Why Does UFC Use an Octagon? (Fully Explained)

The octagon is the single most recognizable thing about the UFC and MMA in general that has been around since the beginning of the sport. The concept of the steel cage with eight wide corners surrounded by the cage walls hasn’t changed much over time and it is trademarked by the UFC.

But why does UFC use an octagon in the first place? Who was the first to come out with this solution? Does the octagon favor any styles or techniques? Let’s find out.

Why Does UFC Use an Octagon?

The main reason is the safety of the fighters. Fence walls protect the athletes from falling or throwing each other out of the fighting area, as often happens in the boxing ring for instance. The octagon floor sits around 1m from the ground so falling out might easily result in a serious injury, or even be lethal.

Next, the Octagon design suit all styles and techniques. For instance, boxers, kickboxers, and Muay Thai athletes compete in a square ring. Wrestlers and BJJ athletes compete in a circle and an open area. An octagon-shaped fighting pit is a neutral solution as it does not favor any particular style or technique.

The eight corners are placed at a wide angle so that the fighters can freely move around without getting stuck in certain places. Standup fighters have enough space to move around and impose their will, and the same stands for grapplers.

Lastly, an octagon is a part of the UFC brand and the street fighting aesthetic they want to achieve. It is a method UFC uses to differentiate its product from other combat sports and make its brand unique and recognizable.

What is the UFC Octagon Made From?

The UFC octagon is made out of different materials such as metal, layers of plywood, and wooden slats. It consists of the following three elements:

The metallic platform (bottom structure)

The octagon floor sits on a metallic frame that has eight metal legs and support beams which are holding the structure of the cage. Further, 16-inch wooden slats made out of a layer of plywood go on top of the metallic frame. These wooden slats actually produce that vibrating sound viewers can hear when a fighter gets slammed down onto the canvas.

To protect the fighters from getting injured when they fall, the Octagon floor is padded with 1.2 inches (3cm) thick foam. The padding is placed on top of the wood slats which makes the floor flexible and soft enough to absorb the force of the impact. The foam comes in different materials, but they mostly use EVA foam (Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate).

The floor

The last piece of the floor is the layer of canvas made out of thick cotton that covers the entire floor of the Octagon. The main purpose of the canvas is to tighten up all of the below parts of the structure together and prevent anything to slip out of the place. It also soaks up all the sweat, blood, spilled water, and other fluids that can make the floor slippery.

This makes the octagon surface much harder than the floor in wrestling or BJJ mats, but not too soft. The entire platform raises about 1m from the ground and is connected to the upper structure of the cage, and the floor is 30 ft. in diameter (9m).

The fence (cage wall) and doors

UFC octagon walls are made out of metal chain-link fence and coated with black vinyl for further protection. The chain-link fence is designed to support the weight of the fighters, and protect them from falling off the 1m platform. The fence raises up to 6 ft. in height (1.85m), tall and strong enough to prevent fighters from falling out. Each of the eight corners is padded with thick foam, and there are two color-coded doors.

How Tall is the UFC Octagon?

The UFC cage wall is around 6 feet tall (1.85m) and this is the standardized height for both full and small-size octagons. But if you include the 4 feet tall bottom structure, the total height of the UFC octagon is 10 feet (3m).

This makes the fence neither too short nor too tall, but at just about the right height to prevent the fighters from falling out of the cage, or an athlete to throw their opponent out of it.

Mounting the fence too high would make the fighters feel trapped inside the cage, and harder for the camera crew to operate. Each UFC cameraman is standing on the platform placed in each corner, and they film down into the cage. If the cage walls were to be higher, 7 or 8 feet, for instance, it would be really hard and dangerous for the cameraman to stay there.

How Hard is the Octagon Floor?

The UFC octagon floor is neither too hard nor too soft as it is covered only by a heavy cotton canvas and 1.2 inches of foam padding on the wood floor.

The padding is not as thick as in other sports such as wrestling and boxing. A hard wrestling slam can easily knock out a person or cause severe injuries. The best example was when Matt Hughes knocked out Carlos Newton with a powerful takedown at UFC 34 in 2001.

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Another thing to consider is that UFC fighters compete barefoot. A hard surface would make it hard for the fighters to move, bounce around and apply techniques. This also increases the risk of injuries as just a single hard throw or takedown might result in a broken bone, concussion, and other injuries.

On the other side, if the surface is too soft, like the wrestling mats, it would cause the fighters’ feet to submerge into the canvas with every step.

What is the UFC Octagon Size?

UFC octagon comes in two different sizes — full size and smaller size. Full-size or “standard” octagon is 30 feet in diameter (9.1m) with a total competition area of 750 ft. The smaller version is 25 feet in diameter (7.62m) and has 520 ft. of fighting space. Both versions are made out of the same materials, and apart from the size, everything else is the same.

The UFC uses a full-size octagon for all the major pay-per-view and Fight Night events. Smaller octagon is used mostly for the low-profile events hosted at the UFC apex center in Las Vegas.

Does the Size of the Octagon Affect the Outcome?

The size of the octagon does play a factor, notably when it comes to the rate of finishes.

Smaller octagon gives fighters less space to move around, which makes it more difficult for them to manage distance, play it safe and avoid exchanges. In some way, it forces both fighters to be close to each other, which increases the rate of finishes, which for the smaller octagon stands at 60%, with the average fight length being 590 seconds.

The finish rate for the full-size octagon is 48% while the average fight length is 650 seconds. The surface of the fighting area is bigger which gives fighters a lot of room to operate and move around. Athletes with good footwork can use this to their advantage to control their space, avoid wild exchanges, and pick the opponent from the distance.

Who Invented the UFC Octagon?

The man who came up with the initial design of the UFC octagon was the video and film director, Jason Cusson. It all started in 1993 when the UFC emerged with an idea to host style vs. style with a mission to find out which martial art is the most effective one.

The key problem they faced was the fighting area that needed to equally suit all styles. A boxing ring would favor boxers while the open mats would favor wrestlers and BJJ-based fighters.

During those meetings, there were also quite ludicrous suggestions, such as using an electric fence, or a moat filled with sharks. Fortunately, the video and film director at the time, Jason Cusson, had a less deadly solution called “The Octagon”.

Octagon was the best and most neutral solution. First, it was safe as the cage walls prevent fighters from falling out of the platform. Next, it represents a neutral stage that doesn’t give an advantage to any style. Lastly, it gives the UFC that unique street fighting aesthetic they wanted to achieve in order to differentiate their product.

The Octagon debuted at the memorable UFC 1 event hosted in Denver, Colorado, and the UFC has been using it ever since. Over the years, the design went through many changes, notably, when it comes to the size and materials it is made from. But the core concept has remained the same.

Why the UFC is Not Using the Boxing Ring?

Boxing and MMA are two different sports and the concept of a boxing ring does not transfer well into cage fighting.

Throughout history, many MMA promotions have been using the concept of a boxing ring. The most famous are Japanese promotions PRIDE FC and RIZIN FF. But the concept of the cage is much better and here is why.

The first major concern is safety. Though falling out of the boxing ring is not that common, it is still possible, and if that happens, it can easily result in serious injuries. Just imagine 280-pound Brock Lesnar charging for a takedown at full speed and going through the ropes. It would end badly.

Next, the boxing ring interrupts the fluidity of the MMA match, notably in the grappling department. Back in PRIDE, whenever the fighters would get tangled in the ropes, the referee would stop the action, ask the fighters to move away from the ropes, and reset the fight.

In the end, MMA is neither boxing nor wrestling; it is a combat sport on its own that needs to have its unique, trademarked fighting area.

Does UFC Octagon Favor Any Styles?

The Octagon is a unique playing field designed to suit all martial art styles.

Above all, the octagon does not limit any fighter, regardless if it is a striker or grappler, to perform at the peak of their abilities and apply all the techniques as long as these are within the rules. Fighters from all styles have enough space to move around, and nothing stops them from applying all their skills to win a match.

Even if the concept gives an advantage to a specific technique, it is canceled by the disadvantages. For instance, cage wall is known to suit grapplers quite well. It enables wrestlers to back up their opponent against the wall, and get a takedown more easily. But the tables turn around as soon as they fall down to the ground because now, the fence makes it easier for their opponent to get back up.

Conclusion

The Octagon is just one example of how the UFC has changed the world of MMA, and combat sports in general. This unique fighting area stands as a symbol of the UFC organization and its innovative effort to provide fans with the most exciting fights possible.

While there are other mixed martial arts organizations that use a cage or ring, the Octagon remains uniquely linked to the UFC. It has become such an iconic part of the brand recognized all across the world.

Related questions

How much does a UFC octagon cost?

The price of the UFC octagon ranges between $25–30,000 dollars. But you must take these numbers with reserve as the UFC does not produce or sell the octagon, and only they know the exact cost of production. The ones you can buy on the market are produced by different companies such as “Throwdown” and “Revgear”, and there are many other cheaper options.

What does the UFC do with dirty mats after the event?

UFC is not allowed to use the same canvas for two shows because that is not sanitary. They must throw it away, and put on a new one for the next event.

During the event, the mats get soiled with blood, sweat, and saliva, and mats can easily get contaminated with various bacteria. Due to its large size, they can’t wash the canvas and have to use the new one for every event.

Does UFC own the octagon?

The UFC octagon is trademarked and the company owns the intellectual property of the name “Octagon”. This means that no other MMA promotion is allowed to organize matches in the cage similar to the specification of the octagon.

Images by Jamison Hiner from flickr
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