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Midnight Mania! Joe Rogan argues for legalized back of the head shots in baffling video clip

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I don’t think anyone believes the current rules and regulations for MMA are perfect.

Some rules make great sense and help keep the sport, well, a sport rather than an assault charge. “No Biting,” for example, is widely considered a good idea. Some rules face far more criticism, like the 12-6 elbow rule that dictates that an elbow cannot be thrown at a perfect vertical angle. Legend has it that the rule was put into place back in the day due to old Karate videos of men breaking bricks with that technique, and thirty years later, it’s still in place despite there being little evidence this kind of elbow is more impactful than any other.

Then, there’s style choices. Should knees to a grounded opponent be legal? One Championship says yes, and many fight fans are thrilled to relive great PRIDE FC-type moments. It’s a gray area!

Strikes to the back of the head, also known as rabbit punches, are the first category. The reasoning here is that shots directly to the back of the head carry an increased risk of doing damage to the cervical vertebrae and spinal cord. In fact, any shot that directly targets the spinal cord is illegal in MMA, because athletes getting paralyzed and potentially killed is BAD! The well-known example in boxing is that of Prichard Colon, who in 2015 fell into a coma and found himself in a vegetative state after absorbing several blows to the back of the head against Terrel Williams.

In short, strikes to the back of the head are bad news. In his latest wild comment this week, UFC color commentator Joe Rogan argues they should be legalized, since they happen incidentally anyway. Talking with Jorge Masvidal, the conversation moved from the normal realm of legalizing grounded knees to the weird and wild concept of permissible back of the head shots.

“I don’t even know that we should stop hitting people in the back of the head,” Rogan argued. “It doesn’t make any sense to me because a lot of knockouts, like high kicks, wrap around the back of the shoulder and they go right to the back of your head. And it’s legal.”

When guest Jorge Masvidal pointed out that back of the head shots are common in fight-finishing exchanges, Rogan continued, “In wild exchanges and scrambles, like Ciryl Gane and Junior dos Santos. He kind of hit him with an elbow in the back of the head. It’s like, it should be legal. I don’t understand why it’s not legal. People say you’re more vulnerable there, well, don’t get f—king hit there.

Eddie Bravo’s talked about this all the time, the old days of MMA, When a guy got someone’s back, they would just drop elbows down on his head, back of the head. If they have your back and the head is there, all this punching just to the side is not realistic.”

I’ve been in quite a few backstage rules meetings over the years, so aside from again mentioning that this is an insane line of reasoning, I’d like to clarify how referees determine whether a shot to the back of the head is a foul. As Rogan accurately mentioned, a kick is allowed to wrap around the side of the head, touch an illegal area, and still be considered fair game. MMA is chaotic, and when both men are moving, it’s considered part of the game.

Referees take issue when there’s control involved. In the clinch or on the canvas, for example, fighters must be careful with where their shots are landing. When there’s little movement involved, leniency is removed from the equation. If a fighter gets rocked and turns away, the attacking fighter still has an obligation to angle their shots and avoided blasting the brain stem.

Do back of the head shots sometimes happen in fight-finishing exchanges? Definitely, and occasionally it’s allowed to a troubling degree. Still, that’s not an argument for making them more common, which could result in devastating outcomes for athletes and the sport.


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