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UFC’s Marc Ratner: Lack of unification in rules has ‘made a mockery’ of MMA

Outside of well-deserved ridicule on broadcasts, the UFC has remained mostly silent on the newly splintered nature of MMA’s ruleset, which began Jan. 1. Until now.

UFC senior vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner gave an impassioned speech focusing on reconciliation and unification last week at the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) Conference at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. For the first time, a UFC official commented publicly on just how frustrating it has been for the promotion with different rules in different jurisdictions on a weekly basis.

“It’s been very tough for us, running around the country and having to talk to each commission and saying, ‘We’re using new rules, we’re not using the rules,’” Ratner said (h/t Joe Leonard). “It’s actually made a mockery, in a lot of ways, of the sport, which I really, really hate.”

In summer 2016, the ABC body approved a package of changes to the Unified Rules of MMA in a landslide vote. The new rules were supposed to go into effect Jan. 1, but not every commission has passed them.

Some jurisdictions have a difficult time getting changes through their legislatures and will eventually pass the new rules. Others have no intention of ever making those changes, because of the presence of two specific regulation alterations: the new definition of a grounded fighter and the removal of the foul for heel strikes to the kidneys.

The New Jersey State Athletic Control Board (NJSACB), and other commissions in states like Ohio, Virginia and Maryland, have publicly stated that they are unwilling to pass the new rules based on health and safety concerns. The fear is that the new grounded fighter definition, in particular, will lead to more strikes to the head.

The old rule allowed a fighter to drop just a single hand or finger on the canvas to become grounded, making knees or kicks to the head illegal in that position. The new rule says a fighter must put both palms or fists on the mat to be grounded (or a knee or another body part that isn't the soles of the feet, like the former language).

The regulators in favor of the change say that it will actually be better for health and safety — it'll be easier for a fighter to see if his or her opponent is grounded and it is the hope that athletes will avoid that hand-on-the-ground-to-avoid-strikes position altogether.

California, New York and Kansas are among the states to adopt the new rules. The UFC uses the Unified Rules of MMA, including these recent changes, when it regulates itself overseas. Recently, the Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission (CABMMA) adopted the new rules after observing data over the last year.

“I love boxing and I love MMA,” said Ratner, who is a former Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) executive director. “They’re both really good. But for me to have to defend the rules makes it very, very tough. It’s not fair to the fighters, it’s not fair to the officials and it’s just uncomfortable. We’re getting hurt by the media. These television networks, they actually kill us. Every time I listen to all these broadcasts and they always say, ‘What’s wrong with this state or why haven’t we done this?’”

Ratner is also concerned about ABC infighting. A few commissions have broken off and formed a new group, called the Association of Combat Sports Commissions (ACSC). Regulators from states like Missouri, Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois, Washington, Oklahoma and Maryland are listed as members on the ACSC website. Former ABC president Tim Lueckenhoff of Missouri is among the published members.

On the splintering of the ABC, Ratner said, “It hurts my heart.”

“The time has come for reconciliation and unification,” Ratner said. “That’s my little soapbox. It’s the elephant in the room.”

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