Kenny Florian Discusses Controversial UFC 131 Elbows From Diego Nunes Fight

UFC® 131 Dos Santos vs Carwin live at Rogers Arena on June 11, 2011 in Vancouver, Canada (Photos by Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

In the aftermath of the Kenny Florian vs. Diego Nunes fight at UFC 131, Nunes's coach Andre Pedemeiras raised some questions regarding the elbows thrown by Kenny Florian duing the fight:

Those elbows, the way I see it, for where they hit him, should be reanalyzed... I'm not taking Kenny Florian's credits for the win, not at all, but I took some pictures of Diego's head, and I want to send it to UFC, asking them if those spots are legal.

Florian spoke to Fight Linker last week and addressed this controversy with some interesting comments:

Diego Nunes' coaches were complaining a bit about the legality of your elbows in that fight / some of your elbows being to the back of the head. Any comments on that?

I saw the quote and I think something got crossed up in translation but it was obviously how I was throwing them (the elbows). This is actually something I ask every ref before a fight. What does he consider a legal elbow and what is back of the head. Big John (who was the referee in that fight) is the standard for refereeing and what other referees try to be and we literally went over this for 5 to 10 min in the dressing room before the fight for what he considers legal or not. He is the best in the business and he would have said something if he saw something that was illegal during the fight.

Often times, if a fighter moves his head after they have been hit straight on, they turn their head. This puts their head in danger, so they are putting themselves into danger by moving their own head. I don't know if they are making excuses for the loss and I hope they aren't. I know that Diego was holding the fence half a dozen times during the fight and I know for a fact that is illegal as he was warned numerous times during the fight.

As a fighter does it make you a little upset when you hear things like that? That they are trying to pump their guy up or take something away from your win?

Guys want to make themselves feel better and sometimes it can be hard and sometimes you search for those things to make you feel better. When I look back at my losses, each one the other fighters was better than night and they beat me. We both go through the same rules, the same camp, the same injuries and it's up to the guys who get into the cage to fight and make it happen.

Florian has always used elbows very effectively, but their legality has been called into question before, most notably by Joe Lauzon who posted pictures of his scalp after their 2008 fight that seemed to indicate Florian had indeed landed some illegal blows.

The problem with this issue, and the reason it will continue to come up, is the ambiguity in the rules. According to the Unified Rules of MMA, elbow strikes can not be thrown to the back of the head. However, as Florian notes, there is some interpretation as to what defines "the back of the head," and that exact determination is often left up to each referee. Some argue that this is defined by the area where a Mohawk would be worn. Others use the idea of a pair of imaginary headphones, stating that anything behind those headphones is illegal. In 2009, an attempt was made to clarify this issue by the Association of Boxing Commissions:

The Committee has found a compromise between the Mohawk definition and the headphones definition. The Committee recommends a nape of the neck definition. Basically, the group concluded that a strike that touches the ear is generally acceptable. Strikes are not permissible in the nape of the neck area up until the top of the ears. Above the ears, permissible strikes do not include the Mohawk area from the top of the ears up until the crown of the head. The crown of the head is found where the head begins to curve. In other words, strikes behind the crown of the head and above the ears are not permissible within the Mohawk area. Strikes below the top of the ear are not permissible within the nape of the neck area.

In the middle of the fight, it is hard to determine exactly where an elbow lands according to this definition, but I would be very interested to see the Diego Nunes pictures that Pedemeiras mentions and compare them to this description.

In the full entry, we'll take a look at Lauzon's head, and how those elbows should have been ruled.


Here you see the scalp of Joe Lauzon after his 2008 fight with Florian. You see evidence of three cuts here, which I'll call 1, 2, and 3 going from the top of the head down to the bottom.

It's hard to tell clearly from this angle, but it appears the cut at the top falls just below the crown, and inside the Mohawk area. According to the above statement on the Unified Rules (which, it must be pointed out, was written as a clarification a year after the Lauzon fight), this #1 cut would indeed be illegal. 

Cut #2 is above the ears, and outside the Mohawk area, therefore would be legal.

Cut #3 looks to be below the ears and in the nape of the neck area, so illegal.

Again, this clarification and definition was not in place at the time of the Lauzon fight, but looking at these cuts next to the current rules may help clear up some of the confusion surrounding these controversial strikes. Without pictures from Nunes's camp, it's hard to determine exactly how those elbows landed during the UFC 131 fight.

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