SAN ANTONIO -- The Association of Boxing Commissions at its annual convention took up discussion of mixed martial artists exploiting the grounded fighter rule to avoid being kicked or kneed. The issue has fostered a long-running debate on how to address this behavior in the cage.
While many fans and pundits have pined for the removal of the prohibition of knees to a grounded fighter entirely, the commission decided to handle the problem by directing referees to address competitors in the pre-fight rules meeting with specific language they hope will deter strategic self-grounding by fighters.
In a letter to the membership, commission directors Nick Lembo, of New Jersey, Keith Kizer, of Nevada, and Bernie Profato, of Ohio, laid out the directive:
The ABC recommends that assigned referees discuss the following additional deviation at future rule meetings:
Referees should instruct the fighters that they may still be considered a standing fighter even if they have a finger or portion of the hand (or entire hand) on the canvas. In the discretion of the referee, a fighter who has a finger or hand on the canvas may still be legally struck in the head with knees and kicks. The referee may decide that the downed fighter is placing his or her finger or hand down without doing so for an offensive or countering maneuver in an attempt to advance or improve their position. The referee may decide that the downed fighter is instead simply trying to draw a foul. If the referee decides that the fighter is “touching down” simply to benefit from a foul, the referee may consider that fighter a standing fighter and decide that no foul has occurred. Additionally, a referee may penalize, via warning or point deduction, the offending fighter for timidity.
The entire document can be found on the Association of Boxing Commissions website.
Marc Ratner, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s vice president of regulatory affairs and a former executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission provided a video documenting abuse of the grounded fighter rule in recent UFC events. He also told Sherdog.com he views the steps the ABC has taken as a move in the right direction.
Profato stated during the meeting that he felt fighters, after being informed by referees in pre-fight rules meetings, would abandon the questionable tactic when faced with the potential of getting kneed or kicked without the benefit of a foul being called. In a follow up conversation, Profato expanded on his views and the possibility of fighters challenging this directive after the fact.
“All rules have to be interpreted,” he said. “What we’re doing here is giving the referee the discretion to either call a foul or, if in his estimation the fighter is playing games, allow the action to continue uninterrupted.”
Another key point Profato pointed to from the directive letter was the need for the fighter who is posting on the ground to advance his position.
“I really feel that by stating the fighter needs to be advancing his position it makes it harder for the fighters who would do this kind of thing to get away with it,” he said.
ABC President Tim Lueckenhoff was not sure the directive went far enough to address the problem. According to Lueckenhoff, by not voting to change the Unified Rules of MMA to adopt the change to the current rule, the commission may be setting itself up for future problems.
“First off, it is very difficult to get a rule change implemented by all the members,” he said. “Even if we did vote on it here, some of our members would have to go back to their states and have it approved by their legislatures; but I can see us revisiting this again next year or forming a committee to study it further.”
It is not clear if all ABC member commissions will implement the directive at this point.
In other convention news, UFC Senior Vice President, Business and Legal Affairs Michael Mersch addressed the assembled members and informed them that the UFC had successfully lobbied the Canadian government to clarify the 85 year-old law that outlawed “prizefighting.”
There was an exception made for boxing, and Mersch said a similar distinction was added for mixed martial arts. This could clear the way for the sport’s top promotion to return to Vancouver. The city’s athletic commission has since been replaced by a provincial entity, and the clarification of the law should pave the way for the UFC’s return and figures to lessen the burden placed on other promoters under the old setup.
The ABC also voted to seat its executive board including the position of president, which was won again by Lueckenhoff, Missouri’s executive director. This will be his seventh consecutive two-year term.
In response to the vote, commissioners also implemented term limits moving forward. Executives will be restricted to two terms for a total of four years. Lueckenhoff -- who ran unopposed -- told Sherdog.com he felt the term limits were established in response to his long tenure. He stated that there was a block of commission members that felt it was time for a change in leadership despite not giving any direct feedback on his past 12 years as the association’s president. As a result of the vote, there will be a change in 2015, when Lueckenhoff will be ineligible to run for the presidency again.