ByDan Henderson, writer at
Official Creators profile of Dan Henderson. Former Pride Fighting Championship and Strikeforce champion. Instagram @danhendo
Dan Henderson

January 1 didn’t just mark the beginning of the new year, it also marked the beginning of a new era for MMA’s unified rules. From what I’ve read, I gather there are several states that won’t be adopting all the rules. For the purpose of this particular blog, we’re going to talk a bit about the three changes to the unified rules that are making all the waves with the media.


I think the idea of it is great, but a lot of it is going to be up to the referees and their judgement on what is considered having your fingers out negligently as opposed to the instances where you might be reaching to grab the guy’s head for a clinch—your fingers have to be out when you’re reaching out to do that—maybe he changes directions and ends up running into your fingers while you’re trying to grab hold of him.

Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports
Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of these guys have their fingers out as they try to block punches, and end up poking their opponent in the eye. Bearing in mind how often we see eyepokes, I definitely think there’s something to be done to make guys more aware to be careful, for sure. Taking points away is a good way to do that. It’s a rule change I can definitely get behind.

Referee Refresher Courses/Training

They missed the bus by not setting forth some extra requirements for the referees. They should absolutely be required to get together once or twice a year—the referees and the judges—to take classes, refresher courses or just converse about different or unique situations that may have arisen on their assignments. I also feel like they should have some athlete representation during those meetings to give an athlete’s perspective on things.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Kidney Strikes

I don’t see heel strikes to the kidney doing that much damage, to be honest. I think when guys sit on top in the guard and are just not active, that’s when it will start happening. Heel strikes give an opportunity to get the guy who’s not doing much to move off you and create space for some action, so I’m supporting this rule change, too. When a guy is on top throwing punches, the one on the bottom is not going to be sitting there throwing heel kicks, anyway. I never knew why they were illegal to begin with.

Downed Opponent Rule

You know, I think they should do away with that all together, and just allow knees to the head on the ground. You won’t have opponents just sitting in that position when they can get kneed, I guarantee it. They won’t stay there. They’ll either get up right away or they’ll pull guard. They won’t be sitting in a stalemate position when they can get kneed in the head. This new adjustment to the rule is a step in the right direction. It doesn’t allow guys to “play the game.”

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Soccer Kicks/Head Stomps

I competed in for several years where soccer kicks and head stomps were allowed. I see a lot of folks claiming they’d like to see this allowed in MMA across the board. I disagree on this one, though. It’s a little excessive and can be quite dangerous. It’s not anything I’d like to see instituted in the unified rules.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been fighting for a long time, under several different rule sets, and over the years, they’ve developed a set of rules that are safer for the fighters. Some of the rules are a bit much, but overall, I don’t think they’re too far off the mark. They’re not restricting too many things, and if there were any changes at all I’d like to see made, it would just be to allow knees to a grounded opponent. I think it would make for more exciting fights and would force fighters to not sit in positions where the potential to get kneed is there.

New Unified Rules of MMA (amended as of 1/1/17)

  • Heel kicks from the guard to the kidneys are no longer a foul
  • Referees to pay special attention that heel kicks are not hitting the spine
  • Heel kicks from guard to opponent’s legs, buttocks and back and remain legal
  • Grabbing the clavicle is no longer deemed a foul by the new unified rules of MMA
  • Fighters extending fingers out and towards opponents’ faces will be warned by referees
  • Action can be stopped for referees to warn fouling fighter. Fighters can also be warned without stoppage
  • After being warned several times, if fighter continues to foul referees can stop action and take points
  • Fighters can also be disqualified for repeated fouling with extended fingers towards opponents’ faces
  • Fighters are only determined to be grounded when they have both hands, as well as feet on the ground
  • Fighters with a single hand on the ground can now be kicked or kneed in the face
  • A single hand placed on the canvas can be stomped as fighter is not grounded
  • Success in grappling and striking exchanges to determine winner of rounds
  • Quality of strikes rather than volume to be given more emphasis
  • Control of grappling exchanges given emphasis in grappling-dominated fights
  • 10-10 round to be scored for a completely even fight
  • 10-9 to be scored for marginal round win for one fighter
  • 10-8 to be scored when there is a large margin between fighters at the end of a round
  • 10-7 to be scored when there is overwhelming damage and domination in a round


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