soon forget.
Featherweight: The Swift Gladiators
The featherweight division is usually recognized as one of the most dynamic classes. Conor McGregor has made an impact in the class, though Faber, Jose Aldo, and Dustin Poirier may have had a bigger impact. Poirier vs. Chan Sung Jung and Faber vs. Aldo not only became epic fights but also helped elevate the class.
Lightweight: Tactical Brilliance
Considered the most competitive class, we see more strategy in this class than the ones before it. Being a complete fighter becomes essential, and we see how it helped someone like Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0-0) become one of the greatest ever. BJ Penn vs. Joe Stevenson may be the best lightweight fight ever, a vicious, bloody bout from start to finish.
Welterweight: Strength in Versatility
The welterweight division may have the most diverse array of fighting styles. McGregor again made an impact here, but Georges St. Pierre is considered to be the undisputed best of the class. His battle with Matt Hughes is one of the best ever, as is Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit.
Middleweight: Precision and Power
Precise, pinpoint striking is prevalent here, and there are some true GOATs in the class. Anderson “Spider” Silva, Dan Henderson, and Israel Adesanya are the big names in a stacked class. Silva vs. Chael Sonnen may be the best of the best in the class.
Light Heavyweight: The Powerhouse Club
Some of the best and toughest strikers live in the light heavyweight division, a truly stacked class featuring an array of legendary names. Forrest Griffin might not have the best record, but he has had incredible battles with names like Stephen Bonnar and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
Heavyweight: Titans of the Octagon
Heavyweight fighters are the biggest in terms of star power and physical power. Brock Lesnar, Mark Coleman, Stipe Miocic, and Randy Couture are just a small sample. Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama is considered arguably the greatest UFC fight ever, but don’t sleep on Fedor Emlianenko vs. Mirko Filipovic and Mark Hunt vs. Antonio Silva.
Women’s Divisions: Breaking Barriers from Strawweight to Featherweight
The women currently have four classes of their own, coming a long way from not having any women’s fights at all. UFC women weight classes are strawweight (115lbs), flyweight (125lbs), bantamweight (135lbs), and featherweight (145lbs).
The women have noteworthy names in their own right. Ronda Rousey was a household name, Amanda Nunes may be one of the most dominant champions ever, and some consider Cris Cyborg, the best of the bunch. Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche, Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko, and Rousey vs. Holly Holm are among the greatest female bouts ever.
You can’t talk about any of these weight classes without talking about the greatest fighters. History for these classes is short, but there have been plenty of epic battles and noteworthy champions to go around.
Strawweight: Perhaps the least-known class features names like Alex Silva, Yoshitaka Naito, Riku Shibuya, Rambaa Somdet, and Mitsushisa Sunabe.
Flyweight: Demetrious Johnson, Jussier Formiga, Joseph Benavidez, and the other notable names don’t get mainstream love but are excellent fighters.
Johnson is part of many of the top fights in this class, facing Cejudo, Ian McCall, and Joseph Benavidez in instant classics.
Bantamweight: Though the star power might not be there, bantamweight has Nery Cujedo, Dominick Cruz, Renan Barao, Urijah Faber, and Miguel Torres, among others.
Cody Garbrandt vs. TJ Dillashaw was one of the best of 2017, Barao vs. Dillashaw the UFC 173 Fight of the Night, and Garbrandt vs. Cruz saw a five-round war go to decision.
Featherweight: One of several classes where Conor McGregor made an impact. He, Jose Aldo, Urijah Faber, Max Holloway, and Alexander Volkanovski are just a few of the notable names.
Dustin Poirier vs. Chan Sung Jung, Aldo vs. Chad Mendes, and Faber vs. Aldo helped set the stage for the featherweights.
Lightweight: For many, the undisputed GOAT is Khabib Nurmagomedov. He has a 29-0-0 career record and stands above names like BJ Penn, Eddie Alvarez, Conor McGregor, and Anthony Pettis.
Pulver vs. Shoten, Pulver vs. Penn, Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida, Penn vs. Joe Stevenson, and more. Bloody, vicious wars that fans still remember.
Welterweight: Welterweight has absolute warriors and some of the biggest household names. Georges St. Pierre is arguably the greatest ever, but Conor McGregor has the most box-office appeal.
McGregor and Nate Diaz had some of the biggest fights ever, while St. Pierre and Matt Hughes, Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit, and Kamaru Usman against Colby Covington are certainly worth watching.
Middleweight: Middleweight has its share of all-time greats. Anderson Silva and Dan Henderson stand at the top, but Rich Franklin, Evan Tanner, and Israel Adesanya have created exceptional legacies.
Silva waged war with Chael Sonnen, Adesanya with Kelvin Gastelum, Robert Whittaker with Yoel Romero, and so many more.
Light heavyweight: Relatively new, but there are some legendary names. Jon Jones is the king, but Wanderlei Silva, Chuck Liddell, Guy Metzger, Forrest Griffin, and Vitor Belfort are some of the biggest names.
Light heavyweight has had incredible battles like Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin vs. Stephen Bonnar, Griffin vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Rua.
Heavyweight: Star-studded, including names like Brock Lesnar, Randy Couture, Stipe Miocic, Cain Velasquez, Frank Mir, Mark Coleman, and Anderson Silva.
The classics are absolute wars: Fedor Emelianenko vs. Mirko Filipovic, Mark Hunt vs. Antonio Silva, Shane Carwin vs. Brock Lesnar, Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama, and so many more.
The entire idea of weight classes is to create an even playing field. If a heavyweight took on a bantamweight, the heavyweight would have a substantial advantage. While it’s not impossible for the smaller fighter to win, there is a distinct advantage for the heavyweight before the fight ever starts.
Strategies can change depending on weight class. Though there is not a universal strategy for each class, there are some commonplace strategies in each class. For instance, the heavier classes tend to focus on striking power, whereas the lower classes focus on speed, grappling, and submission. The best fighters tend to integrate a hybrid approach, helping them to stand above the rest of their peers.
Changing weight classes is not uncommon, mostly because the late stages of cutting weight can be downright brutal. As they age, fighters may not be able to cut substantial weight without series consequences. Having to cut a lot of weight can impact stamina, putting the fighter at a disadvantage before the fight even starts.
Future of UFC Weight Classes
The changes to weight class, both for men and women, are relatively new. Major overhauls came between 2012 and 2017 for both, and the current structure seems as close to “perfect” as things are going to get for a while. Given the relative newness of these classes in MMA, there is always the possibility that tweaks and changes could be made. We will unlikely see the addition of any classes in the men’s division for some time but never say never.
Conclusion: Recap of UFC Weight Classes
UFC Betting Expert
Though nothing has been talked about officially, there is always a possibility of adding new classes. The biggest gap is between the light heavyweight and heavyweight classes, so a bridge between the two could be the next logical step. Every move made would be with the fighters and fairness in mind.
There are currently nine different weight classes in the UFC.
The equivalent to the max weight in the welterweight division is 77kg (170 lbs).
There have been arguments that additional classes are necessary, but the current structure covers a range from 115 lbs to 265 lbs. A Super Heavyweight division may eventually become necessary.
Weight has a bigger effect in boxing than it does in UFC, which is why there are so many more classes for professional boxing.
Most-Read Sports Pages in February 2024
Jake is an SEO-minded Combat Sports, Gaming and Pro Wrestling writer and successful Editor in Chief. He has more than ten years of experience covering mixed martial arts, pro wrestling and gaming across a number of publications.
Facts checked by Rowan Fisher-Shotton