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ABC passes new MMA Unified Rules

New rules changes were proposed at the 2016 Association of Boxing Commissions convention by the ABC rules and regulations committee. The stellar group included fighters Randy Couture, Jeremy Horn, and Matt Hughes, dean of MMA referees ‘Big’ John McCarthy, and regulators Sean Wheelock, Matt Woodruff, and Brian Dunn.

The group proposed a refining of the definition of a downed fighter, means for referees to more ably stop eye pokes, heel kicks to the kidneys, new judging criteria, and more.


Under the Unified Rules, a downed fighter cannot be kneed or kicked. The current definition of downed is any body part other than the soles of their feet touching the mat. Some fighters would touch the mat with a finger, particularly when stuck on the fence, to avoid knees. Under the proposed rules, a fighter would need to have both palms or fists touching the mat, or anything else other than the soles of his or her feet touching, to be considered grounded.

The original form is copied at bottom. There were some last minute adjustments, most notably around the use of the word “impact” or the use of the word “damage.”

The new rules passed with near unanimity. Rhonda Utley-Herring, representing the New Jersey Athletic Commission, voted no, and offered a detailed explanation of why. The membership did not find it compelling. There was also an abstention from Tennessee, which no longer has a functioning athletic commission.

Proposed Updates for the Unified Rules ABC Conference 2016

1. 12 to 6 elbows- All elbow strikes legal to approved targets.
2. Heel Kicks to the kidney.
3. Grabbing the clavicle.

1. Striking the back of the head or spine-
“The back of the head is defined as the area covering a 2 inch wide strip that runs down the center of the back of the head starting at the crown and running straight down the (nape of the) neck and spine, including the tailbone.”
2. Butting with the head- Not allowed to head or body.
3. Kicking or kneeing the head of a grounded fighter- “A grounded fighter is defined as: Any part of the body, other than a hand and feet touching the fighting area floor. To be grounded, both hands palm/fist down, and/or any other body part must be touching the fighting area floor. At this time, kicks or knees to the head will not be allowed.”
4. Eye Pokes- Moving forward toward opponent with fingers outreached In the standing position, a fighter that moves their arm(s) toward their opponent with an open hand, fingers pointing at the opponent’s face/eyes, will be a foul. Referees are to prevent this dangerous behavior by communicating clearly to fighters. Fighters are directed to close their fists or point their fingers straight in the air when reaching toward their opponent.

Judging Criteria/Scoring:

The Judging Criteria needs to evolve and contain more updated and clear definitions.

The criteria should include Effective Striking and Grappling in the same line, as they are weighed equally based on which is more effective/damaging.

Criterion definitions need to be less limiting to terms such as: “number of strikes” and “mount” position. MMA Judges do not count strikes; they only assess the effectiveness/damage of the strikes landed.

There are more positions than “mount” that are equally or more effective in grappling. The way the rule reads now, advancing to mount position is the only position to be considered. The terms “dominant or semi-dominant” should take the place of “mount”.

The following is the proposed update to the MMA Judging Criteria. This criterion will work extremely well within the current 10 Point Must System of numeric scoring AND will also work very well if some form of numerical half point scoring becomes implemented in the future.

Proposed Judging Criterion & Definitions:

Evolve the Mixed Martial Arts Judging Criteria. Simplify the criterion to focus on the result of action (versus action itself). It needs to be stated that criteria is to be used in specific order and may not move from one criterion to another without the prior criterion being 100% even in the judges’ assessments.

In other words, Effective Striking/Grappling will render the high majority of rendered assessments.

Effective Aggressiveness is a ‘plan B’ and should not be considered unless the judge does not see ANY advantage in the Effective Striking/Grappling realm. Cage/Ring Control (‘plan C’) should only be needed when ALL other criteria are 100% even for both competitors. This will be an extremely rare occurrence.

Effective Aggressiveness and Fighting Area Control are back up plans, should the effect of striking/vault/grappling be 100% equal for both competitors.

Criteria may not be mixed and matched to assess a result.

-“Effective Striking is judged by determining the impact or damage of legal strikes landed by a contestant solely based on the results of such legal strikes. Effective Grappling is assessed by the successful executions and an impactful/damaging result coming from: takedown(s), submission attempt(s), achieving an advantageous position(s) and reversal(s).”

Top and bottom position fighters are assessed more on the impactful/damaging result of their actions.

This criterion will be the deciding factor in a high majority of decisions when scoring a round.

The next two criteria must be treated as a backup plan and used ONLY when Effective Striking/Grappling is 100%

– “Aggressively making attempts to finish the fight. “The key term here is ‘effective’. Chasing around an opponent with no result, impact or damage should not render in the judges’ assessments.

Effective Aggressiveness is only to be assessed if Effective Striking/Grappling is 100% equal for both

– “Fighting area control is assessed by determining who is dictating the pace, place and

– Examples of factors to consider are: imposing successful position in the cage when fighters

are standing separated, controlling an effective clinch or position for a takedown attempt, achieving and controlling dominant/semi-dominant ground position.

Fighting Area Control is only to be assessed if Effective Striking/Grappling and Effective Aggressiveness is 100% equal for both competitors. This will be assessed very rarely.

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