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How Can MMA Foul Penalties be Improved?

(Photo: Anton Tabuena)

Nothing kills the buzz of a fight faster than illegal fouls. A thumb finds it’s way into the eye, strikes from guard get a little too far behind the ear of the opponent, and the king of fouls comes up from the knee into the cup. The official in the cage has to stop the fight, provide a verbal warning, and the crowd loses their steam while they wait for the fouled fighter to recover. As a fighter is finally able to recover, one can’t help but feel like something is missing from the rules in place as the fight continues after just a verbal warning. Examining the rules and regulations in place, how can MMA foul penalties be improved?

Rules and Penalties

(Photo: Jeff Fox)
(Photo: Jeff Fox)

The rules on the books are as follows:

“If a foul is committed: The referee shall call timeout.The referee shall order the offending contestant to a neutral location. The referee shall check the fouled contestant’s condition and safety. The referee shall then assess the foul to the offending contestant and deduct points if the referee deems it appropriate, and notify the commission, the corners, the official scorekeeper of his decision on whether the foul was accidental or intentional and whether a point is to be taken away.”

There seems to be an enormous divide between a verbal warning and a point deduction. The severity of the foul isn’t what deserves a point deduction, it’s whether or not the foul was intentional. If the referee decides to ultimately deduct a point, he or sure has to be absolutely sure of their choice. Under the 10-point must scoring system, that recourse can mean the difference between a win or loss if it comes to a judges’ decision. An intentional foul or a foul committed after a warning certainly constitute the severity of that repercussion, but how does a referee absolutely know that an intentional foul was committed? In the case of a warning and second violation, is the damage of two shots to the groin or having both eyes thumbed commensurate to a point off?

Accident or Malicious Intent?

(Photo: Josh Hedges: Zuffa LLC)
(Photo: Josh Hedges: Zuffa LLC)

Accidents are part of Mixed Martial Arts. You can set up a knee to the upper thigh as the opponent moves at the exact wrong time. You can aim a punch as for the head as your opponent ducks, putting your thumb into his eye. Intentional fouls are also an unfortunate part of the sport, and a fighter can try his best to sell the foul as an accident to the referee if he or she expects just a warning. In either case, all we can be absolutely sure of is that the fouled opponent takes serious damage. Five minutes may be enough time to recover a lot of strength of a low blow foul, but is it really enough to get you back to your full strength before the blow? A cup can only stop so much from a knee that’s going to impede your mobility and footwork for the remainder of the fight (if not the next day or two.)

Bridging the Gap

MMA needs a solid medium between a warning and a point deduction. A referee will call on his fight experience as best as he or she can to determine if a foul is intentional, but only the fighter will ever know for certain. Fighters harmed by an illegal foul need an equal repercussion to level the playing field of the fight. Short of instating and eye-for-an-eye policy, perhaps deducting an automatic half point on the part of the fouling fighter bridges the gap between a warning and the severity of a full point. In other sports organizations governing Football, Hockey and Basketball, fines by the organization are a common disciplinary action. From a PR standpoint, this does not seem like a viable option for fight organization. Because fouls happen frequently in MMA, and an equal amount of fines would make the sport look like it’s filled with brawlers that fight a very dirty style. Whatever the case may be, MMA organizations would stand to greatly improve the quality of their matchups by instating an automatic penalty equal to severity of the damaged caused by fouls.

How do you think MMA foul penalties can be improved? What repercussion bridges the gap between a point deduction and a simple warning?