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New Jersey asks ABC to reconsider downed opponent rule after UFC 210 debacle

After the confusing end to Chris Weidman vs Gegard Mousasi, the New Jersey commission has asked the ABC to revisit the downed opponent rule passed last year.

MMA: UFC 210-Weidman vs Mousasi Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Larry Hazzard of the New Jersey State Athletic Control board emailed the members of the Association of Boxing Commissions today to request the change to the downed opponent rule be reconsidered after the events of UFC 210.

Commissioner Hazzard said:

'As you are likely aware, New Jersey opposed the 2016 ABC convention rule change proposal concerning the definition of a downed fighter in MMA.

This rule change opposition was rooted in health and safety concerns. We felt that there was a rush to change the rule and there was a lack of documented medical review and no trial period.'

This is something I’ve discussed before. The head of the ABC medical committee suggested there was no report created looking into the potential consequences of the rule changes, and no one I spoke to at the ABC or on the rules committee suggested there were any other detailed reports or studies into the proposed changes.

From the comments Commissioner Hazzard has made, and previous comments from the Brazilian MMA commission, it seems that athletic commissions were not supplied with any reports or studies prior to voting on the changes.

MMA Rules committee chairman Sean Wheelock has previously told me that some trials were conducted in some states, and ABC appointed referee and judge trainer Rob Hinds has stated that the rule changes were tested for a year before being implemented.

I asked earlier on Monday if I could see those reports, and if I receive them I’ll publish a follow up. It doesn’t appear that these reports were disseminated to the athletic commissions prior to the vote, though communication error is always a possibility.

Commissioner Hazzard went on to detail New Jersey’s concerns in more detail, and point to the Chris Weidman vs. Gegard Mousasi bout as a specific example of the new policy not accomplishing what it set out to do:

'We were all advised that the “rush” to change this rule was based on contestants “gaming the system” by placing their fingers up and down and that this rule change was the solution to this problem. It was also stated that the rule change would make the referee’s determinations easier.

Given the UFC 210 co-main event bout calls, the NJSACB now respectfully asks that the rule change be reconsidered at the upcoming annual convention.

While we reiterate the above previously stated health and safety concerns, we now add that Mousasi-Weidman proves that this change does not remedy the stated concern. Referees are still required to make difficult determinations as to whether a fighter is down and contestants can still place their hands up and down and up again. Mr. Mousasi himself stated the he believed Mr. Weidman was trying “to take advantage of the rules.” In short, the rule change caused a controversial ending to a very high profile bout. This had not happened under hundreds of UFC main and co-main events over the past several years under the prior rule.'

A few weeks before the new rules came into effect, I published a piece pointing out that the rule changes, especially the resulting “disunified” rules, would lead to fighters taking unnecessary blows in positions they used to be safe in, and referees making mistakes as they hesitate to consider the correct rule while watching for split-second changes in position. Here’s what I had to say at the time:

'Now we have a situation where referees have to make split second decisions to protect fighters, and not only do referees have to be on the same page about the rules, but they have to be on a different page depending on what state they are in. When they’re deciding whether a kick to a guy getting up was illegal, that decision now depends on which arena they’re in. That split-second decision just got harder.

We’re almost certainly going to see some fighters disqualified for forgetting the rules are different in Ohio and Indiana, and other fighters will take huge kicks to the head because they forgot they’re not safe in a position they used to be.'

As commissioner Hazzard points out, and as I mention in my previous piece, the new rule doesn't accomplish its stated goal. The aim was to stop guys trying to "play the game" by touching the ground to prevent their opponent being able to throw kicks or kness to the head. Chris Weidman showed fighters are still going to do that, but it's potentially even harder for referees to make that split-second decision now.

This was a rather predictable outcome of the changes, but it's not clear that simply reverting to the old rule is a viable solution either. If nothing else, I hope this issue leads to greater communication between the various commissions and arms of the ABC ahead of rule changes. Sadly, the deep political divisions between different factions of athletic commissions makes that unlikely.