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ABC to vote on new definition of grounded fighter, new foul to address eye pokes

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS — Two potential MMA rules changes with particular interest to fans will be voted on Tuesday by the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) body.

The MMA rules and regulations committee presented proposed rule alterations regarding the definition of a grounded fighter and the reduction of eye pokes Monday at the 28th annual ABC Conference here at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino. Longtime official John McCarthy spoke for the committee.

In the proposed rule with regards to a grounded competitor, 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. When a fighter is grounded, a knee or kick to the head against that fighter is an illegal attack.

Currently, the rule states that a fighter is grounded if he or she has any body part other than the soles of their feet touching the canvas. That has led to many fighters doing what officials call "playing the game" — leaning over with a fingertip touching the floor to become legally grounded and unable to legally receive kicks or knees to the head.

With eye pokes a hot topic lately, as well as a dangerous part of MMA, the rules and regulation committee is proposing a rule that states a fighter can be called for a foul if he or she is advancing with fingers extended toward the face of an opponent. Referees will be instructed to clearly communicate this to fighters, much like the foul for grabbing onto the cage. Fighters will be told to close their fists or point their fingers in the air. A fighter who is warned multiple times can have a point taken — like any other foul — if he or she continues to move forward with fingers outstretched.

The committee is also proposing the removal of fouls for heel kicks to the kidneys and grabbing the clavicle. The ABC body will also vote on a clearer scoring criteria (more on that here) and standardized regulations for women's MMA apparel Tuesday.

All these rules have also been passed through the ABC's medical committee, chaired by California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) executive officer Andy Foster. Sean Wheelock, former Bellator play-by-play man and current Kansas Athletic Commission commissioner, is the rules and regulations committee chair. Legendary fighters like Randy Couture and Matt Hughes are also on the rules and regulations committee.

Even if voted in by the ABC body, individual states don't have to adopt any new rules. New Jersey State Athletic Control Board deputy commissioner Rhonda Uttley-Herring vocally dissented to the proposed regulations, with the exception of the extended fingers foul and grabbing the clavicle, on the basis of medical reasons. Uttley-Herring takes particular umbrage to the grounded fighter proposed change, worried that dangerous kicks and knees to the head are being encouraged.

"I tried to tell this body," Uttley-Herring said. "It's not in the best interest of the fighters."

Uttley-Herring said New Jersey would not adopt any new rules if they are passed, outside of those two exceptions.

"Absolutely not," Uttley-Herring said. "We will not."