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Pride FC Rules vs UFC Rules What Are The Brutal Differences

Pride FC vs UFC rules poster design.

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At one time the UFC and Pride FC were the two largest mixed martial arts promotions on the planet. Today, Pride is no more, but what separated the two in terms of what rules they used?

There were some defining differences in rules between the UFC and Pride FC. In Pride, the major ones are soccer kicks, stomps and knees to the head of a downed opponent. While the UFC allowed elbows to the face which were banned in Pride FC.

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While the UFC may have burst onto the scene several years before Pride Fighting Championships. There can be little doubt that the US-based promotion was floundering in the late 1990s. Pride and Japanese MMA were going from strength to strength.

In its early years, the UFC came under increased pressure and censorship by lawmakers in the US who deemed the sport too violent. However, on the other side of the globe, the Pride Fighting Championships had its own very particular set of rules which very much set it apart from its competition. Both in terms of sheer brutality and violence.

Another noteworthy point is that the difference in rules between the two organisations very much set them apart. Determining how the fight was and how the fights often played out.

But it was this exact ultra-violence being performed in a controlled environment, by some of the most talented and baddest men on the planet that made Pride a huge hardcore fan favourite. So while the UFC continued to flounder and struggle to find its feet, Pride continued to go from strength to strength.

As wrestling is such a large part of US sporting culture, the UFC rules are generally recognised as catering more to wrestlers. While the rule set in Pride ensured there was less groundwork with more action on the feet. Which is what I believe contributed to many of Pride’s epic battles.

What Are UFC Rules

The UFC follows the Unified Rules of mixed martial arts, as they try to standardise how MMA fights to take place around the world under the sports different promotions.

  • Effective Striking/Grappling – immediate of cumulative blows.
  • Effective Aggressiveness – Making attempts to finish the fight.
  • Fighting Area Control – Who is dictating the pace of the fight.
  • Impact – visible signs of swelling and lacerations.
  • Dominance – forcing a fighter to continually defend.
  • Duration – the time one fighter spends attacking.

Fouls In UFC

There are a total of 27 potential fouls listed in the unified ruleset. And fouls in UFC are very much the same as in Pride, including the obvious ones like;

  • No head butts
  • No eye-gouging
  • No biting your opponent
  • Fish hooking the mouth, nose or ears.
  • As well as many others …

The full list of rules can be found here on the Department of Consumer Affairs website. And as there are many so we won’t list them all here, but rather focus on those that differ from the Pride FC rules.

Tito Ortiz in the octagon after the infamous Guy Mezger fight.
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz.

The core differences and what separated UFC from Pride were its fouls. As some of what was considered an illegal move in the UFC was perfectly legitimate in Pride. It was these differences that for most gave Pride the well-earned title of most brutal MMA promotion.

  • No spiking or pile driving of your opponent, when you grab the opponent around the body. And with their feet aimed toward the ceiling and heads toward the ground, you drive their head into the canvas. An extremely dangerous that in a worst-case scenario, could result in death or paralysis.
  • No kneeing to the head of a grounded opponent, with the grounded opponent having all four limbs touching the canvas.
  • No stomping of a grounded fighter, akin to putting out a fire with your foot, except the opponent’s face is the fire.
  • Throwing the opponent out of the cage means physically picking up the opponent and throwing them over the cage wall. Which would be a WWE-style sight to behold!

The additional foul in UFC is that of the 12 to 6 elbow. Meaning that an elbow is thrown directly down from the top in a hammer-like action. So that the point of the elbow would be the first part to land. It’s one of those rules some would like to see in the sport, but personally, I’m happy it is not. As we already have enough blood and guts with the existing elbow blows.

Pride Fighting Rules

  • Soccer kicks to the face, head and neck.
  • Foot stomps to the face.
  • Knees allowed to the head of a grounded opponent.
  • Up-kicks from the competitor on the bottom are allowed.
  • Spike or slamming an opponent is legal (the opponent is thrown to the canvas headfirst).
  • Fighters are allowed to wear wrestling shoes.
  • Yellow cards are issued to fighters for stalling.

Fouls in Pride

While Pride allowed several techniques that were considered illegal and dangerous by the UFC. The foul which differentiated the two here was the use of elbows to the face. Elbows to the face in Pride were seen as a way of potentially stopping a very good fight.

Bad cuts can lead to stoppages, even though the fighter is perfectly okay to fight on. But the cut can be so bad that the referee or doctor can decide to stop the fight. This lack of elbows meant far fewer fight-stopping cuts in Pride FC.

Pride FC heavyweight legend Igor Vovchanchyn during his heyday.
Pride FC legend Igor Vovchanchyn.

If you actually look back at many of the UFC and Pride fights. Many more UFC fights involved copious amounts of blood on the canvas. Creating an often disgusting and gory setting for the fight. Something perhaps Japanese fans were less favourable to than their western counterparts.

Pride Fights tended to veer away from too much blood, focusing more on longevity and exciting standup wars. When a fighter was downed, they could only ever be punched, stomped or soccer kicked, not elbowed. And if the ground fighting got too static, the referee would quickly intervene and stand both fighters up!

This type of officiating and rules led to a more exciting format that catered to strikers more so than US-centric ground fighters.

Both organisations agree that there are no hits to the back of the head or the spine area. As believe it or not both organisations have the best interest of their fighters at heart. Well, that is what we want to believe, so I’ll leave you to make your own judgement.

The Cage vs Ring Format

While the UFC used its world-famous trademark Octagon cage designed specifically for MMA, Pride used the more traditional boxing ring. This meant the fights played out in different ways as fighters were able to do certain things in one format, that they could not in the other.

Now as Pride was the later promotion and it’s not quite known why they chose a ring over a cage. Perhaps they felt that the boat had already sailed with the UFC and wanted to go their own route. And it’s something which for the most part worked very well.

The UFC Octagon

As I mentioned the octagon cage used by the UFC was designed specifically for MMA. Well, it was actually designed firstly for visual impact and secondly for MMA. As some of the original designs included a moat filled with crocodiles. As well as razor wire surrounding the top of the cage.

Many believe the decision to use the cage led to some of the early opposition to the sport. As I mentioned the idea behind the cage design was for it to be visibly different and somewhat shocking. Men fighting in a cage, like animals, was something sure to get the adrenaline pumping.

An arena full of fans watching some fights in the UFC.
An arena is full of fans watching live UFC.

Still to this day, many mixed martial artists do not like being referred to as cage fighters. Believing that title denigrates them as professional athletes. And perhaps rightly so as we move away from the brutish appeal of early MMA to a more professional sport.

Regardless, this shape and style of design have actually gone on to affect how the fights play out. As there is a solid wall at the sides, UFC fighters are able to use this to get back to their feet, some better than others. But fighters can also use the cage side as a tool, stopping themselves from being submitted. And even as a surface to jump against when launching an attack, shout out to Anthony Pettis.

As the cage consists of eight instead of four sides, like a boxing ring. This had the effect of fighters being able to circle away from danger. Making it more difficult to trap your opponent in a corner.

The Pride Ring

Pride decided to stick with the more traditional boxing ring design fight fans are more familiar with. The use of the ring did lead to obvious differences between the two promotions and not just visual ones, but how the fights played out.

In terms of appearance, the boxing ring is not as purposefully aggressive as that of the cage. And the design offers fewer barriers for fight fans to get a good view of the fight when compared to the chainlink fence of the UFC cage.

The lack of solid siding not only led to instances where some fighters almost fell from the ring. But also gave some fighters the opportunity to physically get themselves out of a bad situation. By pushing their body out through the ropes, thereby having the fight reset or stopped, if they were being badly beaten.

It also meant that fighters were trapped under their opponent and unable to use the cage fence to get up. Their options for escape were limited, as the famous wall walking we see in the UFC was never a thing in Pride.

And while neither organisation allowed fighters to grab the rope or fence, there were still instances of this happening. The difference with Pride was that they employed a small army of staff who would annoyingly pull at the ropes when a fighter tried to use them to their advantage. Something tells me no one liked those guys, especially the fighters.

Pride Rules Breakdown

I think it’s fair to say that it was the combination of pure theatre, brutality and rules that were borderline attempted murder. Combined to make Pride FC the most reviled yet revered of the MMA promotions.

We know this as even the heads at Zuffa and the UFC wanted to cross-promote and saw Pride as a direct threat to their dominance in the sport. And in subsequent years when UFC and Pride fighters crossed paths, it was by far the Pride FC fighters who came out on top!

Head Stomps

One of the vicious techniques that were used to great effect by several fighters in Pride was head stomps. The downed opponent may be out of reach with your hands and defending any guard pass.

But a well-placed stomp on the face often bared fruit and ended in a knockout. Stomps were one of the moves that shocked some casuals who only followed the UFC. But for fans of Pride, foot stomps only helped to galvanise all the reasons we loved to watch. Unbridled pure aggression by elite-level athletes.

Upkicks From The Bottom

I could never figure out why up-kicks were allowed in Pride and not in the UFC. The foot or heel of the foot offered an excellent and powerful striking capability and when used correctly could end a fight.

Many fighters did try to use the technique, but only a few were able to perfect it into an art form. While at the same time, other fighters found their own ways to counteract the upkick, like with cat reflex-like ground and pound techniques, cartwheels and jumping foot stomps.

One of the most famous instances of it being used in Pride was when Gegard Mousasi landed a perfect upkick on Jacare Sousa. The strike knocked Jacarae out cold, leaving him in a crumpled mess on the ground. Showing just how effective the upkick can be in a real fight situation.

Soccer Kicks

The soccer kicks to a grounded opponent were one of the most violent signature moves allowed in Pride. With a downed perhaps already dazed opponent, a quick follow-up with some kicks to the head and neck soon ended the fight.

Soccer kicks meant that grounded fighters weren’t able to avoid strikes by laying with all limbs touching the ground, as they do in the UFC. This was an added incentive not to get caught out of position and to get back to your feet as quickly as possible.

Two of the most proficient in the use of kicks were Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio Shogun Rua. I wonder did their Brazilian background and love of football play any part.

Spike Or Pile Driving

While we do see moves such as suplexes in wrestling. Spiking brings the element of danger to the next level. The move will get you banned from sports like rugby. But in Pride FC, it was part and parcel of the rules.

And while it was rarely pulled off successfully. The two most famous instances would have to be that of man-mountain Bob Sapp driving Antonio Nogueria’s head into the Pride ring.

The infamous fight between Kevin Randleman and Fedor Emelianenko.
Kevin Randleman pile drives Fedor Emelianenko.

While the most spectacular would have to be Kevin Randleman catching air and slamming Fedor Emelianenko onto his neck, with both men’s body weight. It was a miracle Fedor escaped and quickly went on to submit The Monster (RIP).

The combination of all the above techniques found in Pride that were banned in the UFC. This meant that there was a distinct difference in the level of violence between the promotions. But it was this difference that made Pride ultimately highly addictive to watch.

Yellow Cards

It is something that was only done in Pride, never quite catching on in the UFC. While they do deduct points in the UFC. The yellow cards were issued to fighters for stalling (along with a 10% deduction of the fighter’s pay, which sometimes was too harsh).

But the overriding idea behind the move was to force fighters not to get into that position in the first place. An incentive to make sure they fight as hard as they can and not hold anything back.

Stalling is something we do see much more of in the UFC as the predominantly wrestling-based style focuses more on ground fighting. And in certain instances, fighters can use tricks to stall, hold on and catch their breath. When a fighter did that in Pride too much, they lost money!

UFC vs Pride Rounds

  • Pride FC rounds consisted of 10 + 2 x 5-minute rounds – So one ten-minute first round, followed by a two-minute break. Then a five-minute round with another two-minute break. Then the final five-minute round, all totalling 24 minutes.
  • The UFC rounds were 5 x 5 minutes and 3 x 5-minute rounds – Five by five-minute rounds for the main event and championship fights. Or three by five minutes for all others. With the break between each round being one minute.

Breaking Down The Fight

The scoring criteria for Pride vs UFC were quite different in their application. While the UFC used the traditional 10-point must system which came from the sport of western boxing.

Pride used the more traditional eastern style of rules which we also see in sports such as Thai boxing. This meant that the fight was scored over its entirety as a single fight, rather than it being a round-by-round ruleset.

This means that a fighter who was behind in the fight had more of an opportunity to get back into the fight, even if they were well behind on the scorecards. The UFC scoring system meant that if a fighter was behind on rounds. It made it all that difficult for them to win the fight.

It’s something that people like UFC commentator Joe Rogan have long thought was not the right way to score MMA. Saying that the Pride system of judging the entire fight was much more suited to the sport of MMA.

UFC Weight Divisions

In terms of how they approached the issue of weight divisions, the two promotions varied drastically. While the UFC very much sticks with the traditional weight divisions we see in the sport of boxing. These ranged from strawweight up to heavyweight.

Two division UFC champion Conor McGregor inside the octagon.
UFC two-division champion Conor McGregor.

The UFC had strict adherence in its weight divisions, with fighters often being docked some of their purse money for being over the agreed weight. This was very different from Pride FC which looked to take a far more open approach to how their matchups were made.

And while the UFC president Dan White swore six ways from Sunday that he would never promote women’s MMA. In 2012 the women’s first champion Ronda Rousey was crowned. Signalling a new era in the promotion and for women’s MMA around the world.

Weight DivisionFrom lbsTo lbs
Light Heavyweight186205
A table displaying all UFC weight divisions.

Pride Weight Divisions

From its beginning Pride only had two main weight divisions in middleweight and heavyweight, only adding the lightweight and welterweights in 2004. But where Pride lacked in the number of divisions it made up for in terms of their depth.

With their focus on only two, it meant they were able to stack the cards with the very best talent, something which can often be an issue even in the UFC with the same fighters facing off repeatedly. Pride would often have an entire card stacked with only one weight division, that being usually heavyweight.

Pride open weight division also meant that we got to see some of the craziest matchups imaginable as 400 lb men took on fighters less than half their size. And wouldn’t you know it, the bigger man did not always win!

But the spectacle of seeing a much smaller human being taking on and often slaying the monster across the ring from him became one of the defining things about Pride.

There is something very powerful about seeing am overcome adversity. And I feel the adversity we see fighters overcome is one of the most primaeval feelings we as humans know.

But it has to be said that in the later years, some of these oversized freak fights went a little too far, as those fighters usually did not have that much experience or talent. And when two of them met in the ring, it usually ended being more of a spectacle than a quality fight.

Weight DivisionFrom lbsTo lbs
OpenweightNo restrictions
A table displaying all Pride FC weight divisions.

In Conclusion

Pride fighting championships and the UFC co-existed at a time when mixed martial arts was still very much in its infancy. While the UFC got the initial headstart in terms of awareness amongst fans. It wasn’t long before Pride was nipping at its heels and some would say passing it by.

While the UFC sat in the doldrums during the late 1990s, and early 2000s, Pride FC went from strength to strength, selling out 90,000 seater stadiums. The Japanese MMA promotion, its unique ruleset, dazzling fighter entrances and pure unadulterated brutality.

Pride FC awoke something very primal in the fans who watched religiously. It was unarmed combat in its absolute purest form. Two highly trained fighters performing in the most unrestricted fight promotion in the world.

And those of us who were lucky enough to be on the journey and see some of the very best Pride FC events in MMA history can only pay homage to those great fighters and fights.

Some of the same combatants are still fighting to this day, but most are not. Now but a distant memory in the minds of those who seek a quick MMA fix on the weekends, often forgetting those that have come before to lay the groundwork for what we have today.

It was a very special time in the history of MMA and one many of us will never forget. But if you are reading this now and by some unknown quirk of nature are not sure what I’m talking about. Please, lay your hands on some Pride classic fights and learn for yourself why the moniker Pride Never Die will never be far from our lips.