The new unified rules of mixed martial arts revisited

The new unified rules of mixed martial arts revisited

It is the first fight week of 2017 and BJ Penn is set to make is return to the octagon one week from today against Yair Rodriguez. There are a few big changes in store for mixed martial arts in 2017 on the rules side, and while we showed you a video from veteran MMA referee John McCarthy last month, we felt it important to revisit some of the new rules as we are now closer to seeing them implemented.

First, a look at rules that were previously deemed a foul that are now legal:

Heel Kicks to the Kidney

The new unified rules of mixed martial arts revisitedHeel kicks to the kidney were legal in the early days of the UFC. It wasn’t until the first set of unified rules went into effect in the year 2000 that the technique was classified as illegal. That has now changed. When a fighter is in his or her guard they are now allowed to heel kick their opponents in the kidney. Kicks to the legs and buttocks were always and are still legal, the spine is of course still off limits.

Grabbing the Clavicle

A rule change that is likely to not have much impact on a fight is that you can now grab the clavicle. While it was a foul that was rarely, if ever, seen, grabbing the clavicle for leverage or technique is well within a fighter’s rights now. Grabbing or pinching of the skin and flesh is still illegal, however.


Now, a rule change that looks to eliminate eye injuries:

Extending Fingers Towards and Opponent’s Eyes

Eye pokes are a huge problem in fights. They can end a fight early, and sometimes even end a career early. Eye injuries are serious and a simple poke has torn enough retinas that making it illegal to extend your fingers towards an opponent’s eyes was a necessary move. A fighter can have his fingers extended if his hands are up or down, but once he or she begins to move that arm forward that fist needs to be closed. Jon Jones has been guilty of numerous eye pokes and hopefully this rule curtails the eye poke epidemic.


Grounded Fighters

Hoping to clear up what some deem as a gray area, the new unified rules make it much more clear what a “grounded” fighter is. We saw how confusing it can be at UFC 207 when a match between Tim Means and Alex Oliveira ended in a “no contest”. Means landed two knees to Oliveira, who had his hand on the mat at the time. Oliveria was unable to continue and the referee ruled the knees involuntary. There was confusion between the fighters, the referee, and UFC vide-president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner on what the correct rule was.

The new way to deem a fighter “grounded” in the words of John McCarthy:

  • “When we talk about a grounded opponent, when it comes to them being on their feet, if they are in stand-up position and they decide to put one hand down like they did in the past, they are not a grounded opponent.
  • “If they have both feet on the ground, they would have to have both hands touch the ground to put themselves in a position where they are determined to be grounded by the official, where they cannot be kicked or kneed to the face.”
  • “If a fighter has both hands up and puts one knee on the ground, he is a grounded fighter. If you’ve got a fighter with both hands in the air and his butt is on the ground, he is a grounded fighter. If you’ve got a situation where a fighter has anything more than his hands and feet on the ground, they are grounded and cannot be legally kicked or kneed to the face under this rule.”

Additionally, if a fighter has one hand on the mat, his opponent can now stomp that hand.

And now for the heavy one, the one that’s sure to have an impact on fights: he scoring system.

New Scoring System

We have seen countless matches decided by less than stellar decisions by the judges. For far too long MMA fights have been judged the same as boxing matches, which is simply the wrong way to do it. There are way too many factors in mixed martial arts for it to be judged the same way.The new unified rules of mixed martial arts revisited

Judging now is aiming to be more clear cut. Simply being the aggressor in a round will not be enough to give you the round unless that aggression is converted into offense. McCarthy explained that judges will be looking for the “3-D’s” – damage, domination, and duration.

If a fighter has been damaged and dominated in a round, the round should be scored 10-8. If the domination element is not prevalent, judges should look at how long the duration of the damage lasted and how much of an impact it had on the fight before declaring the round a 10-8. If there is no damage, judges need to look at the duration of the domination that occurred in the round. Got it? Good.

Another good change is that they are looking at more quality than quantity. McCarthy explains, “We’re looking for big power that has an impact on the fight. This is not a game of numbers. If you are giving more credit to numbers than quality, you’re making a mistake. If you have one fighter that lands six jabs fighting a guy who lands one beautiful right cross that hurts his opponent, that one person with the right cross is winning our fight.”

In the new system, McCarthy explains that the rounds should be scored as follows:

  • 10-10 round to be scored for a completely even fight
  • 10-9 to be scored for marginal round win for one fighter
  • 10-8 to be scored when there is a large margin between fighters at the end of a round
  • 10-7 to be scored when there is overwhelming damage and domination in a round

It’s only a matter of time before the new scoring system as a huge effect on the outcome of a title fight, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As was previously stated, the way of scoring fights like a boxing match is antiquated as it pertains to mixed martial arts.

We are primed and ready for another big year for MMA in 2017 and look forward to the rule changes making the sport safer and more exciting. There has been much talk lately about fighters needing to evolve, well in 2017 the onus is on the judges to evolve as well.