Bloody Elbow has seen emails* showing dissension in the ranks of ABC members in the wake of a package vote covering 6 rule changes. The discord stems from two specific changes; the grounded opponent rule and the kidney strikes rule changes. Those changes were bundled into a single vote alongside universally popular changes to judging and women’s clothing, and to the rules on eye pokes and clavicle grabbing.
The grounded opponent rule essentially requires both hands to be on the canvas to be considered a grounded opponent, instead of a single hand. Having a knee or other body part on the ground still counts as a grounded opponent, but both feet and one hand no longer does. This potentially opens fighters up to more strikes to the head, especially while transitioning between fully grounded and fully standing.
The change to the kidney strikes rule means heel kicks to the kidney are now allowed. This is relevant in MMA because heel kicks from the open guard position can easily strike the kidneys, which is now legal.
The New Jersey State Athletic Control Board voted against the entire package at the ABC conference, due to their strong opposition to the standing fighter and kidney strike rules, while Tennessee and Mississippi abstained from the vote. Several other commissions, such as Ohio and Maryland had no presence at the conference, but all attending members except the three listed above voted for the package. It was ultimately passed 42-1 with 2 abstentions.
Following the conference, the Brazilian athletic commission, CABMMA, sent an email to state athletic commission representatives calling for more medical research/consultation to be done into the potential impact of the standing opponent and kidney strike rules:
"We are talking about the brain and kidney, two vital organs that should be medical concerns and well discussed before moving forward. We are aware that ARP was consulted regarding these changes but I would appreciate to see a more deep reavaluation on this matter from their end. I think this final approval has to be entirely by them."
CABMMA also expressed their dissatisfaction about how the vote was conducted:
"CABMMA is not a voting member, so unfortunately we were not aloud to be a part of it, but from my perspective this voting was done in a wrong way. It was all or nothing, putting in the same plate women´s clothing and kidney strike, clavicle grabbing and grounded fighter, and so on...It should of been voted one by one."
The Wyoming athletic commission, which was apparently not in attendance for the meeting, concurred, replying to the group:
"When I heard of the rule changes being purposed, and the manner in which it was voted on, I have to admit I was slightly concerned. As I have discussed with many of you before, when we wrote our state statute for our MMA board, we intentionally referenced the "Unified Rules of MMA" for our rules. By doing that, it allows us to immediately adopt any changes made by the ABC and its' rules committee. It also has its draw backs. If the rules change and we don't like it, too bad. So it's because of this that we have to have complete trust in the process.
In the future, I would like to see rule changes done one at a time. I don't think rule clarification and rules changes should be done in one vote. "
I have reason to believe that other commissions not mentioned in this article are similarly dissatisfied with some of the changes and the particulars of the voting procedure, but as of publication time, I have been unable to get any statements on record about this.
The machinations of a body like the ABC may not be exciting, but they have a huge effect on our sport. The ABC is an important organisation, and the existence of a unified ruleset for mixed martial arts improves the safety and universality of the sport for everyone involved. Different states upholding different rules is a potentially dangerous situation which should be avoided where at all possible.
There are already some divisions between some existing state athletic commissions and the ABC, and a competing organisation called the ACSC has been created. Marc Raimondi of MMA Fighting wrote about this recently, and there definitely seems to be a sentiment that the ABC has to resolve some issues to retain and/or regain the full support of some state athletic commissions.
*Only the most pertinent sections of the emails have been reprinted in this article. All quoted email content is verbatim.