MMA is a sport that plays itself out in iterations. Every new promotion is a little different, everyone has their own rules, and regulations, complicated by the various commissions, laws, and financial incentives. However, among these iterations, none has had as much influence on the overall development of MMA as a sport than the UFC. Their rule set has become the baseline along which all other rule sets are derived. Because of this I felt it most important to look at the many UFC rules, regulations, and guidelines for the worst of the worst, to see what they could improve, and hopefully, using the theory of trickle-down athletics, spread to the system at large.
1.) The 12-6 Elbow - Everyone knows this makes no sense. Hearing someone try and describe what it means, it is almost immediately clear that this is a terrible rule. I don't know that a single UFC event has gone by where I haven't seen a 12-6 elbow in some form or another. and I have seen it called exactly once. The idea behind it was noble, if misguided, but it is so hard to enforce and so ultimately meaningless, it just needs to be struck off the books.
2.) Gouging - Such an obvious rule failure, for something that should be so simple. I can count the number of times, on one hand, that I've seen a ref stop a fight due to an eye poke, before the fighter started complaining that he got poked in the eye. It's obvious that refs aren't watching for it, and too often, even when a fighter does complain, they fail to call it. Unfortunately it's also one of the most difficult rules to fix. The best option I can come up with is a combination fix. First and foremost openhanded jabbing and raking needs to be penalized like groin kicks, you get a warning, and then you lose points. And you have to penalize fighters for attempting the open handed jab, not just for making contact with it. Second, a secondary ref needs to be appointed to watch a monitor cage side to watch for eye pokes. He can then talk to the fight ref directly through headset and tell him to stop the fight. The ref hears his ear piece say "eye poke" he stops the fight, no question. And lastly, any fighter found to be directly faking an eye poke (Koscheck) needs to be fined and suspended post fight. I realize that no one of these things may solve this issue but it has to be hoped that a combination effort can turn a common occurrence into a rare interjection.
3.) Kicks/Knees To a Downed Opponent - This is tricky, because I know what it's intention is. But it has become almost purely a cheat. A fighter at no time should be allowed to place himself in a downed position to avoid getting kicked or kneed. The rules should be amended to say as much. I'm not arguing that we should go back to the full scale skull crushing rules of Pride. But a simple "fighters may not put themselves in a down position to avoid strikes" would go miles to alleviating the "I just put my hand down, how could you knee me" games that so many fighters are happy to play.
4.) Saved By the Bell - This is a rule that I get, I don't necessarily hate it. But I'm very interested to see the modifications done by Mestre do Combate in Brazil because I have long been of the belief that a fighter should not be able to use a time limit to escape from a fight ending situation. Much the same way as Pancrase's early rope escapes were a bane for the submission artist, the bell is a bane for fight finishes in general. Do you have a submission locked in at the end of the round, then the time keeps going for an additional minute. Is a fighter badly hurt by a strike and on the verge of KO/TKO, you get one extra minute. If the fight can't be ended in the extra minute then too bad, that's all you get. You could even make it 30 seconds if a minute seems too generous. This would of course put extra burden on the refs at the end of a round, but everyone hears the 10 second thump and that's your cue to start watching who's about to get KO'd.
5.) Spiking - This is another rule that I can't think of ever having actually seen applied. Even when people have been actually spiked. I think it's supposed to come into effect in some sort of alternate universe where a fighter might pick up an unconscious opponent and proceed to piledriver them like they're in the WWE, But I've never seen a ref even come close to calling it. Why have something that no one will ever enforce.
6.) Timidity - I've seen timidity called a couple of times, and Pride was certainly all over the yellow-card, flashing them seemingly whenever the ref remembered he had them. And it's one that I'm actually in all favor of. But if you're going to have it written down, please, please make use of it. Any time two fighters spend more than 10-20 seconds not engaging in a meaningful way the ref needs to warn them. If they are warned more than twice then someone needs to start losing points. If both fighters are passive then the ref can make a judgement call as to who he feels has been less aggressive and take a point. It's not fair, but if you're not fighting then you don't get fairness, and maybe a little unfairness will make you try harder. The fear a ref could instill by saying the next time I warn you one of you loses a point would be a great motivator.
7.) Banned Substances - I realize that this is not necessarily a UFC policy, although they do enforce it in places without their own commissions, so obviously they must have some sort of standard. Either way a real, relevant drug testing standard needs to be developed that does not treat smoking pot and doping as the same offense. Also, I hate to say this, but with the whole TUE thing, why should any fighter be getting busted for steroid use? All he has to do is get a doctor to testify that he needs it, which, from the look of doctors generally associated with athletic commissions can't be hard. Then he can dope nice and legal, and we can all know he's doing it, and ridicule him and it's fine. I'm totally waiting for the first female fighter to apply for a TUE just to screw with the whole damn system.
8.) Heel Kicks To the Kidneys - This is a rule that I haven't seen applied since UFC 4, or whenever Royce last fought in the UFC pre his Matt Hughes, "I swear I'm still relevant fights." How is punching somebody in the kidneys as hard as you can ok, but a heel kick is not. It makes absolutely no sense, and is exactly the sort useless officious horseshit that weighs down the rule book without adding anything of value.
9.) Grabbing the Fence/Shorts - This is another tough one. Good rule, never enforced. Once or twice a year some fighter will lose a point for flagrant fence or short grabbing, but for everyone time it happens it goes unpunished a hundred times over. Shorts grabbing I actually don't care about, with rare exception it has little to do with who wins a fight, but fence grabbing is a cardinal sin. And it's become an art that fighters have learned with the knowledge that at worst they get warned, and more often than not they can prevent a key takedown. I say if a fighter grabs the fence in a way that prevents a takedown the ref should stop the fight and restart it on the ground with the fighters in halfguard, or backmount if that seems more fair. If a fighter is grabbing the fence to prevent his opponent from moving away from him the fight should immediately be re started in the center of the ring. You cheat you get punished. If refs do this every time fighters will stop using these options to change fights.
10.) Scoring - This is a really big one that should be really simple. All the judges score cards should be displayed on the big screen in between every round. It's obvious that scoring methodology needs some refining, but the kind of internal changes necessary to make judges more competent are probably years away. In reality the best thing we can do for fighters to let them know how a fight really stands, and how likely they are to win or lose, is to show them that they are winning or losing as they fight. There is no good reason not to do this, and the UFC could make it happen tomorrow if it wanted to. For as often as Dana talks about the problems with judging in this sport this is real, easy change that the UFC could make happen and would make a huge difference.
That's all I got, but for me that's enough. These are ten things (probably minus the drug rules) that the UFC could change to improve the sport without tearing everything down and starting over.