[Author: Ben Jose Jose, a second-year student of Law at IFIM Law School]
To understand the necessity of the unification of rules, there must initially be a clear understanding of the origin of the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, its transition to the United States of America and how it exists today.
The Olympics, in Ancient Greece, was home to the first known mixed martial arts contest. As exploration increased to different parts of the world, so did the knowledge and teachings of mixed martial arts. Wrestling, an essential part of mixed martial arts, started gaining popularity especially in the United States of America. Wrestling is not supposed to have any punches or kicks thrown but often competitors could not stop themselves from doing so. This not only got the crowd riled up, but people also started asking for more direct combats. Wresting promoters realised that serious money could be made in wrestling and physical combat and thus emerged pro wrestling. Massive organizations like World Wrestling Entertainment and Total Non-Stop Impact emerged from this era. The art of pro wrestling transitioned from a combat sport to a scripted show which focused on theatrics and entertaining the audience.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is another essential part of Mixed Martial Arts. The sport originated in Japan and was brought to Brazil by Mitsuyo Maeda. Carlos Gracie, a local Brazilian boy, watched Mitsuyo perform Jiu Jitsu and was fascinated by the sport. Carlos learned and developed in the sport, taught it to his brothers and set up the Gracie institute in 1925. The Gracie family enjoyed no rules combat. They enjoyed it so much that ‘The Gracie Challenge’ was formed- a no rules combat challenge where anyone could walk through the door and try and beat the Gracies by submission or inability to continue. This gained wide popularity and was even televised in Brazilian media.
Rorion Gracie, a second-generation Gracie member, travelled to USA and set up his own Gracie academy and started teaching Jiu-Jitsu. America was more focused on eastern martial arts and therefore neither the Gracie challenge nor the academy got any traction. Rorion decided to meet with his Hollywood friend who introduced him to a promoter and together they came up with the concept of hosting a tournament with no rules and allowed all mixed martial artists to showcase their talents. The Ultimate Fighting Championship was born on November 12, 1993. The event was a massive success. People enjoyed watching different art forms to see which were the best. As quickly as the sport grew, so did its restrictions. The graphic violence was banned in almost every state in America and the organization was struggling to find places to host the event. Senator John McCain launched a campaign to ban the UFC, calling it ‘Human Cockfighting’ in 1996. The UFC decided to cooperate with different State Athletic Commissions to create rules which the state would approve of. The first legally sanctioned UFC MMA event took place on September 20, 2000. ‘Unified rules’ were later adopted.
The main issue with these unified rules is the fact that not every state in America follows these rules. The reason America is the sole focus here is that it houses the biggest MMA organization, the UFC and numerous other major organizations like Bellator and Professional Fighters League. In 2017, the ‘new unified rules’ were proposed where the definition of a downed opponent was changed. The new definition states that a fighter must have both hands — palms or fists — down on the ground in order to be grounded, unless a knee or anything other than the soles of the feet are also down. If a fighter is considered grounded, then a knee or kick to the head of that fighter is illegal. This rule should be approved by all State Athletic Commissions. Instead, states like New York, Florida and California have approved of the new rules but major states like Nevada, Texas and New Jersey have rejected this definition. This creates a massive problem for the athletes to keep the differing rules in mind while competing.
For example, in UFC 263, Jon Jones, former light heavyweight champion, was almost disqualified because he forgot he was fighting in a state with the rules stating that kneeing a grounded opponent is illegal. Another time, Jon Jones again tested positive for M3 Metabolite, specifically 40 picograms of the substance. It wasn’t significant enough to improve the athletes’ performance but the Nevada State Athletic Commission refused to allow the athlete to compete and therefore forced the UFC to move the whole event to California which allowed the athlete to compete.
The inconsistencies in these rules and regulations is going to affect the athletes every time. The main problem is that MMA does not have its own regulatory body. Often it is boxing associations that regulate these MMA organizations. Boxing, even though on the surface level may seem similar to MMA, on a closer look is a completely different sport. This problem also raises the huge disparity in judges’ scoring. MMA is such a complicated sport with numerous different disciplines that at times judges do not understand how to score certain actions performed by the athletes. The only way to solve this problem is to create a nationalized body that governs all the states of America in terms of MMA. An organization like the NBA or the NFL is essential to guarantee that the sport of MMA does not lose its credibility. MMA is a sport that is still in its developing stage. It is essential that these rules are developed nationally as quickly as possible.
An example of a nationalised MMA body can be seen in India. The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation recognizes MMA India- National Sports Federation as the governing body of MMA in India. India being a large country and still being able to function with a nationwide body is an example that the USA can follow. MMA is one of the most interesting and difficult sports to train in. Athletes should be allowed to perform their best when the time comes and not be restricted with different rules at different venues.
PREFERRED CITATION: Ben Jose Jose, National Unified Rules For MMA – A Dire Necessity, SLPRR, <https://sportslawandpolicyreviewreporter.com/?p=1593> August 6, 2021.
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