In Mississippi, 12-6 elbow strikes are allowed in MMA, even though they’re not in big fight states like Nevada, California or New Jersey.
In Tennessee, linear kicks to the knee are not allowed, even though they are in most other states that regularly hold MMA events.
Meanwhile, if you throw in the towel in Kansas, it’s an immediate disqualification.
While the 49 states that regulate MMA agree on most of the big rules in the sport, there are all sorts of quirks to the smaller ones among athletic commissions that oversee events, said Sean Wheelock, the chair of a new rules and regulations committee formed by Association of Boxing Commissions President Mike Mazzulli.
And even if you change the rules, Wheelock adds, there’s no guarantee it will be followed by every commission. Because the ABC has no statutory authority over its members, it can’t force them to enforce a certain ruleset.
It can, however, use its influence to make positive changes.
“It’s really a gentleman’s agreement,” Wheelock told MMAjunkie. “Nick Diaz is suspended by Nevada. In theory, he could fight in another ABC state or another commission. But they honor it.”
Wheelock, who in July accepted a position as an unpaid commissioner with Kansas’ athletic commission, got to know Mazzulli while serving as a play-by-play commentator for Bellator. Now a commentator for Titan FC, he was asked by Mazzulli to head up a new rules and regulations committee when Mazzulli stepped up earlier this year as ABC’s new president.
Wheelock and nine members of the committee are now tasked with re-examining the Unified Rules of MMA, the most widely followed set of guidelines for regulators. There are more than a few quirks to address.
Should 12-6 elbows be legal? Are heel strikes to the kidneys an imminent danger to fighters? What exactly is a 10-8 round?
The group includes veteran referee John McCarthy, UFC Hall of Famers Randy Couture and Matt Hughes as well as Matt Woodruff and Brian Dunn, who respectively head the Georgia and Nebraska state athletic commissions. They will meet monthly via teleconference. With six votes, they can pass recommendations to the ABC’s board of directors, which could then present them for a vote by member commissions at the ABC’s annual meeting. The next meeting takes place next yeare Aug. 1-4 in Las Vegas. If a recommendation gets 51 percent of the vote, a rule can be modified.
Wheelock said with the inclusion of state commissioners, the committee can also test certain ideas to see whether they’re realistic as additions or modifications.
Certain suggestions could have more traction than others, of course. Currently, elbows thrown with any degree of arc are legal, but those that travel straight up and down – hence the 12-6 tag – are not.
Because of 12-6 elbows, ex-UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones has one defeat on his record. Fighting Matt Hamill in 2009 in Nevada, Jones threw one of the strikes and was stopped by referee Steve Mazagatti, who disqualified him when Hamill could not continue. It is Jones’ sole professional loss; UFC President Dana White frequently criticized the referee and the rule.
“I know there’s some advocates of the north-south elbows,” Mike Mazzulli, who this year was elected to the post of ABC Executive Director, told MMAjunkie (Mazzulli also heads the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Commission Athletic Unit). “I’m always sitting on the side of caution and protection of the fighter because their careers are short enough.”
Among other rules to be reviewed, Wheelock said the committee will seek to clarify the criteria for a 10-8 round; what constitutes a grounded opponent, and what defines holding the cage.
One issue – whether or not female fighters should be disallowed from wearing t-shirts that could be used as a competitive advantage – came to Wheelock via the podcast he shares with McCarthy, who was instrumental in passing the first version of MMA’s unified rules.
“Everyone in the committee has an equal voice and an equal say,” Wheelock said. “One thing I personally want to look at is a cruiserweight division. I think it’s too massive a (weight) jump between (the light heavyweight and heavyweight division). What if we did a cruiserweight at 230?”
More ideas don’t necessarily mean more rules, however.
“We set policy and recommend policy, but we don’t require it,” Mazzuli said. “I told the commissions, the ABC is here for you. We’re not here to be cops and tell you how to run your shows because you’re big boys.”
State commissions aren’t the only ones with decision-making power. Promoters also aren’t necessarily bound to enforce certain rules when they conduct events in ABC-member states. Bellator, for example, outlawed all elbows in the first two rounds of its early tournaments to avoid fighters being eliminated after suffering a cut.
Wheelock, however, believes that new and more strictly defined rules are a positive, in part, because they allow promoters more choices. Rule changes that make sense should become a part of the sport and bring consistency to the action inside the cage.
“That’s the beauty of it,” Wheelock said. “Let’s say we vote to put in a cruiserweight division. That doesn’t mean the UFC or Bellator or WSOF has to have a cruiserweight title. It just means it’s available.
“We feel like if we make educated choices and recommendations and the ABC body votes it, most commissions are going to follow suit,” he said. “The ones that don’t, maybe they will follow it eventually.”
Wheelock likens the committee’s process to the NFL’s competition committee, which periodically examines the football league’s ruleset and recommends changes that make the sport safer and more exciting.
While the ABC’s version is a little different, Wheelock said its intentions are the same.
“What’s cool about it is we made recommendations, and none of us get paid,” he said with a laugh. “It’s about as close to altruism as you get. We’re doing it for the good of the sport, sincerely. And if people don’t like it, they don’t have to do it.”