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Mixed martial arts does have rules, just not many

Mixed martial arts, or MMA, is the combat sport seen on national cable television in fights promoted by the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The structure of a MMA bout is similar to boxing or high school wrestling, with two fighters matched by weight and monitored by a referee for rounds of a predetermined number and duration.

While the sports are similar in broad strokes, the details are very different.

A boxer knocked to the mat has until the count of 10 to rise to his feet and resume the match. An MMA competitor knocked to the ground can expect the fight to continue uninterrupted.

A wrestling bout ends when one competitor succeeds in pinning the other’s shoulders to the ground. In MMA, the pinned competitor is left trying to cover their face against downward punches backed by the full weight of the other’s body and amplified by the impossibility of recoiling with the punch.

Boxers enter their rope-walled ring with fists swaddled in bulky, mitten-style boxing gloves; MMA gloves are light and thin with open fingers and the ring is walled with chain-link fencing.

Mixed martial arts began as a no-holds-barred, unarmed combat sport and has since evolved into a some-holds-barred sport under the regulation of various concerned athletic commissions.

The Massachusetts State Athletic Commission began oversight of the sport in 2010, promulgating a set of rules including a list of 30 acts prohibited at the professional level and 34 at the amateur level.

Illegal moves include head butting, eye gouging, biting, pinching, hair pulling, groin strikes, throat strikes, scratching, spitting and kneeing the head of a downed opponent.

Also prohibited is timidity, defined as “avoiding contact with an opponent, intentionally or consistently dropping the mouthpiece or faking an injury.”

While kicking the head of a grounded opponent is frowned upon, kicking the head of a standing opponent is acceptable — and crowd-pleasing — as are punching a grounded opponent; choking, except with the hands; knee strikes and manipulation of joints, excluding the ill-defined category of “small joints,” presumably those in the fingers and toes.

Elbow strikes are allowed at the professional level, excluding downward strikes with the point of the elbow, but disallowed at the amateur level.

If it isn’t covered in the list, it’s OK. Holding an opponent down on the mat in order to more easily hit them, known in the lingo of the sport as the “ground and pound,” is both allowed and encouraged.


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