Regulation of Amateur MMA – Fight Rules

I’ve posted a lot about the Iowa Athletic Commission’s endeavors to regulate amateur mixed martial arts matches and subject them to the same scrutiny as professional matches. Despite the loss of some small promotions that exclusively showcased amateur fighters, I stand by my statement that the regulation of amateur MMA is “good for the development of mixed martial arts in the state of Iowa.” The real question, in my view, is whether amateur MMA should be subject to the same regulations as professional MMA and, in particular, whether the matches themselves should be governed under the same rules.

The Association of Boxing Commissions has a set of unified rules for mixed martial arts, that are followed in most states, including Iowa. ABC does not have a similar set for amateur MMA, but it does offer a list of “suggested” amateur fouls that, in addition to professional fouls, also prohibits:

  • Elbow and forearm strikes
  • Neck cranks
  • Heel hooks
  • Knees to the head
  • Hand chokes
  • Spine attacks
  • Strikes to or around the knee joint
  • Dropping an opponent on his or her head or neck

the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board passed a separate set of rules governing amateur MMA. The passage of amateur rules by New Jersey is significant because, in 2000, New Jersey was the first state to regulate professional MMA and its rules served as a template for the ABC unified rules.

The New Jersey amateur MMA rules closely parallel the ABC’s list of suggested fouls, which is not surprising since Nick Lembo, counsel for the NJSACB, is also chair of ABC’s MMA Rules Committee. Some differences are that New Jersey also prohibits kicks to the head and any strikes the head of a downed opponent.

Many states do not have separate rules for amateur MMA, but most allow promoters to impose their own rules, as long as they are more restrictive than the state’s rules.

It makes perfect sense to have more rules in place to protect the safety of amateur fighters. That said, every additional foul that is added to the rules creates a bigger divide between the amateur and professional ranks. When amateur matches are designed, in part, to give fighters experience before turning pro and facing harder competition, the benefits of amateur experience are lessened if the two types of fights have substantially different sets of rules.