clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

ABC survey: At least 10 different MMA rulesets being used in North America

This Jon Jones knee of Anthony Smith at UFC 235 was illegal in Nevada, but would have been perfectly legal in 30 other jurisdictions, including California.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The Unified Rules of MMA are the furthest thing from being unified.

There are currently at least 10 different mixed martial arts rulesets being used in North America, according to a survey done by the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC). The data, obtained by MMA Fighting, will be published this week on the ABC website.

Major changes to the Unified Rules of MMA were voted on and approved by the ABC body in 2016 with the plan that they would go into effect Jan. 1, 2017. That has not happened in every jurisdiction.

Some state athletic commissions have passed the full package of “new” rules. Some commissions have chosen not to pass any of the “new” rules, mostly due to concerns about the new definition of a grounded fighter. Other commissions — like Nevada — have passed some of the “new” rules and declined others.

Last year, there were two new recommendations to the Unified Rules made by the ABC, most notably the addition of instant replay for fight-ending sequences. Those have been passed in some commissions, but not others.

There are now 30 commissions who have either adopted the full, “new” Unified Rules (some without replay) or are working on adopting them, per the ABC survey. The rest are either using the “old” rules or some combination of “new” and “old.”

Kansas Athletic Commission (KAC) boxing commissioner Adam Roorbach told MMA Fighting that he gathered the information about which jurisdictions are using which rules and will release it as a guide to help fighters and officials. In many cases, referees are officiating fights under different rulesets every week — or sometimes twice in a span of two days. Fighters are competing under different rulesets in almost every fight.

The main sticking point for the last three years has been the definition of a grounded fighter, which has seemed to splinter the ABC into factions.

The “old” grounded fighter definition states that anything other than the soles of the feet touching the fighting surface make a fighter grounded, including a hand or a single finger. When a fighter is grounded, that makes it illegal for his or her opponent to kick or knee him or her in the head.

The ABC’s rules and regulations committee wanted to change that rule because members felt fighters were gaming the system — and going against how the rule was initially meant — by placing one finger down in a clinch in order to become grounded, slowing down the course of the fight.

So, they agreed on a rule that states that anything other than the soles of the feet touching the fighting surface makes for a grounded fighter, except rather than just one hand or a finger, a fighter must put both fists or both palms on the mat to become grounded. A knee on the mat or a fighter sitting on the mat is still grounded, like the original rule.

The “new” definition of a grounded fighter was part of a package of rules that passed the ABC in an overwhelming vote at the 2016 conference. In that package was also a provision that eliminated heel kicks to the kidney as a foul. Some regulators have declined to pass the new grounded fighter definition and the removal of the heel kicks to the kidney foul due to what they say is fighter safety concerns.

The ABC’s medical committee passed the package of new rules in full in 2016 and Larry Lovelace, then president of the Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP), publicly gave his approval. But the ARP body has not endorsed the new rules.

ABC president Mike Mazzulli said there have been talks among commission directors about coming to some kind of compromise to re-unify the Unified Rules. But Mazzulli said the Unified Rules have never truly been unified since Day One, since different states and tribes can make any rules they see fit. The ABC is just a handshake agreement and holds no legislative power.

Mazzulli said he believes that some who have chosen not to pass the new rules have done so for “political reasons,” because they don’t support him as president. His term is up in July.

“We’ve already discussed the downed fighter rule and how we can fix that and make it uniform,” Mazzulli said. “And I honestly don’t know if it ever will be. Is it fair to make all these commissions that already accepted the rule to go back to their state legislatures? I have one question for you. Show me one instance where it’s more dangerous compared to the old rules? No one has never been able to provide me an example. Give me one example where a fighter was in peril fighting under the Unified Rules presently compared to the old ones. And no one can do that. … It’s been three years and it’s not too dangerous.”

Per the ABC survey, here are the commissions currently using the “new” Unified Rules, including the “new” definition of a grounded fighter, or in the process of adopting them:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Brazil – CABMMA
  • Calgary
  • California
  • Chickasaw Nation
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Grand Prairie
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Mohegan Sun
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • St. Croix
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Idaho and Tennessee are the two commissions working toward adopting the full “new” Unified Rules. Grand Prairie, Minnesota, Indiana, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Wisconsin are using the “new” Unified Rules, but do not utilize instant replay in fight-ending sequences, one of the 2018 ABC rules recommendations.

These are the commissions that are using the “old” definition of a grounded fighter:

  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • Ontario
  • Oklahoma
  • Texas
  • Missouri
  • Mille Lacs Band
  • Nevada
  • Virginia
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington

Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland and Michigan have not adopted any of the “new” Unified Rules, while Texas and Oklahoma have adopted all of them except the “new” definition of a grounded fighter. The others are a mixed bag of “old” rules and “new” rules.

Mazzulli said he does not like that the rules are disjointed, because it’s unfair to the fighters and “we wouldn’t have jobs without the fighters.” He said the conversation is ongoing about how to fix this issue of different rulesets in different jurisdictions, which UFC regulatory head Marc Ratner said “made a mockery” of the sport in 2017.

This is a persistent issue and could have had major implications at UFC 235 when Jon Jones landed a knee to the head of Anthony Smith that was illegal in Nevada, but would have been legal in 30 other jurisdictions, including just miles away from Las Vegas in California. One of Smith’s hands were down when Jones’ knee connected.

“We are working on it,” Mazzulli said. “We are discussing it. There is a discussion. It’s not like we’re looking the other way — that’s not the point. But I don’t believe the Unified Rules have ever been unified since the two states and one tribe sat down to write them in 2001.”

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting