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Want To Fix Lay And Pray? Legalize Upkicks To A Downed Opponent

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Wang Guan upkicks Koji Ando at Legend Fighting Championship 6. Photo by <a href="" target="new">Kenneth Lim</a>.
Wang Guan upkicks Koji Ando at Legend Fighting Championship 6. Photo by Kenneth Lim.

In 2009, the last significant changes to the Association of Boxing Committees unified rules for mixed martial arts were made. Roughly three years later, the changes have stuck and none seem to be forthcoming in the near future. At this point, it is safe to say that the rules for MMA have coalesced into something truly stable at this point.

However, "stable" does not mean "best" or even "pretty good". As the staff here at Bloody Elbow has noted before, there is much room for the improvement of the scoring/judging criteria, yet the idea of tweaking the rules delineating the parameters of the actual combat has not been discussed much.

As the resident wing nut* on staff, I believe that I have come up with one rule change I would love to see implemented in MMA: allow upkicks to a downed opponent. In my mind, this solves many problems by allowing greater offense for both the fighter on his or her back and greater opportunities to pass the guard for the fighter on top. The uptick in opportunities to lash out with damaging blows and to advance position would thereby ease the difficulty of judging and vastly increase the difficulty of "lay and pray" fighters actually eking out wins with their tactics.

* See my recent Staff Picks choosing Rashad Evans over Jon Jones and Thiago Silva over Alexander Gustaffson.

After the jump, the case for upkicks is made with many words and several pictures/GIFs.


Brian Davidson lands a glancing upkick on Jens Pulver at Titan Fighting Championship 18.

Photo via

The current ABC rules for MMA deem upkicks to a grounded opponent as a foul:

16. Kicking the head of a grounded opponent.

A grounded opponent is any fighter who has more than just the soles of their feet on the ground. (i.e. could have one shin or one finger down to be considered a downed fighter) If the referee determines that a fighter would be a grounded fighter but is not solely because the ring ropes or cage fence has held fighter from the ground, the referee can instruct the combatants that he is treating the fighter held up solely by the cage or ropes as a grounded fighter

This should not be so. A fighter who completes a takedown upon the other is already wary of elbow strikes, submissions and the squirming escape attempts of the other fighter. Adding in upkicks would not impose an unreasonable burden of caution upon the top fighter.

In addition to the upkicks not being a feather upon an overladen camel's back, they would decrease the ability of the top fighter to stall out and allow the bottom fighter to use far more offensive tactics. Recall the fury with which Diego Sanchez unleashed elbows upon Clay Guida and imagine if he had upkicks to push Guida up off him or even deliver significant blows to Guida by that avenue. I believe that if a fighter like Demian Maia had the ability to threaten upkicks, triangles attempts and omoplata attempts would be far, far more common and perhaps even finished. This could make fights like the one Maia fought against Chris Weidman or the bout between Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem more exciting than the dull, plodding shambles they were. A fighter who does not want to engage on the ground will back out of there much faster - and the fight stood back up much quicker - if upkicks are allowed.


Gegard Mousasi throws an upkick against Jacare Souza at DREAM 6. Photo for Sherdog.

While the offensive opportunities for the bottom fighter increase, the same happens for the top fighter. The close proximity to the opponent leaves the top fighter in excellent position to anticipate the upkick and even counter it by snatching the thigh and going into a leg drag pass of the guard. Furthermore, the head of the top fighter is not constrained by any canvas or mat and can freely move around while being struck. It is not necessarily a given that an upkick that connects will knock out or even faze the other fighter. Not all upkicks are the same as those delivered by Gegard Mousasi (on Ronaldo Souza) or Renzo Gracie (on Oleg Taktarov).


Many of the dedicated fans may recall the famous "victory" Yushin Okami holds over Anderson Silva from their fight at Rumble On The Rock 8 in 2006. As the GIF to the left shows, Anderson actually knocked Okami silly with an upkick and was subsequently disqualified for the illegal, although mightily effective, blow. The power of upkicks is considerable, yet may be overstated if only a few spectacular examples are considered. An upkick can be recognized and even nullified by a smart opponent.

Earlier in the fight, Okami actually had a great position that warded off upkicks and set him up to potentially reap the rewards of advancing position or implementing his own offense upon Anderson.


Anderson Silva fends off a guard pass attempt from Yushin Okami. Photo by Jeff Sherwood for Sherdog.

Look at Okami's positioning. He has placed his head out of danger of upkicks, has the posture to avoid a triangle and is threatening to advance position - and avoid further strikes - by passing the guard into side control. Okami wanted to shove the leg up towards the chest of Anderson and possibly grab the farside shoulder to increase the pressure. Anderson was able to fend Yushin off in this instance, but in the hypothetical future, many fighters should be able to implement a leg drag-style pass and threaten to take the back or establish dominant side control. This is the implementation of offense that we fight fans should be encouraging.

The following video shows exactly what I envisioned Okami and other future fighters doing to a fighter who misses an upkick:

The leg drag pass is one of the favorite passes for Brazilian jiu jitsu or submission grapplers on the elite level right now in and out of the gi, yet it is rarely seen in MMA despite its effectiveness and versatility. This is partly due to the "newness" of the pass and partly due to there being little incentive to work a guard pass or an open guard. As the video shows, the half guard will actually take a bit of a hit in terms of its effectiveness, if my vision is true to the consequences of this proposed reality. I have little to no problems with that as well.

This is a proposed rule change and will likely start controversies about the danger or likelihood of head trauma. I reiterate that I would not support a rule change allowing soccer kicks, stomps to the head or knees to the head of an opponent on his or her back/side. The immobility of the head of the person being struck is greatly diminished in those situations, while the mobility of the head of a person being upkicked is not limited by the canvas or mat. The goal here is to make a small rule change that could have great ramifications in terms of improving fights from a technical and entertainment point of view and from a scoring and judging point of view.

Am I truly an irredeemable wing nut here?