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Four Rule Changes the UFC and MMA Need to Consider

There has been a fair amount of controversy throughout the last few UFC cards, eye pokes, low blows, controversial referee calls and somewhat poor referee decision-making have all influenced fights in ways that they should not have in the past month. The UFC is in a somewhat unique position for an organization as large as it is. The UFC is basically at the will of government regulations and are nearly unable to make decisions about their own organization.

If the NFL wanted to change first downs from being ten yards to fifteen yards they would be able to make that decision themselves, internally. There might be some push back from players, fans, coaches or owners, but it is the league’s decision to make. If the MLB wanted to make Home Runs worth two runs to encourage more homers, then they could do it. If the UFC wants to change the ruling of what constitutes an illegal blow, they are unable to do it without appealing for change to the athletic commissions and government bodies that regulate and enforce the Unified Rules of MMA.

Despite this red tape that holds the UFC back, they have promised to urge athletic commissions to consider some changes to the rules that need to be made. In support of the UFC here are four rule changes that these athletic commissions need to at least consider.

1)    Eye Pokes

Close fight in the third round? Getting tired and think your opponent might start an epic comeback? Poke him in the eye. Under the current rules, there is really no punishment for poking your opponent in the eyes, so long as you make it look like an unintentional foul. At UFC 159 Gian Villante was poked in the eye, and the referee immediately asked him if he could see, when he responded no, the bout was immediately stopped. It awarded his opponent Ovince St. Preux a technical decision victory in a very close bout that Villante could easily have stolen in the third round.

I cringe almost every time I hear Joe Rogan talk about the need for new gloves in MMA and blah blah, although recent reports are that the UFC is in the early development stages of bringing in a newly designed glove to prevent eye pokes. Whether or not these gloves ever make it into the octagon remains to be seen, in the meantime there are however some changes that need to be made immediately.

First of all, there needs to be a better enforcement and a stiffer punishment for eye pokes. Oftentimes the poke is the result of carelessness from fighters, either stepping in or stepping backwards with open hands. Fighters need to be automatically deducted a point for eye pokes, initially this will cause many fighters to lose points, but a stiff punishment will teach fighters that they can’t be careless. I will guarantee that the first time a fighter loses a win bonus because of an eye poke, many others will ensure that they keep their hands closed.
The other problem with eye pokes is the treatment of the foul from referees. With low blows fighters who are fouled are given five minutes of recovery time. With eye pokes, referees can either stop the fight or allow a recovery period based on their discretion. The absurdity of this is hilarious, firstly referees aren’t doctors and they shouldn’t be making decisions about whether or not fighters can continue fighting after an eye poke. The fighter should be given a five minute rest period similar to other unintentional fouls, however, due to the severity of a possible eye poke they should be inspected by the cage side doctor before being allowed to continue. Doctors should be the ones stopping bouts for medical reasons and there needs to be a proper amount of time given for fighters to gather themselves.

2)    Definition of a Downed Opponent

The current rules enforce that a ‘three-point stance’ constitutes a downed opponent. As long as the fighter has three points of contact with the mat, he is considered a downed opponent. Since this means their opponents are unable to deliver knees or kicks, this rule is being downright abused by fighters and is used as a stall tactic when a fighter is in a precarious position.

I agree with the rules of being unable to knee or kick the head of a downed opponent, as those strikes specifically soccer kicks or head stomps can cause serious damage to fighters. However, the definition of a downed opponent needs some tweaks. This rule should be used to protect fighters who are in a dangerous position, it should not be used by fighters who are trying to draw their opponents into accidental fouls or as a stall tactic.

My proposition for this is to use the knees or back as definitions of a grounded opponent. If a fighter has a knee on the mat, he is most certainly downed, similarly if the fighter’s back is making contact with the mat, he is also downed. By enforcing these guidelines to define a downed opponent it will increase clarity for the attacking fighter and will reduce the number of fighters who try to use this rule as a stall tactic, since dropping to their back or their knees would open them up to significant danger.

3)    Marijuana Metabolites as a Performance Enhancing Drug

A number of fighters have recently failed their post-fight drug tests due to ‘marijuana metabolites.’ However many current fighters, including the recently released Matt Riddle and the always controversial Diaz brothers are medical marijuana users, who are registered in their state to use marijuana legally. In addition to that some states have legalized marijuana and it appears as though many more may join in with legalizing or de-criminalizing the use of marijuana.

Despite what your personal opinion is on weed, it’s hard to argue that it’s a performance-enhancing drug. Especially when the only thing that is found in a test is the metabolites. Despite what many people think about Nick Diaz, his recent case against the Nevada State Athletic Commission after his failed drug test brings up a number of interesting points. First of all, his lawyer points out that marijuana is the only substance that is prohibited according to the NSAC, not marijuana metabolites. There is a significant difference between testing positive for marijuana as opposed to marijuana metabolites (which is basically an inactive ingredient as Diaz’s lawyer called it.) According to the World Anti-Doping Agency marijuana metabolites are not prohibited as a performance-enhancing drug.

The only case made for marijuana being performance enhancing is that it’s effects can dull pain, which would obviously be advantageous in a fist fight, however, the metabolites can remain in the system for weeks or months, which is certainly not affecting that fighters performance on fight night. In cases where fighters can be using marijuana legally they should not be punished unless they pop for marijuana on the test.

4)    Definition of the Back of the Head and Blows to the Back of the Head

The Association of Boxing Commissions has clearly laid out the ‘illegal striking zone’ at several times and has a visual definition in their files. The basic gist of the rule is that a strike that touches the ear or forward is legal, while anything behind the ear or towards the neck area is illegal. This definition is fairly widely accepted among all athletic commissions, but the enforcement of the rule about illegal blows needs to be more defined.

Throughout the past year in the UFC alone some fighters have been deducted points for striking the back of the head, some fighters have been disqualified for rendering their opponents unable to continue due to illegal strikes, some fighters have received no punishment at all for striking the back of the head and some fighters have received warnings for it. That’s a very wide gap in enforcement of this rule. Many referees abide by the generalization that if the blows come as the result of trying to land legal blows, they receive warning.

Let’s look at a recent fight between Gabriel Gonzaga and Travis Browne. Browne won the bout via TKO in the first round, due to standing elbow strikes, several of which landed illegally to the back of the head. In this bout he wasn’t even warned about the strikes, and the referee stated that he landed legal blows before and was trying to land legal blows, thus he let the illegal blows end the fight. This ruling in my opinion is pretty terrible.

First of all, that rule is there for a reason as rabbit punches and shots to the back of the head can do serious damage to fighters. Secondly, the onus needs to be on the fighter delivering the strikes. In other sports similar rules are enforce with the onus being on the attacker. It’s not easy for 300-pound lineman to not hit a quarterback after he throws the ball, but it’s expected of him and if he doesn’t do it, he’s punished. The same needs to be said for fighters. There needs to be immediate point deductions for strikes to the back of the head. Like my opinion on eye pokes, fighters who realize that they will be punished severely for these strikes will learn to adapt quickly.

The other side of that coin is fighters turtling up and trying to expose the back of their heads in a chance to earn a brief timeout or get a point deducted from their opponent. By the same token offer a stiff penalty for fighters who act in an unsportsmanlike manner and open themselves up to these shots. Tell fighters that if they turn the back of their heads when covering up, the fight will be stopped immediately. Again, I guarantee that fighters will not be exposing the back of their heads if it means they’ll lose immediately.

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