Topps UFC Trading Cards for Beginners
If you've just discovered UFC trading cards, you probably can't wait to get started. But where do you start, especially if, like me when I started, you don't know anything about trading cards?
I remembered trading cards from when I was a kid, but I didn't know anything about which ones might be worth something. If you're used to cards from other sports, then you'll get used to UFC cards really fast. If the whole thing is new to you, this article should give you enough background to get a sense of what you want to do.
Hobby, Retail, and Blaster Boxes
Many collectors buy boxes of cards. It's fun to have a bunch of packs to open, and you might get something really good. But what kind do you buy?
Retail and blaster boxes are the same thing. Remember when you were a kid and there were packs of trading cards in a box on the store counter? Those were retail boxes. These are the kind of boxes you'll see at Walmart and other large chains.
Hobby boxes are exclusive to approved online sellers and card shops.
In general, hobby boxes are more expensive. They usually have better odds for including the rarer types of cards that we'll talk more about later. On the other side, retail boxes sometimes have exclusive content. Collectors usually focus on hobby boxes. It's worth comparing what's in each type to decide if the cost increase is worth it for you.
UFC Trading Card Sets
A set is identified with its name and a year.
Here are a few of the well recognized UFC Topps sets:
- The Knockout line has appeared every year since 2010, with another one scheduled for March or April 2020.
- The Chrome line was produced from 2017-19. I expect one in 2020, but I haven't heard any confirmation on this yet.
- The Museum line has appeared each year since 2016, and I expect another one in 2020.
If you want to get familiar with UFC trading cards, these sets are a good place to start.
Types of UFC Cards
A line of trading cards starts with a base set. These are the cards that are the most plentiful, and will make up most of the contents of the packs you open. For example, the Topps UFC 2019 Chrome set has 100 regular cards. On the back, they're numbered 1-100.
Some collectors will try to get every one of them. These cards aren't usually valuable, but building sets is a big part of the fun for some people.
Pictured below is an example of a base card.
Sets contain other cards that are rarer, such as:
- Image variations
- Parallels or refractors
- Inserts (mini sets)
- Combinations of these things
An card with an image variation has a different picture than the regular base card. They come in both serial numbered and unnumbered versions.
A parallel or refractor is a variation on a base card. They usually have the same picture as the regular card, but there will be a different color somewhere, like in the border or the background. These cards are limited to a certain amount of copies. The more common ones are unnumbered and the rarer ones are.
An autographed card has the fighter's signature, sometimes directly on the card, sometimes on an affixed sticker.
A relic card contains a tiny piece of fighter gear or event equipment.
Sets of cards will usually include several inserts, which are mini-sets with a particular theme. These are more limited than the base cards, but that isn't always noted with a numbering system.
We'll take a closer look at the other card types below.
What Are the Most Valuable UFC Cards?
There are a few attributes that tend to increase the value of a card:
- Limited editions that are serial numbered
- The fighter is popular or successful
Rookie cards are from the first year the fighter has a card, not necessarily their first year as a professional. Topps UFC cards have the notation "RC" on the card to make this clear. There are sometimes first year fighter cards that don't include this notation. I haven't figured out yet if these are considered true rookie cards or not. My guess is that they are, and the omission was a mistake.
Below are some rookie cards. The one on the lower left of Paulo Costa doesn't have the "RC" notation even though it's from 2018, his first year in a UFC card set.
Autographs are another distinction that collectors look for. A card can be signed directly—called hard-signed or on-card—or on a sticker which is then put on the card. Collectors seem to have a preference for hard-signed cards—the signature is often bigger, and the card has been touched directly by the signer.
A first-time autograph is also prized over future autographs, assuming everything else is equal. A first-time signing is noted on UFC cards with "1st Autograph". This can be seen on the card in the lower right, pictured above.
Below is a base card with an autograph.
Serial numbered cards, called parallels or refractors, are limited to a defined amount, which is noted on the card. The rarity can vary a great deal. There could be 288 copies, or there could only be 1. On the card, it will say X/288, X/199, X/99, X/49, X/25, X/8, X/5, 1/1, or of some other amount, with "X" being whatever number that particular card is. All other things being equal, the fewer copies there are, the more valuable the card will be.
The cards on the bottom, pictured below, have the serial number engraved on the front. The cards on top have it on the back.
Relic cards have a piece of embedded memorabilia related to the fighter or the event being commemorated. For example, it might have a piece of glove or mat.
The popularity of the fighter is very important. Their success, like becoming champion, is also a factor. The more known the athlete is, the more people will want to own their card.
It's important to realize that none of these traits alone make a card valuable. Usually, a combination of them is needed.
For example, you might come across a serial numbered card limited to 5 copies. If it's of a fighter no one talks about, it's probably not in demand despite its rarity. A comparable card of the same type from the same year and set of Conor McGregor would definitely be worth something.
Sometimes, a card with only one of these traits might have some value. For example, an autographed rookie from a 2009 Topps set of a popular fighter would have some value even though its not particularly rare. Because of its age, there are fewer of them circulating now.
Knowing the features that make a card valuable, it's easy to imagine some really expensive cards.
For example, a Georges St-Pierre autographed rookie refractor /25 or less would be worth a lot. Likewise for similar cards of Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey.
How Do You Collect?
There are a few ways to go about collecting UFC cards. None are better than the others; it all depends on what you want to get out of the experience. You can:
- Build sets: This involves trying to get every base card from various sets. It could be extended to collecting the more common inserts, the sub-sets, as well. This is one of the more inexpensive ways to collect. It's especially fun, and cost-effective, if you have friends you can trade your doubles with.
- Collect certain fighters: You could just focus on your favorite fighter, or a few favorites and get as many different cards of them as you can. The common ones can be acquired fairly cheaply, and you can get as many of the rare ones as your budget allows.
- Collect the nicest ones: There are some sets and inserts that look really nice. You could focus on the ones you like best. As a bonus, many of these can be had for reasonable prices.
- Invest: Although it will still be fun, you could focus on acquiring the cards you think will eventually have the most value. This could mean buying cards that are already selling for higher prices, or it could mean looking for cards you think are undervalued. In either case, the goal is to hold them for a while, probably years, and then resell at a profit.
- Combine them: There's no need to choose just one. If you're really into the UFC and trading cards, you'll probably enjoy doing a bit of everything. Every collecting style can be adapted to your budget.
Where Do You Buy UFC Cards?
It's worth checking your local card shop, but I wouldn't be too hopeful about seeing a good selection. My local store, which has a huge inventory, only had a few hobby boxes of UFC cards and no individual ones. The box prices were also pretty high.
I started out with a few hobby boxes from Amazon, like this one of 2019 Chrome. I also bought some individual cards from Ebay. Boxes can also be bought directly from Topps.
A word of warning if you're interested in buying a box: although they guarantee a certain amount of autographs and rarer cards, there's no guarantee the ones you get will be valuable. Two of the three boxes I started with were a bust in this sense, and the third had only one card that might recoup my cost in the future. However, it was fun to slowly open the packs and look through them all. I plan on doing it again.
What Kind of Supplies Do You Need?
You don't really need anything. You could simply place your cards in a pile on a shelf or keep them in a shoe box. Most of us, though, will want something to display and protect our cards.
I bought the 100 page box of Ultra Pro Platinum sheets. They're strong, clear and show off my cards nicely. For my extra special cards, I bought the 100 box of Ultra Pro Toploaders, which came with 100 bonus soft sleeves. Toploaders are individual sleeves that are firmer than the regular ones.
If you want a more economical route, there are cheaper brands of card sleeves than Ultra Pro. I just went with those because I heard they were really good quality, and I didn't want to waste any money on a lesser product. I'm very happy with both purchases.