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Shots After The Bell: No one seems to know what’s legal or illegal any more

It’s official: nobody can agree on anything any more, not even the simplest of MMA rules.


We’ve spent the past couple ‘Shots After The Bell’ columns raging against the machine that is the worldwide athletic commission system and their referees that refuse to enforce the rules, even when fouls as serious as eye gouging go down. I don’t want to keep repeating myself here, but fortunately it seems like the MMA rules clusterf**k is a gem with many facets that reflect with endless new angles of uncertainty and confusion.

Forget the refs not having the balls to call a foul and take a point. Let’s talk about the fact that no one seems to know what a real foul is any more. Starting with what you’d think would be a really easy example of a foul: the spike.

The Unified Rules of MMA specifically say “Spiking an opponent to the canvas on his head or neck” is a foul, which seems pretty straight forward until you realize the word ‘spiking’ may seem pretty clear at first but suddenly becomes a bit foggy in practice. Like ... was this thing Russell Doane unleashed on Rani Yahya in the Fight Pass prelims of UFC Orlando a spike?

I argued yes on Twitter but was succinctly rebuffed.

At first I was all like “Whatever, who takes rules advice from Lord Honky Humungus?” But if you check out his profile, the guy clearly watches more MMA than 99.9% of the population. Maybe he’s just a hockey mask wearing gimp who loves violence, but it still underscores the fact that even educated viewers of the sport have very different views on what constitutes even the most basic of fouls.

Was Jeremy’s knee okay because it barely grazed Emmett’s skull? Were his elbows to the back of the head legal because the fighters were scrambling and not stationary? Is all of this moot because in the end if the ref doesn’t call a foul in the moment, Stephens is technically in the clear?

Even the fighters don’t seem to know what’s legal or not. FOX Sports put up a video shortly after the event wrapping up some reactions from other UFC athletes on the legality of Jeremy Stephens’ knockout of Josh Emmett. Dominick Cruz, Michael Bisping, and Daniel Cormier couldn’t sort it out on the official post show. And most disturbingly, Jeremy Stephens had a pretty warped view of the rules.

“The referee Dan Miragliotta came in the back he said, ‘This is the new unified rules, that if two hands are down, you can lift one hand up to knee. That’s okay.’” Stephens said after the fight. “So if he’s on his knees and one hand is up, it’s okay to throw a knee. I’m not a dirty fighter. I never have been, my whole life. I saw an opportunity, I was looking for it.”

What Big Tan Dan failed to mention in Jeremy’s retelling of this story is that knees to the face are never legal if one of your opponent’s knees is on the ground. That’s a pretty shockingly wrong interpretation of the rules by a top featherweight contender, but it’s not all that surprising that not everyone is completely clear on the rules considering they vary from state to state. Having a quick 10 minute referee pow wow on what’s up before an event only seems to lead to misunderstandings like Jeremy’s.

I wish I had some suggestions on what to do about it all, but unless all the athletic commissions around the world decide to read my crappy thoughts and unanimously implement changes, they’d be pretty useless anyway. At least everyone now knows the rules are fuzzy at best and almost never applied, so at least the MMA world is operating under a kind of informed consent as to the SNAFU nature of things.

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