Jon Jones is the greatest light heavyweight in the history of MMA and the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet. He would be undefeated right now if not for a disqualification loss against Matt Hamill in 2009.
In the first round of that fight, Jones got mount on Hamill and rained down blow after blow. Hamill would not give up, though, so Jones resorted to dropping elbows straight downward onto his his skull. Those elbows — dubbed “12-to-6″ elbows in the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) bylaws — are illegal.
With little warning, referee Steve Mazzagatti stepped in and stopped the fight. Jones had been disqualified.
That result still remains a topic of derision, especially for UFC president Dana White. And even now, the understanding of 12-to-6 elbows by fighters and fans alike is murky. Those particular elbows can only be thrown from the top and straight down. Anything else — say, an 11-to-5 elbow — is perfectly legal.
“It’s so specific, it adds confusion to the fighters and I think it’s unnecessary,” former Bellator play-by-play man Sean Wheelock told MMA Fighting. “It’s such a finite little thing. And no one has ever been able to give me a proper explanation of why that was put in the unified rules of MMA.”
Wheelock, an ABC-certified judge and referee trainer, was appointed as a commissioner on the Kansas Athletic Commission in July. But, more influentially, he was also recently installed by ABC president Mike Mazzulli as the chairman of a brand new MMA rules and regulations committee.
It is Wheelock’s goal to pattern the committee after the NFL’s competition committee, which has been instrumental in making changes to league rules over the years. MMA is still a young sport and Wheelock firmly believes it needs to continue to evolve and improve.
“Every year the competition committee asks themselves two questions: How do we make the NFL safer and how do we make the NFL better?” Wheelock said. “They study, they debate.”
Wheelock will be holding monthly conference calls with the committee, a powerhouse group of names he handpicked: Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, John McCarthy, Jeremy Horn, referee Rob Hinds, referee Kevin MacDonald, ringside physician Dr. David Watson, Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission director Matt Woodruff and Brian Dunn, the head of the Nebraska Athletic Commission.
“It only makes sense to have the fighters involved,” Mazzulli said. “That’s where Jeremy Horn comes in and Couture and Hughes. Sean is the perfect voice. He’s very articulate and he’s going to do a great job. I think it’s going to be very interesting.”
First on the agenda will be the aforementioned 12-to-6 elbows as well as the rule prohibiting heel strikes to the kidneys; a clearer outline of what constitutes a 10-8 round; and the definition of a grounded fighter.
Many of these things are vaguely written and unintelligible to fighters who are expected to abide by the guidelines. Some still think the definition of a grounded opponent is “three points of contact.” That is not true, Wheelock said. A single knee down means a fighter is grounded, regardless if his hand is touching the canvas.
“It’s shocking to me about how many people out there, fighters included, think that it’s three points of contact,” Wheelock said. “That’s like an urban legend.”
The actual definition of a 10-8 round is extremely unclear and much of it is left to interpretation, which can be a dangerous thing, Wheelock said.
“People say, ‘Well a judge screws up, big deal,’” he said. “Big deal? Absolutely. Fighters can lose their contracts, they can lose their bonuses, they can lose endorsements. One bad scorecard can significantly impact a fighter’s career.”
Wheelock hopes to start the conversation about these things and many others. If the committee comes to a consensus, a recommendation will be made to the ABC board of directors, who will then bring the potential rule change to the entire ABC body on a yearly basis. Any change, of course, will still come down to the specific athletic commission. Mazzulli has also started a rules committee for boxing led by Arizona Boxing & MMA commission executive director Matthew Valenzuela.
“I think the recommendations made to the ABC, I think the ABC membership are smart enough to realize if it’s something that’s best for the sport and more safe for the fighters, I think the ABC will look at that in a very positive light,” Mazzulli said.
In the interest of transparency, Wheelock has started a committee e-mail account to take suggestions from fighters, fans or anyone else who has ideas. The address is MMARulesAndRegs@yahoo.com.
“I want people to be able to email me with ideas and let me know what they think,” Wheelock said. “It’s possible that the next great idea is not going to come from the 10 of us, it’s going to come from a fan or it’s gonna come from a fighter or a gym owner or a trainer or a manager or a club owner.”
So much has changed in just 20 years of MMA. A fight now looks completely different than one from even five or six years ago. That means rules need to be changed, cleaned up or even abolished. That’s what Wheelock wants to achieve.
“I don’t know that I right now have a solution,” he said. “What I do have is a process. With myself and the other nine people on the competition committee, we need to go through the process.
“We just want to ask why. I don’t believe sports should be stuck in a time capsule. Well, why do you do it this way? ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ That just doesn’t make sense.”
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