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Click Debate: New study will look at force of blows in MMA, including 12-to-6 elbows

Jon Jones would have a perfect MMA record if not for his disqualification loss to Matt Hamill due to illegal 12-to-6 elbows in 2009.
Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

A new scientific study could glean some much-needed information about MMA strikes — including regarding one of the most panned illegal blows in the sport.

Experts in the kinesiology department at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama have begun a study into the force of impact of different mixed martial arts strikes in assorted positions, MMA Fighting has learned.

The research was the brainchild of Alabama Athletic Commission executive director Jody McCormick and will take a look at strikes — from various angles — like hammer fists and elbows, in multiple positions such as guard, side control, mount and north-south.

McCormick serves on the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) rules and regulations committee, as well as the kinesiology department advisory board at Auburn University at Montgomery. He figured there was an opportunity for the school’s sports science lab to study MMA, which it had never done previously.

“As the sport is growing, we need to be able to keep up with it,” McCormick told MMA Fighting. “The athletes are getting bigger, the athletes are getting stronger. So we need to have a good model of the numbers of force generated for several different strikes. This is going to be studying legal and illegal elbow strikes — to legal targets. Only to legal targets.”

The information the ABC rules and regulations committee is looking for involves how much force each blow contains, if any blow or blows has more force than others and how that information could apply to changes or tweaks to the Unified Rules of MMA.

McCormick said the study will look at blows to the head and blows to the body. It will also look at 12-to-6 downward elbows, which are currently illegal in MMA. The theory when the Unified Rules were written in 2001 was that 12-to-6 elbows were more dangerous than others, though elbows with just a slight bit more arc remain legal.

Many prominent critics have surmised that those strikes in question are not any more forceful than others — and this study could confirm or deny those suspicions.

“It may also depend on what position the person is in when delivering the strike,” said Dr. Angela Russell, the AUM professor who is leading the study. “But it’s certainly possible. We don’t have enough data to draw a conclusion on that at this point, but it is possible that we may find that that one isn’t really statistically different than the others.”

Russell said she and others who are working on the study are currently in the process of collecting data. McCormick bought a force plate for the sports science lab and that is how they are calculating the strength of the blows.

“They actually hit the force plate and then the force plate tells us how much force they’re hitting with during the different strikes,” Russell said. “They can hit that and we have the ability to put the plate in different positions. For standing moves, we mount it on the wall. We can put it on the floor, we can put it on tables. If they need to be in a position like the full mount to use that — again they won’t let us use an actual person — we’re using a large pillow, actually, for our person.”

The first group throwing strikes at the force plate are mostly students and non-fighters, Russell said. They will act as the control group. Actual licensed MMA fighters in Alabama will be brought in, with the help of McCormick, over the next few weeks. Bellator donated gloves for the experiments, McCormick said.

“We were very excited to get this, because it is new and it is something that people haven’t really looked at it,” Russell said. “We’ve really enjoyed what we’ve done so far and absolutely we would love to continue. This is almost just sort of the introductory study. There’s certainly room — depending on what we find — where we could definitely look at other things in the sport and really build on this. It’s definitely something that we would be interested in.”

Russell said the full study will take a few months, but both she and McCormick are both hoping to have enough data collected to bring to the ABC body at the annual ABC Conference in July.

“We don’t want this to be only used by rules and regs,” McCormick said. “We want everybody to have this data, because it’s something that we need.”

Russell said Auburn University at Montgomery’s sports science lab has done studies on soccer, volleyball, cross country and CrossFit, but never MMA. McCormick said this could just be the beginning of the relationship between the ABC and the school.

“We’re not going to limit it to Auburn Montgomery,” he said. “We would love for there to be more research done throughout the United States in other credible higher-education institutions.”

McCormick said he used to be on the ABC’s medical committee and changes were sparse, because there was a lack of real scientific knowledge about the intricacies of mixed martial arts.

“Any time that we wanted to do anything, it’s always just been stating the fears,” McCormick said. “We’ve never really been able to give any factual numbers or data to anything that we’ve ever proposed.”

It appears that is about to change.