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MMA rules committee to discuss 12-to-6 elbows, instant replay next

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS — In its first year of existence, the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) MMA rules and regulations committee recommended a package of amendments that ended up being the most significant change to MMA's Unified Rules since their inception.

And beginning next month, the committee will be back to work trying to put together another package for next year, according to chairman Sean Wheelock.

This week, the ABC general body approved the committee's rules package at its annual conference by a vote of 42-1 with two abstentions. Included in the amendments were clearer criteria for scoring, a revised definition of a grounded fighter and a foul to reduce eye pokes.

Wheelock plans on having a conference call with the other nine members of the committee, which includes the likes of John McCarthy, Randy Couture and Matt Hughes, next month, as scheduled. The whole group, Wheelock said, will be back in place to recommend more new rules for next year's ABC Conference at Mohegan Sun.

"We will literally do this until somebody tells me to stop," Wheelock told MMA Fighting. "If somebody tells me to stop and they're sick of me, I hope they bring in somebody new and do this forever, because it's important."

Wheelock already has some ideas about what he'll discuss with the committee coming up, beginning with the abolition of the ban on 12-to-6 elbows in fights. The rules committee unanimously voted to recommend that foul be removed from MMA's Unified Rules this year, but the removal was struck down by the ABC medical committee.

There just wasn't enough support for it this year, so Wheelock said he will propose the start of a pilot program in late 2016 into 2017. His plan includes asking five to six commissions to remove the 12-to-6 elbow ban temporarily and collect data on its usage. The rules committee will then present that data to the medical committee before next year's ABC Conference.

"First, let's see if it's even being thrown," Wheelock said. "Then let's see if any fights are being finished by it, if we're seeing lacerations, if we're seeing concussions. Empirical evidence."

The rules committee had success doing something like that this year, testing out proposed rules changes at multiple MMA events with willing commissions. Of course, Wheelock said, a promoter will have to be OK with his or her event being a kind of guinea pig. But the former Bellator play-by-play man and current Kansas commissioner is adamant that the 12-to-6 elbows foul should be scrapped, especially since all other elbow strikes are legal.

"To me, it has nothing to do with safety," Wheelock said. "If this were the old PRIDE rules and there were no elbows to the head of a grounded opponent and we're arguing for [12-to-6 elbows], that's a tough battle. But if we're allowing diagonal elbows and downward elbows and upward elbows and side elbows and forearm smashes, that personally doesn't make any sense to me."

The next thing he wants the committee to tackle is the use of instant replay, which is already being implemented by some boxing sanctioning bodies. WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman spoke about instant replay this week and Wheelock plans on picking his brain.

"If there's technology, embrace it," Wheelock said. "I don't use maps anymore. I don't use a phonebook anymore. I think we need to evolve with the technology."

The big questions would revolve around when replay would be used. Wheelock is thinking of a situation where a fight ends due to a strike to an illegal target. Replay could determine if the strike did land to something like the groin or if it was really landed to the body. Instant replay could also be used if a strike lands after the bell.

"We would have to really, clearly define what we're looking at," Wheelock said.

Another thing Wheelock wants to discuss — and he's not sure how it'll be received — is overtime rounds when a fight ends in a draw. The Unified Rules prohibit a fighter competing for more than 25 minutes in one night, so that would make an overtime round in championship fights a difficult proposition. It's also unclear what kind of support this would get from the medical committee, though it would likely have plenty from fans uninterested in seeing fights end in a tie.

"Maybe it's the worst idea ever, but I won't know if it's the worst idea ever or the best idea ever until we talk about it," Wheelock said.

Lastly, Wheelock wants to discuss making amateur rules standardized across the board in every state. Right now, commissions are doing a host of different things with amateur bouts and there is no uniform regulations on a national level. Wheelock is interested in putting together a sort of Unified Rules for amateurs.

ABC president Mike Mazzulli implemented the MMA rules and regulations committee last year when he was elected. Wheelock, McCarthy, Couture, Hughes, Jeremy Horn, referees Kevin MacDonald and Rob Hinds, ringside physician Dr. David Watson, Nebraska Athletic Commission director Brian Dunn and Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission director Matt Woodruff are the committee members.

Any rules changes recommended by the committee will first have to go through the medical committee and then be voted on by the ABC general body at the annual conference.

For the full details on the new rules approved by the ABC this week, click here.