Abstract Agonistic behaviour between male cellar spiders (Pholcus phalangioides) was investigated to test whether (1) size difference determines which male achieves access to the female, (2) males are able to monopolize access to the female until egg laying and whether (3) female resource value increases before egg laying because of last-male sperm precedence. We further investigated whether (4) there is variation in time and energy spent on courtship and copulation depending on the degree of sperm competition, i.e. with or without rival present. In three experimental settings we introduced two males of either different or similar sizes, or a single male to a female. The mating units were constantly video-observed until the females produced their first egg sac. Experience, ownership and female resource value in terms of body size was controlled. Our results show that larger males achieve almost exclusive access to females. Size symmetrical settings resulted in increased fighting activity and duration but dominance did not influence mating success. If copulations were disturbed by the rival male, copulations were terminated earlier in symmetrical settings compared with asymmetrical settings. In 94.8% of trials only one copulation took place, suggesting that the copulating male successfully monopolized access to the female. Males confronted with a rival copulated longer but courted significantly shorter than lone males. Although the last male to copulate sires 88% of the offspring in P. phalangioides, neither fighting nor courtship activity increased before the female laid a batch of eggs. This suggests that males have no indication of the timing of oviposition.