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Proposed rule changes for eye pokes, kicks to grounded opponent to be tested at VFC in Iowa

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Eye pokes are one of the most reviled things in MMA. They have cost fighters win bonuses and victories. Worse yet, they have caused serious injuries.

The Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) MMA Rules and Regulations Committee wants to do something about it.

The committee is discussing a rule change with the hopes of cutting down on eye pokes significantly, MMA Fighting has learned. The proposed regulation states that a fighter who moves forward offensively with an open hand and fingers pointed out toward his or her opponent can be called for a foul. An eye poke doesn't even have to take place -- just the fingers facing out and the fighter moving forward.

This potential new rule, and a host of others, will be tested out Friday during the Victory Fighting Championship event in Urbandale, Iowa. VFC 48 will air live on UFC Fight Pass.

All of the rules being experimented with Friday night will be voted on by the MMA Rules and Regulations Committee in the coming months, according to committee chairman Sean Wheelock.

"One of the best ways to figure out if these rule changes are good, if they're going to change the sport dramatically is to test them out and see what actually happens when you put them into play at a real event," Iowa Athletic Commission executive director Joe Walsh said.

The language of the new possible eye poke rule is as follows:

In the standing position, a fighter that moves offensively toward their opponent with an open hand, fingers pointing at the opponent, 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 up in the air when reaching toward an opponent.

There has been criticism that referees are too conservative with taking points away when eye pokes clearly affect the fight. This would allow officials to call a fighter for a foul before a poke even takes place, whether or not their actions are intentional or accidental.

"That's one of the areas where we're going the other way and making the rule a little more stringent," Walsh said. "I definitely think something needs to happen in the communication with the fighters in advance. I don't know if there are fighters specifically using that as a tactic or that's just the way the sport has developed, but something needs to be done about it.

Also being tested out Friday night are new rules regarding the definition of a grounded opponent.

Currently, a grounded opponent is defined as any fighter who has any part of their body other than just the soles of their feet on the ground. If a fighter is grounded, he or she cannot be kicked or kneed in the head. Under the proposed rule change, a fighter has to have both palms or fists touching the mat or another part of their body that isn't their feet touching the mat to be considered grounded. This would eliminate fighters bending over, placing their fingertips on the canvas to prevent kicks or knees to the head. Officials have called that practice "playing the game" for years.

In addition, another rule change being experimented with is be the elimination of the 12-to-6 elbow as an illegal maneuver. No elbow of any kind will be banned. Bans on heel strikes to the kidneys and grabbing the clavicle will also be removed.

The full list of proposed amendments is here:

Proposed Updates for the Unified Rules ABC Conference 2016

The Rules and Regulations Committee will vote on all these changes, but even if they pass through the committee it doesn't mean they will be adopted across the board. The ABC would then vote on them to become part of the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts in August and then each state will have to individually install them.

"One of the things that's really important to the ABC is to make sure that any rule changes that are done, that it's done in a very open and transparent way," Walsh said. "And that we're really studying this stuff, we're really trying to look at it and get input from a variety of different sources."