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Mixed martial arts rules

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Most rule sets for mixed martial arts competitions have evolved since the early days of vale tudo. As the knowledge about fighting techniques spread among fighters and spectators, it became clear that the original minimalist rule systems needed to be amended. As rules evolved and regulations added, different branches of mixed martial arts have emerged, with differences between the different rulesets dictating different strategies. Similarly, shoot wrestling organizations, such as Shooto, expanded their rulesets to integrate elements of vale tudo into their sport. However, for the most part, fighters accustomed to one ruleset can easily acclimate to a different ruleset, as the basics of fighting remain largely the same.

The most prevalent ruleset in the world being used currently is the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, a set of rules that has been adapted by several state athletic commissions in the United States and used most notably in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The Unified Rules are the de facto rules for mixed martial arts in the United States, and have been adopted by other promotions and jurisdictions worldwide. Other notable sets include Shooto's, which were the first to mandate padded gloves, and PRIDE rules, after PRIDE Fighting Championships, which were also adopted by other promotions worldwide.



[edit] Evolution

Gloves were first mandatory in Japan's Shooto league and were later adopted by the UFC as their brand of mixed martial arts developed from a brawl to a regulated sport.

Some main motivations for these rule changes included:

  • Protection of the health of the fighters: This goal was partially motivated to clear the stigma of "barbaric, no rules, fighting-to-the-death" matches that MMA obtained because of its vale tudo and no holds barred roots. It also helps athletes avoid injuries which would otherwise hamper the training regimens that improve skill and ability and lead to better fights in the future.
  • Providing spectacle for spectators: The rules promote good fighters involved in action-packed fights rather than no-skill "street brawls."

Weight classes emerged when knowledge about submission holds spread. When more fighters became well-versed in submission techniques and avoiding submissions, differences in weight became a substantial factor.

Headbutts were prohibited because it was a technique that required little effort and could quickly turn the match into a bloody mess. Headbutting was common among wrestlers because their skill in takedowns allowed them to quickly transfer bouts to the ground where they could assault opponents with headbutts while not being required to alter their position.

Small, open-finger gloves were introduced to protect fists in punches. Although some fighters may have well conditioned fists, others may not. The small bones in an unprotected and unconditioned fist are prone to break when it hits a torso or forehead with power. Gloves also reduce the occurrence of cuts (and stoppages due to cuts) and encourage fighters to use their hands for striking, both of which enable more captivating matches.

Time limits were established to avoid long fights on the ground with little perceivable action. No time limit matches also complicated the airing of live events. Similar motivations produced the "stand up" rule, where the referee can stand fighters up if it is perceived both are resting on the ground or are not advancing toward a dominant position.

[edit] Common rules

The following describes some rules commonly found in MMA competition today.

[edit] Ways to victory

  • Knockout (KO): as soon as a fighter becomes unconscious due to strikes, his opponent is declared the winner. As MMA rules allow ground fighting, the fight is stopped to prevent further injury to an unconscious fighter.
  • Submission: a fighter may admit defeat during a match by:
    • a tap on the opponent's body;
    • a tap on the mat or floor;
    • verbal announcement.
  • Technical Knockout (TKO)
    • Referee Stoppage: the referee may stop a match in progress if:
      • a fighter becomes dominant to the point where the opponent is unable to intelligently defend himself from attacks, which may occur as quickly as a few seconds;
      • a fighter appears to be unconscious from a grappling hold;
      • a fighter appears to have developed significant injuries in the referee's view, such as a broken bone.
    • Doctor Stoppage: the referee will call for a time out if a fighter's ability to continue is in question as a result of apparent injuries, such as a large cut. The ring doctor will inspect the fighter and stop the match if the fighter is deemed unable to continue safely, rendering the opponent the winner. However, if the match is stopped as a result of an injury from illegal actions by the opponent, either a disqualification or no contest will be issued instead.
    • Corner stoppage: a fighter's corner men may announce defeat on the fighter's behalf by throwing in the towel during the match in progress or between rounds.
  • Decision: if the match goes the distance, then the outcome of the bout is determined by three judges. The judging criteria are organization-specific.
  • Forfeit: a fighter or his representative may forfeit a match prior to the beginning of the match, thereby losing the match.
  • Disqualification: a "warning" will be given when a fighter commits a foul or illegal action or does not follow the referee's instruction. Three warnings will result in a disqualification. Moreover, if a fighter is injured and unable to continue due to a deliberate illegal technique from his opponent, the opponent will be disqualified.
  • No Contest: in the event that both fighters commit a violation of the rules, or a fighter is unable to continue due to an injury from an accidental illegal technique, the match will be declared a "No Contest".

[edit] Fouls

The following acts are universally considered fouls in the mixed martial arts world:

  • Headbutting.
  • Eye gouging.
  • Hair pulling.
  • Biting.
  • Fish-hooking.
  • Attacking the groin.
  • Strikes to the back of the head and spinal area. (see Rabbit punch)
  • Strikes to, or grabs of the trachea.
  • Small joint manipulation (control of three or more fingers/toes is necessary).
  • Intentionally throwing your opponent out of the ring/cage.
  • Running out of the ring/cage.
  • Purposely holding the ring ropes or cage fence.
  • Grabbing or putting a hand inside the trunks or gloves of the opponent.

[edit] Weight Classes

[edit] Unified Rules

In 2000, the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts were codified by the New Jersey State Athletic Commission.[1] The rules were originally drawn up by the California State Athletic Commission, who had worked extensively on regulation, but its sanctioning of MMA was not implemented due to state governmental issues surrounding the budgeting process.[2] California officially sanctioned MMA on December 28, 2005, using the ruleset it helped devise five years previously.[3]

Since then, to create uniformity in the United States, many state athletic commissions have assimilated these rules for mixed martial arts into their existing unarmed combat competition rules and statutes. For a promotion to hold mixed martial arts events in a state-sanctioned venue, the promotion must abide by the state athletic commission's body of rules. The notable exception to this is Hawaii, where MMA is legal but there is no requirement to adhere to the Unified Rules.[4] Promotions that hold events on Indian reservations are under the jurisdiction of the Indian tribe government, which may require sanctioning by their own commission.

[edit] Rounds

Every round is 5 minutes in duration with a one minute rest period in-between rounds. Title matches can be sanctioned for five rounds but non-title matches must not exceed three rounds.

[edit] Attire

All competitors must fight in approved shorts, without shoes or any other sort of foot padding. Shirts, gis or long pants (including gi pants) are not allowed. Fighters must use approved light gloves (4-6 ounces) that allow fingers to grab.

[edit] Judging Criteria

The ten-point must system is in effect for all fights. Three judges score each round and the winner of each receives ten points, the loser nine points or less. If the round is even, both fighters receive ten points. In New Jersey, the fewest points a fighter can receive is 7, and in other states by custom no fighter receives less than 7.

[edit] Legal Techniques

The Unified Rules used to allow all elbow strikes except those hitting downwards with the point of the elbow.

Recent amendments and clarifications to the unified rules now allow all elbow strikes (except those to illegal striking areas of the body, for example, the groin)

[edit] Fouls

The following are fouls, as set out by the Nevada State Athletic Commission:[5]

  • Putting a finger into any orifice or into any cut or laceration on an opponent. (see Gouging)
  • Clawing, pinching or twisting the flesh.
  • Grabbing the clavicle.
  • Kicking the head of a grounded opponent.
  • Kneeing the head of a grounded opponent.
  • Stomping a grounded opponent.
  • Spiking an opponent to the canvas on his head or neck. (see piledriver)
  • Holding the shorts or gloves of an opponent.
  • Spitting at an opponent.
  • Engaging in an unsportsmanlike conduct that causes an injury to an opponent.
  • Using abusive language in the ring or fenced area.
  • Attacking an opponent on or during the break.
  • Attacking an opponent who is under the care of the referee.
  • Attacking an opponent after the bell has sounded the end of the period of unarmed combat.
  • Flagrantly disregarding the instructions of the referee.
  • Timidity, including, without limitation, avoiding contact with an opponent, intentionally or consistently dropping the mouthpiece or faking an injury.
  • Interference by the corner.
  • Throwing in the towel during competition. (forfeit)

[edit] General Conduct

  • Fighters are tested for steroids and other illegal substances.

[edit] International Fight League

Further to its team concept, IFL also implements small changes within the Unified Rules:

  • To keep within the 15 minute time limit for non-title fights, IFL uses three four-minute rounds, with an optional three-minute overtime period in case of a draw.
  • Extra-padded gloves are used.
  • Elbow strikes to the head are fouls.

[edit] PRIDE Fighting Championships

Historically, PRIDE's rules have differed between main PRIDE events and Bushido events.[6]. However, it was announced on November 29, 2006 that Bushido events would be discontinued.[7] When holding events in the US, PRIDE abided by the Unified Rules.

[edit] Rounds

The first round is ten minutes in duration and the second and third rounds are five minutes in duration. There is a two minute rest period between each round. Grand Prix matches are two rounds in length if more than one round is scheduled on one night.

[edit] Attire

PRIDE allows fighters latitude in their choice of attire but open finger gloves, a mouthguard and a protective cup are mandatory. It is within a fighter's discretion to tape parts of their body or to wear a gi top, gi pants, wrestling shoes, kneepads, elbow pads, shin guards and ankle supports, though each is checked by the referee before the fight.

[edit] Judging Criteria

If the match reaches its time limit then the outcome of the bout is determined by the three judges. The fight is scored in its entirety and not round-by-round. After the conclusion of the bout, each judge must decide a winner. Matches cannot end in a draw. A decision is made according to the following criteria in this order of priority:

  1. the effort made to finish the fight via KO or submission,
  2. damage given to the opponent,
  3. standing combinations and ground control,
  4. takedowns and takedown defense,
  5. aggressiveness, and
  6. weight (in the case that the weight difference is 10 kg/22 lb or more).

If a fight is stopped on advice of the ring doctor after an accidental but illegal action, i.e. a clash of heads, and the contest is in its second or third round, the match will be decided by the judges using the same criteria.

[edit] Legal Techniques

PRIDE allows the following techniques:

  • Stomps to a grounded opponent.
  • Soccer kicks to the head of a grounded opponent.
  • Knees to the head of a grounded opponent.

[edit] Fouls

In addition to the common fouls, PRIDE Fighting Championships considers elbow strikes to the head and face to be fouls.

In the event that a fighter is injured by illegal actions, then at the discretion of the referee and ring doctor, the round is resumed after enough time has been given for the fighter to recover. If the match cannot be continued due to the severity of the injury then the fighter who perpetrated the action will be disqualified.

[edit] General Conduct

  • If both fighters are on the verge of falling out of the ring or become entangled in the ropes, the referee will stop the action. The fighters must immediately stop their movements and will then be repositioned in the center of the ring in the same position. Once they are comfortably repositioned, they resume at the referee's instruction.
  • If fighters commit the following actions, they shall be given a yellow card by officials: Stalling or failure to initiate any offensive attack, making no attempt to finalize the match or damage the opponent, and holding the opponent's body with the arms and legs to produce a stalemate. A yellow card results in a 10% deduction/fine of the fighter's fight purse.

[edit] Bushido rules

PRIDE Bushido events instituted distinct variations to the full PRIDE rules:

  • Bushido bouts consist of two rounds; the first lasting ten minutes and the second lasting five. Intermissions between each round remain two minutes in length.
  • In full PRIDE rules, a total of three yellow cards results in a red card (disqualification). In Bushido, yellow cards can be given out in an unlimited number without disqualification.

PRIDE discontinued Bushido events in late-2006 and their rules were last used for lightweight and welterweight fights at PRIDE Shockwave 2006..[7][8] As the lightweight and welterweight divisions will now be on the main PRIDE shows, the rules for the lighter classes are also changing to reflect standard PRIDE rules.[9]

[edit] K-1 HERO's

  • Uses two 5-minute rounds, with an extra round option should the judges be unable to determine a clear winner of the fight.
  • Prohibits elbow strikes to the head, kicking by a fighter in the standing position to the face and head of a fighter in the ground position (When both fighters are in the ground position, kicking to the face and head of the opponent fighter is allowed). Knee kicking to the face and head of a fighter in the state of any ground position including 4-point position etc. is also illegal.
  • Has moved to a tournament format similar to that seen in K-1, with an eight man tournament. However, the final matches are not decided on the same evening, but at later events. It is unsure if this format will become the standard at this time.

[edit] Secondary Japanese promotions

[edit] ZST

  • Uses two 5-minute rounds.
  • Does not use judges. The fight is declared a draw if there is no KO, TKO, Submission.
  • Allows elbow and knee strikes only if they are covered by padding.
  • Does not allow attacking head with strikes when one fighter is in downed position.

[edit] Shooto

  • Uses A, B, and C levels. The C level is considered for amateurs only.
  • Every level has its own rules and restrictions.
  • The C level rules require headgear to be worn and prohibit striking on the ground.
  • In case of a knockdown (when any part of a competitor's body touches the mat solely as the result of a strike) the referee will perform a 10-count. The competitor has until the count of 10 to return to a standing position. Three knock downs in a single round will end the bout. There is also a mandatory standing 8-count.

[edit] Other mixed martial arts promotions

[edit] Cage Rage

  • Based on the Unified Rules of MMA.
  • All fights are three rounds in length.
  • Elbow strikes to a grounded opponent are considered a foul.

[edit] Cage or ring

MMA is often referred to as "cage fighting" in the US as it is associated with the UFC's octagonal caged fighting area. Most major MMA promotions in the US, Canada and Britain use the "cage" as a result of directly evolving from the first UFC events. There are variations on the cage such as replacing the metal fencing with a net, or using a different shape for the area other than an octagon, as the term "The Octagon" is trademarked by the UFC (though the 8-sided shape itself is not trademarked). In Japan, Brazil and some European countries such as Netherlands an area similar to a standard boxing ring is used, but with tighter ropes and sometimes a barrier underneath the lowest rope to keep grappling athletes from rolling out of the ring. The usage of the ring in these countries is derived from the history of Vale Tudo, Japanese pro-wrestling and other MMA related sports such as kickboxing.

The choice of cage or ring is more than aesthetic however, as it impacts the type of strategies that a fighter can implement. For example, a popular and effective strategy in a cage is to pin an opponent into the area where the fence meets the mat, and then pummel him with strikes. This is not possible in a roped ring. On the other hand, the roped ring can result in entangled limbs and fighters falling through the ropes, requiring the referee to sometimes stop the fight and reposition the fighters in the center. Some critics feel that the appearance of fighting in a cage contributes to a negative image of MMA in popular media.

[edit] Government regulation

In the U.S., state athletic and boxing commissions have played a crucial role in the introduction of safety rules because they oversee MMA in similar ways as they do for boxing. Small shows usually use more restrictive rules because they have less experienced fighters who are looking to acquire experience and exposure that could ultimately lead them to getting recruited into one of the larger, better paying promotions. In Japan and Europe, there is no regulating authority over MMA competitions, so these organizations have greater freedom in rules development and event structure. In general, a balanced set of rules with some organization-specific variances has been established and is widely used, and major rule changes are unlikely, allowing for fighters in one organization to transition to others easily.

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