In early August it was announced that the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) would be revising the unified rules of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), changing the regulations for professional MMA competition. With names like ‘Big’ John McCarthy, Sean Wheelock, Randy Couture, Matt Hughes and Jeremy Stevens involved in the proceedings, some big (and sensible) changes are coming on January 1st 2017. These changes are designed to improve safety, allow score cards to better reflect a fight, and have brought back a weapon for guard players.

Though the unified rules of MMA are not legally binding internationally, or even within the United States, Australian organisations are more than likely to implement these changes given they often apply the unified rules.

John McCarthy was instrumental in the upcoming changes to mma rules

Big John was instrumental in the development of the new rules. Image: Instagram

These are the biggest changes to the rules since they were created over 15 years ago and while they’re not perfect, they’re a step in the right direction.

Here’s what they entail.

Have They Finally Sorted Out The Scoring Criteria?

Kind of, but not really. Scoring in MMA will still be based on the ten point must system, which was adopted directly from boxing. The ten point must system was designed to score a striking martial art and doesn’t really consider the variables of MMA. Regardless, this system has been kept and altered to make more sense for MMA.

Straight from the ABC’s website…

“…A 10 – 10 round in MMA should be extremely rare and is not a score to be used as an excuse by a judge that cannot assess the differences in the round…A 10 – 9 round in MMA is the most common score a judge assesses during the night. If, during the round, the judge sees a fighter land the better strikes, or utilise effective grappling during the competition, even if by just one technique over their opponent, the judge shall give the winning fighter a score of 10 while assessing the losing fighter a score of 9 or less…The score of 10 – 8 is utilised by the judge when the judge sees verifiable actions on the part of either fighter. Judges shall ALWAYS give a score of 10 – 8 when the judge has established that one fighter has dominated the action of the round…A 10 – 7 round in MMA is a score that judges will rarely give. It takes both overwhelming DOMINANCE of a round, but also significant IMPACT that, at times, cause the judge to consider that the fight could be stopped…”

Now 10-8 rounds will be much more common, no longer does a fight have to be moments away from being stopped by the ref for a judge to score a 10-8 round. It seems as though what was previously considered to be a 10-8, can now be scored a 10-7.

While this change will surely allow scorecards to better reflect the action, it still doesn’t overcome the problem of a system designed for a completely different sport, or the fact that many judges have next to no understanding of the sport.

What Is A Grounded Fighter?

No more playing ‘the game’. When these changes to the unified rules of MMA come into place, a standing athlete will be required to have two palms/fists on the ground to be considered a ‘downed opponent’. Gone will be the days of athletes placing their fingertips on the ground to avoid devastating knees to the face in the clinch. If an athlete has his or her knee, or any other part of their body, on the mat, then they are also considered a ‘downed opponent’.

“A grounded fighter is defined as: Any part of the body, other than a single hand and soles of the feet touching the fighting area floor. To be grounded, both hands palm/fist down, and/or any other body part must be touching the fighting area floor.” – ABC

This is definitely a positive change that will reduce the ambiguity around one of the more controversial positions in MMA. It’s possible that athletes will exploit this rule or find loopholes in it, but it is a change that clearly needed to be resolved.

Extended Fingers And The Dreaded Eye Poke

By extending their fingers out at eye level a fighter can often control the distance by there being the threat of an eye poke. Before 2017 a referee could warn a fight and tell them to close their hand. That’s about it. We’re almost guaranteed to see at least one eye poke per UFC event, sometimes more, so clearly this needed to be addressed.

From 2017 on, should a fighter extend his or her fingers towards the eyes of their opponent; that’s a warning. A second infraction will see a point taken away from the offending fighter.

“Referees are to prevent this dangerous behaviour by communicating clearly to fighters. Fighters are directed to close their fists or point their fingers straight up in the air when reaching toward their opponent.” – ABC

The rules aren’t saying that a fighter can’t open his or her hand to parry strikes or during grappling exchanges. They just can’t intentionally extend their fingers towards the eyes. Fingers pointed at the ceiling or chest are fine.

Michael Bisping Knows A Thing Or Two About Eye Pokes. Image: Imgur

Michael Bisping Knows A Thing Or Two About Eye Pokes. Image: Imgur

If you don’t think eye pokes are an issue, have a look at Michael Bisping’s eye when you next see him on TV. After a being on the receiving end of multiple nasty eye pokes, the UFC Middleweight Champion’s eye is certainly not at 100%.

Heel Kicks to Kidneys

While it was acceptable for a fight to punch or kick their opponent’s kidneys, they could not attack that target using the heel. Now, should a fighter stall inside the closed guard of another fighter, be prepared to witness heel strikes to the kidney from the person on bottom. Whilst likely not fight ending blows, the fighter on top will surely need to adjust their position, potentially opening them up for a submission or sweep.

Heel strikes to the kidney from closed guard

This rule change gives a weapon to the Jiu Jitsu fighter that was taken long ago. Image:


Women’s Apparel

No more loose fitting tops. Women will have to wear either a sports bra or rash guard inside the cage. Otherwise, fingers and toes can get caught in loose fitting clothes and could potentially be pulled over an athlete’s head.

Women have also been denied the opportunity to wear grappling or yoga pants in the cage, instead being restricted to wearing nothing that goes below the knee (same rules as for men). This levels the playing field and stops grapplers from having an unfair advantage due to the added friction of long pants.

Grabbing the Clavicle

A fighter can now grab the clavicle of his or her opponent. It’s not initially clear why a fighter would want to grab the clavicle; our best guess is to be used as a grip during grappling exchanges or to force an opponent to move, similar to kidney strikes. We’ll have to wait to see.

The Infamous 12-6 Elbow?

The 12-6 elbow still remains an illegal technique. A fighter cannot bring their elbow down from a 12 o’clock position on a clock to the 6 o’clock position and make contact with any part of their opponent. According to ‘Big’ John, and others, this was because someone, a long time ago, saw footage of traditional martial artists breaking bricks with the technique and thought it too deadly to be included.

“Any variation of this straight up and down linear elbow strike makes the strike legal. Any arc, or any angle change from straight up to straight down makes the strike legal.” – ABC

So…you can throw elbows from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock off your back, which is essentially the same movement as a 12-6 elbow. You can also throw strikes with much more power behind them than a 12-6; round house kicks, spinning kicks, knees et cetera, without hesitation…but an elbow moving in one particular direction isn’t allowed…weird right?