3 rules in MMA that need to be changed

These rules in Mixed Martial Arts are ones that definitely need a second look at.

When North America was first truly exposed to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) with the inaugural UFC event in November 1993, the event was a one-night tournament built as having no rules and no limits.

Those early UFC cards actually did have some rules — that is, no eye-gouging, no biting and SOMETIMES no blows. Outside of that, it was anything goes until one fighter could no longer continue each match.

Of course, this kind of promotion did the UFC no favors. While this “no rules” mindset grabbed attention, it was scorned by politicians nationwide. Soon, “no-holds-barred fighting” was banned nearly nationwide as the UFC was plunged into the dark ages.

MMA in the United States eventually got an approved set of standardized rules in 2001, when a meeting held by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board approved what we now know today as the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts.

These three things are MMA rules where changes need to be considered

While there are MMA promotions as exceptions, the Unified Rules is now the usual ruleset of MMA events in the United States, and it is the most common form of ruleset adjourned to by MMA promotions and sanctioning bodies around the world.

The adoption of the Unified Rules was definitely a step in the right direction for MMA, as it was one of the first steps in the sport going from criticized and jeered, to accepted and celebrated. And, of course, as time has gone on, the UFC and MMA, in general, have gained a significant amount of popularity that some in those dark days may have never imagined.

That all being said, the Unified Rules were not perfect, and they evolved over time. And even 20 years later, there are still some common rules in MMA that some may consider questionable and potentially worth changing.

Here are three of those practices that might need a makeover.

1. Scoring (aka the “10-point must system”)

You hear it said at the start of every UFC event. “The winner of the round gets 10 points, his or her opponent nine or less, based on effective striking and grappling, followed by aggression and Octagon control, in that order.”

When the Unified Rules were first being developed and confirmed, the scoring of bouts took a page out of boxing’s playbook, utilizing what is commonly referred to as the “10-point must system.” As referenced, one fighter gets 10 points and the other nine or fewer, based on a specific set of criteria.

For a time, it worked, as the system helped give MMA a sounder and actual criteria into how a fight can be judged and made the sport look more professional. But over the last couple of years, everything about judging, from the scoring criteria to the points given out, has come under fire. And it might be a sign that change is needed.

While the “10-point must” boxing model of scoring was a good thought in initializing a uniform set of standards for MMA, it’s ultimately passé with the evolution of the sport these days. Judging an MMA fight has a lot more subjectiveness than judging a boxing match.

In boxing, you’re looking at who threw more, landed more, had the harder shots and who was controlling the pace of the fight. In an MMA bout, it’s not just about the striking. It’s also about the control in the clinch, the takedowns, the transitions and control on the ground — as well as if what you’re doing is mattering in the fight or not.

There’s also the question as to what is considered “effective” in striking and grappling. If a pair of fighters are against the cage, one is holding the other in a clinch while the other throws all the strikes in the round, who wins that round? And a lot of talk over the past year or so especially: If a fighter is in top control on the ground but does little to nothing with it, how “effective” is that grappling?

Keep in mind that the judging criteria weren’t clarified to be in a specific order until the start of 2017. And that’s also when judges were motioned to be a little more lenient with what is determined to be a 10-8 round.

This isn’t to bash the 10-point system or boxing; it’s just a matter that perhaps MMA — a different combat sport — needs changes in how fights are judged.

Perhaps one solution, as discussed in recent times, is bringing open scoring across the board in MMA. The Kansas Athletic Commission has promoted this and conjunction with Invicta. It’s earned a significant amount of praise, with belief that such a system can encourage losing fighters to take more chances and be more aggressive and could bring more accountability for judges.

Not everyone believes in such a system, however. Some believe that it will encourage the winning fighter to take fewer chances and make a more boring fight. UFC President Dana White has previously remarked that he believes open scoring will lessen the fun and drama of fights.

So then, there is one other solution: not judging fights round-by-round with scores, just judge the fight as a whole. If the fight goes the full distance, the judges are simply asked if the red-corner fighter won, the blue-corner fighter won or if the bout was a draw.

This was the judging format used in PRIDE and is still seen today in ONE Championship and RIZIN. These rulesets also have a different, perhaps better, judging criteria that prioritize effort to get a finish and damage and are clearer — and maybe more entertaining and understandable for both fighters and fans.

And in these promotions, we see a lot less controversy than we do in a promotion that uses the Unified Rules’ scoring like the UFC and Bellator.

2. 12-to-6 elbows

This is a classic, long-disputed rule, though it hasn’t received as much attention and discussion of late (perhaps because it’s been about a year-and-a-half since we’ve seen Jon Jones in action).

The strike in question refers to one with the elbow in which it goes from an upward position directly downward in a straight line (hence from the “12:00” position to the “6:00”). Any other elbow strike (a 9-to-3 or 3-to-9, something with an arch, like a 5-to-12, etc.) is fine. But the 12-to-6 is a big no-no under the Unified Rules.

The long-standing story, as previously promoted by Joe Rogan, is that the 12-to-6 elbows were banned when the Unified Rules were established because of television programs in which martial arts broke objects like cinderblocks and ice blocks with their elbows.

The real reason, according to veteran referee “Big” John McCarthy, is that commissions fear how dangerous, and potentially lethal, a 12-to-6 elbow could be.

In the case of the former reasoning, that’s just silly. In the case of the latter, what exactly makes a 12-to-6 more dangerous than any other elbow? You can still crush an eye socket or bust someone open with something like a 3-to-6 or a 5-to-10 or whatever other kinds of elbow with movement you can think of. Just look at the bloody mess Curtis Blaydes left Alistair Overeem in with his elbows during their UFC 225 bout.

There’s no reason a 12-to-6 elbow should be banned when just about every other kind of elbow is allowed under the Unified Rules. ONE Championship allows them with the Global MMA ruleset.

Or else, just don’t have elbow strikes at all. Strikeforce banned all elbow strikes, and PRIDE banned elbows to the head. Both promotions seemed to do pretty well for themselves during their existence.

3. The “Unified” rules aren’t unified

So there are plenty of choices we could have this last pick. We could talk about knees to the head of a grounded opponent (a la what happened with Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling at UFC 259). We could go into if soccer kicks and stomps to a grounded opponent should be legal (callback to Adriano Moraes vs. Demetrious Johnson in ONE earlier in 2021). We could talk about upkicks from the guard to a grounded opponent (look up Anderson Silva’s DQ loss to Yushin Okami in 2006).

There are plenty of possibilities to look at here, especially when it comes to rules involving a grounded opponent. But, a question for the dear readers out there: What DOES constitute a ground opponent?

The simple answer is: “anything but the soles of the feet touching the mat,” correct? The thing is, if you’re in a state like California or New York, and you put just a single hand to the mat, technically, that’s not a grounded opponent.

A vote in 2016 by the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) saw changes to the Unified Rules, including the definition of a grounded fighter. The thing is, not every state passed such measures. This means what rules are in place for a fight can very well factor depending on the location of the card.

This is why you hear UFC broadcasts mention whether a card is being held under the “old” or “new” Unified Rules of MMA, especially when it comes to things such as the definition of a grounded opponent and replays.

Does it not sound completely dumb that what is being called the Unified Rules are anything but?

And that’s the big thing. Everything discussed in this piece — from judging critera to scoring, and from the legalization of moves to the definition of a grounded fighter — means nothing unless we try to make the Unified Rules one, true “unified” ruleset.

The commissions are (or at least they should be) always looking out for fighter safety when determining their rules and regulations. If we had a true Unified ruleset, wouldn’t it be more benefical when then going on and addressing more serious, or controversial, topics like extreme weight cuts and better pay for fighters (including the potential extending of the Ali Act into the sport).

Having these split-up, un-unified “Unified Rules” quite simply may even be a big hurdle in the evolution of the sport today.

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Published at Wed, 11 Aug 2021 00:56:15 +0000

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