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ABC releases MMA judging infographics, plans changes to downed fighter & eye poke rules

The Association of Boxing Commissions is hoping to provide more clarity to judging as well as resolving ongoing confusion over what constitutes a downed opponent in MMA.

Kennedy Nzechukwu pokes Nicolae Negumereanu in the eye during their UFC 272 bout.
Kennedy Nzechukwu pokes Nicolae Negumereanu in the eye during their UFC 272 bout.
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Back in 2016, the Association of Boxing Commissions hoped to create a paradigm shift in the world of MMA, with a reimagining of what it meant to be a ‘downed fighter.’ To eliminate the gamesmanship from athletes around defending knees and kicks to the head by placing as little as a single fingertip on the canvas, the ABC announced that fighters would need to have both hands on the mat as well as at least one foot (or to have any other body parts on the mat) to be considered ‘down’.

Unfortunately, individual state commissions weren’t nearly so interested in implementing this new regulation as the ABC had been in passing it, and what followed was a patchwork of different rules around the country. The ABC hoped to address those inconsistencies back in 2019, with a shift back to letting fighters have just one hand down. In 2022, it appears they’re taking things a step further and moving all the way back to only fingertips as a standard for being considered ‘grounded’, provided that those fingertips are significantly weight bearing.

Combat Sports Law expert Erik Magraken highlighted the potential change to the ‘downed fighter ruling,’ noting that the changes wouldn’t be up for a formal vote until the 2023 ABC conference, next year.

Current Language - Grounded Fighter

Any part of the body, other [than] sole of the feet touching the fighting area floor. To be grounded, the palm of one hand (a flat palm) must be down, and/or any other body part must be touching the fighting area floor. A single knee, arm, (not fingers) makes the fighter grounded without having to have any other body part in touch with the fighting are floor. At this time, kicks or knees to the head will not be allowed.

Proposed Language - Grounded Fighter

An opponent shall be deemed to be a “grounded opponent” if at least one of the opponent’s hands is weight-bearing on the floor, including, but not limited to, the palm, finger tips, or fist, or if one or more the opponent’s body parts, other than a non-weight bearing hand or sole of a foot, is touching the floor.

More immediately, the ABC plans to vote this year on allowing a five minute recovery period for fighters who suffer an eye poke during a bout. That rule would mirror current standards for groin strike fouls. Currently, regulations allow referees some discretion to give fighters recovery time due to an eye poke, but are mostly focused on bringing in a ringside physician to check for damage or impaired vision before restarting the bout or waiving it off. Here’s the language of the new regulation:

A fighter who has received an eye poke as called by the referee is allowed up to five minutes to recover from the foul as long as the ringside doctor confirms the fighter may possibly continue in the contest once recovered. If the fighter states they can see and wish to continue, and confirmed by doctor, the referee shall as soon as practical restart the fight. If the fighter goes over the five minute time allotment the fight cannot be restarted and the contest must come to an end with the outcome determined by the round and time in which the fight was stopped.

The ABC is also considering standardizing the use of neoprene sleeve joint coverings across the various US commissions.

Alongside those measures the ABC released a couple of helpful pieces of judging information for fighters and fans. Amid what many fans seem to feel is a regular string of controversial decisions in high profile bouts, these graphics are meant to provide a clearer picture of exactly what judges are supposed to be looking for when they score rounds. Notably, the graphics point out the intended rarity of 10-10 and 10-8 rounds, as well as the intention that criteria like aggression and control are only to be considered in rounds where there’s no discernible difference between the striking and grappling offense of the competitors in the cage.

Hopefully revisions to the ‘downed fighter’ rule bring back the relative clarity to various US commissions that was in place before the 2016 changes. And at the very least, assuming the new eye poke regulation goes into effect, we won’t have to hear commentary members wonder why fighters don’t get the same amount of time they do for a groin strike anymore.