UFC 235

It’s Time to Unify the Unified Rules

Mixed martial arts is growing at an unreal pace. The recent deal between the UFC and ESPN is the biggest in the sport’s young history. Fans are starting to become more educated by the day – and that makes things fun.

When there is a mainstream buzz about an upcoming fight card, it’s almost as if the rest of the world gets to peek inside of our world of taboo cage fighting that we hold in such high regard. This was the case this past weekend at UFC 235 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The event was headlined by a light heavyweight championship bout between the champion, Jon Jones and top contender, Anthony Smith. Although the match was very one-sided in favor of the champ, there was an incident in the fourth round that will be a blemish on an otherwise nearly perfect performance.

In the fourth round, Anthony Smith found himself down on all fours against the cage, trying to get up. Jones waited for Smith to lift both knees off the mat and then struck him in the head with a knee while Smith’s right hand was still down on the canvas. Under the new unified rules – this strike was not illegal and could have resulted in the end of the fight and a TKO victory for Jones.

This is where the term “unified rules” gets very confusing. Some state athletic commissions have elected to adopt the rule changes that were proposed in 2016. Other athletic commissions have chosen to not adopt the rules. Las Vegas is even more complicated because it has chosen to enforce a mixture of the old and new rules to form its own set of rules. Under the ruleset that the Nevada State Athletic Commission upholds, Jones’ strike was not legal.

Many fans debated the legality of the knee Jones threw, which in itself suggests that there is a major problem. The second issue that occurred was when Herb Dean used the term “instant replay.” Instant replay, under the NSAC rules can only be used for a fight-ending sequence, meaning that if it is used, the fight is over. Dean changed his mind and instead deducted two points from Jones, which implies that the strike was not only illegal, but deliberate.

Since Herb Dean declared the strike illegal and deliberate with the point deduction, if Smith had chosen not to continue fighting, he would be awarded a victory via disqualification.

At this point I will spare you from more technical speak and say this – the rules need to change for the integrity of the sport. No other mainstream sport has different rules in different states. If the UFC is going to continue its growth and be considered as a sport with the same recognition and fanbase as baseball, football, hockey, etc. then there needs to be one set of rules that everyone agrees upon.

This change isn’t just necessary for fighters inside the cage knowing which techniques they can and can’t use, but for judges following criteria, referees enforcing the rules and fans who are trying to follow the sport.

The solution may be much more complex than simply every athletic commission adopting the unified rules. There needs to be a governing body of athletic commissions established that can keep each state on the same page as well as enforce repercussions for faults in refereeing and judging. This may be a utopian idea, but the dialogue needs to start somewhere so that we can continue the rate of growth and interest in MMA. Until then – at least there’s always whiskey.



You can hear more about UFC 235 on episode 129 of MMA on the Rocks

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