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ABC’s MMA rules committee recommends instant replay, four other changes

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Widespread availability of instant replay could be coming soon.

MMA: UFC 207-Oliveira vs Means Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) Rules and Regulations Committee has recommended the addition of instant replay to the Unified Rules of MMA, one of five recommendations that will go to ABC President Mike Mazzulli and likely forwarded to the executive and medical committees. Successfully passing through those committees could lead to a full vote by ABC members at their annual conference this July 24-26.

The vote for instant replay was 7-0 with one abstention, and replay would only be available when the referee feels “that a ‘Fight Ending Sequence’ was possibly caused by an illegal action (foul) whether intentional or unintentional,” according to a committee document reviewed by Bloody Elbow.

The referee would be the only one who could call for a review, not an executive director or commissioner. Replay could “either confirm or dispel whether a foul was committed that brought about the fight ending sequence,” and from there the referee could hopefully make the correct call on the outcome of a fight including:

1. A winner of the match

2. Having the fight go to the judge’s scorecards for a Technical Decision

3. Is the fight going to be a “No Contest”?

4. Disqualification

Committee Chairman Sean Wheelock told Bloody Elbow that committee members wanted to make sure replay wouldn’t disrupt the natural flow of a fight. So per the current recommendations, replay could not be used to restart a fight, to determine if a fighter tapped out, or to evaluate a possible low blow or any other fouls that don’t bring an end to the fight.

Instant replay is currently available in Nevada, but the committee’s recommendation, if adopted by the ABC, would make its availability much more widespread and hopefully standardize the manner in which it could be used.

In addition to instant replay, the committee unanimously recommended expanding the possible use of technical decisions, ending fights when someone loses control of a bodily function, and making MMA’s rules on hand wraps and joint coverings consistent and unique from boxing.

Under the current unified rules, a technical decision occurs if a fight ends due to injury as the result of an accidental foul after the 2nd round of a 3-round fight or 3rd round of a 5-round fight. It would go to the judges’ scorecards and the partial round would be scored as if it were a full round. Before these cutoffs, a bout would be ruled a No Contest.

The current rules could be described as the 2/3, 3/5 system. Compared to boxing where a bout has to go past the 4th round of 8-, 10-, and 12-round fights for a technical decision (a 1/3 system for 12-round fights), a much greater percentage has to go by in MMA. That didn’t seem fair to committee members, according to Wheelock, and so they recommended lowering the current cutoffs by one round. They considered using the halfway mark of the 2nd round, but decided against it for logistical reasons.

The committee’s new recommendations would send a fight to the judges’ scorecards for a technical decision if the fight ends due an accidental foul, equipment failure, or act of god after reaching “any part” of the 2nd round in a 3-round fight or the 3rd round in a 5-round fight. They’re essentially recommending a 1/3, 2/5 system.

“Some people have asked why we’re doing this, telling me, ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,’ Wheelock said. “That to me is the definition of reactive. We’re trying to be the definition of proactive. We want to be the poster of proactivity.”

Another recommendation of the committee is to ensure that losing control of one’s bodily functions ends fights or, at the very minimum, brings in the ringside physician. “If a combatant, during a round, visibly loses control of a bodily function (i.e. vomit, urine, or bowels), the fight shall be stopped by the referee and the combatant shall lose the contest by TKO,” per the committee’s recommendation.

If a fighter loses control of a bodily function in between rounds, the ringside physician would be called. If not cleared to continue, the fighter would lose by TKO.

The committee explicitly noted a certain substance that automatically ends a fight. “If fecal matter becomes apparent at any time, the bout shall be halted by the referee, and the offending combatant shall lose the contest by TKO.”

The impetus for the bodily function rule change came from a 2015 pro-am event at a roller-skating rink in Topeka, Kansas. One fighter was on the way to a dominant victory but vomited all over the mat in between the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Wheelock thought it was a biohazard and the fight should be stopped, but he didn’t know exactly what to do.

They ended up stopping the fight and the dominant fighter lost, but it bugged him. He thought he should have known exactly what to do.

As the committee researched the issue, doctors informed them that vomiting could be a sign of concussion or other serious injury not readily apparent to the referee. If it happens during a round, the new recommendations call for the fight to stop. If it happens between rounds, the ringside physician would be called over (and one would expect them to stop the fight). The presence of fecal matter would automatically stop a fight – whether during a round or in between – since it’s a biohazard and serious health risk for the opponent and referee.

The final two recommendations would bring consistency to hand wrap and joint covers rules and uniqueness to MMA’s needs. They state that one roll of soft cloth gauze (in any brand, but not more than 2” wide and 15 yards in length) and one roll of tape (not more than 2” wide and 10 feet in length) can be used per hand, not to exceed the wrist and tape can’t cover the knuckles. Wrapping the thumb is optional. No tape, covering, or protective gear of any kind can be used on the upper body, but “soft neoprene type sleeves” that don’t have padding, Velcro, plastic, metal, or ties may be used to cover knees an ankles.

“The general benefit of all these recommendations is to assist in ensuring that fights continue to be safe, fair, and evenly contested while making the rules and regulations easier to understand,” committee member and MMA official Rob Hinds told Bloody Elbow.

The rule against 12-to-6 elbows was also slated to be evaluated by the committee. Hinds confirmed that 12-to-6 elbows will not be addressed this year but the committee will continue to evaluate rule changes, including the possibility of more recommended changes this year.

Paul is Bloody Elbow’s business and analytics writer and is a licensed MMA judge for the California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Organization (CAMO). Follow him at @MMAanalytics.