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What is Banned/Illegal in the UFC?

Photo by Lee Brimelow

Many casual fans see UFC fights as street fighting with few rules in place. At first, it may look like that since fighters can use any type of fighting style to compete. But, one must know that they compete under the unified rules of MMA which make the sport very safe. Over the years, MMA has seen many changes in rules which made it one of the safest sports out there. 

Every fighter needs to be well aware of these rules when fighting inside the cage. If he/she do not stick to them during the fight, they will receive a penalty from the referee or even get banned from the UFC. In addtion there are certain substances that are strictly banned in the UFC.

In this article. We will go through all that’s banned in the UFC so you will know why these things are banned.

What Strikes are Banned in the UFC?

Strikes listed below are banned to keep the fighters safe from sustaining serious, long-term injuries.

Head Butting

UFC fighters can’t use head butts to do damage in any way and these strikes are banned. Headbutting someone can lead to severe injuries or produce nasty cuts. Landing just a single one would probably get you disqualified from the match.  

Yet, some fans may recall that head butts were legal back in the early UFC events. However, they needed to get rid of them shortly after since head butts were too brutal and not suitable for the broad audience.

In modern days, we can often see fighters clashing heads during wild brawls on the feet but this is not the same as head butts. These head clashes happen by accident as each fighter is moving their head to avoid strikes or create angles. 

Head clashes can also lead to serious injuries and even change the course of the fight. But, the referee would not penalize a fighter since this happens by accident in most cases. 

Groin Strikes 

Groins strikes are banned in the UFC. But in modern MMA, you can see an accidental groin strike in just about every UFC event. So, all UFC fighters must wear a groin cup to protect this sensitive area.

Most of the time, a groin strike is landed when a fighter is throwing a front kick to the body, inside kick to the thigh, or a knee in the clinch. When this happens, the referee would stop a fight and give the fighter who absorbed the groin strike up to five minutes to recover. If they have sustained some damage and can’t continue, the referee would then stop the fight. 

This took place at UFC 55 (2005) when Alessio Sakara suffered one of the most brutal groin strikes ever. His opponent, Ron Faircloth, fired a vicious inside kick that landed right in the groin area. Sakara was in severe pain and not able to continue so the fight ended up as a “no contest”

Striking on the Back of the Head or Spine

UFC fighters can punch their opponents while fighting on the ground. But, they are not allowed to strike the back of the head or spine which is known as a “rabbit punch”. The back of the head is a very sensitive area and a place where our main functions for breathing and heart beat are. Taking repeated strikes to this specific area can lead to serious health problems. 

It’s very rare to see a fighter striking the back of the head during a standup fight. This is because fighters stand in front of each other most of the time. But, things get risky when the fights hit the canvas and one fighter starts throwing strikes to the grounded opponent. 

A fighter on the bottom would often turn into fetal position to defend or try to stand back up. But doing this the fighter leaves the back of the head exposed and unprotected. This is the moment when strikes to the back of the head land by accident and often without any intention. 

The referee would first warn a fighter about the strikes by yelling “Watch the back of the head!” But, if a fighter keeps on landing illegal punches, the referee would stop the fight, take a point or disqualify the fighter. 

Knees and Kicks to the Grounded Opponent

UFC allows fighters to land kicks and knees to the grounded opponent. But, they are not allowed to land these strikes to the head and can strike only the body of grounded opponents. But to understand this rule in total, we must explain what “grounded/downed fighter” means in the UFC.

A fighter is grounded when any part of their body (other than the soles of the feet) is in contact with the ground. Or in other words, the fighter is safe from knees and kicks to the head if her/his one knee, palm, or closed fist is touching the canvas.

An illegal knee lands, in most cases, when a downed fighter is trying to stand up. As they are standing up, the opponent who is on top of them may land a knee to the head, not seeing that the fist or knee is still in contact with the ground. When this happens, the referee would stops the fight, give the fighter time to recover and issue a serious warning to their opponent. 

Stomp Strikes to the Grounded Opponent

UFC fighters are not allowed to land stomp strikes on the opponent who is lying on the canvas. It doesn’t matter if it lands to the head or body, these type of strikes are illegal in the UFC. Even though they do not look as hard as roundhouse kicks, stomps are really risky. They usually have a lot of force behind and landing them can do much damage since the fighter lying on the ground is absorbing all the impact. 

Yet, stomp strikes are not totally banned from the UFC. Fighters can use them in the clinch to land foot stomps like Kamaru Usman did against Jorge Masvidal. 

12-6 Elbow Strikes

UFC fighters can’t strike with the point of the elbow or in a 12-6 motion (clock analogy). No matter if it is a standup or ground fight, fighters can’t bring the elbow from straight up (12 o’clock) to straight down (6 o’clock). This is because landing an elbow this way is devastating and can break orbital bone. 

But, many fans think this rule is too strict since other elbow strikes can do the same or even more damage. In spite of huge criticism and many people advocating for its change, 12 to 6 elbows are still banned in the UFC. 

One of the most famous “victims” of this rule was none other than the most dominant UFC champ ever, Jon Jones. At “TUF 10 Finale”, Jones opened his fight with Matt Hamill with an early takedown. He then moved into the full mount and started striking with elbows and punches. But, some of these were 12-6 elbows and landing cleanly on the Hamill’s face. You can see an example of 12-6 strike in UFC star Jon Jones fight and learn more about 12-6 elbows in the following video.

The referee stopped the fight due to illegal strikes and gave Hamill time to recover. But Hamill told the referee he was unable to continue. As a result, the judges declared him a winner, handing Jon Jones his first professional “loss”.

Throat Punches

UFC fighters are not allowed to land strikes or kicks to the throat. Due to the nature of the sport, we can often see punches and kicks landing on the neck or throat by accident. These are also illegal, but no referee will stop the fight because of being accidental strikes.

The referee would stop a fight only if a fighter is hurt or showing an intent to strike a throat. For instance, fighters are not allowed to pull the head of their opponent with one arm to expose the neck area and strike the throat with the other hand. 

Throat punches are very risky and banned in every professional combat sport. 

What Moves are Banned in the UFC?

Eye Gouging and Eye Poking

UFC does not allow any type of eye gouging or eye pokes and this rule has been in place since the early events

According to the unified rules, fighters are not allowed to gouge the eyes of their rivals and one would get immediately disqualified for doing such a thing. What we do see often, however, are eye pokes which are also illegal. 

Unlike boxers, UFC fighters wear open-finger, 10 OZ gloves. This type of glove allows MMA fighters to get a hold of each other and grapple.

But this means they can also fully extend their fingers which leads to many accidental eye pokes. Eye pokes are a huge problem in modern MMA, and we can see them in just about every UFC event. 

When a fighter lands an eye poke, the referee will stop a fight and give a fighter five minutes to recover. In most cases, they will call a doctor to come in and check the eye. Before the action carries on, they will issue a serious warning to a fighter or even take one point for them.

Grabbing or Holding on the Fence

UFC fighters are not allowed to grab or hold the fence with their fingers or toes. You can see fighters do this while defending a takedown against the fence or while trying to escape from the bottom position.

But, UFC fighters can put their feet and hands on to the fence. They can even push off the fence with their hands or legs to escape from the clinch or any other situation. It all becomes illegal when they start grabbing the fence in order to prevent the opponent from taking them down to the ground. 

If this happens, the referee will, in most cases, issue a one point deduction and reset the fight in the center. 

No Small Joint Manipulation 

UFC fighters are not allowed to manipulate small joints at all. You rarely see fighters doing such a thing because this rule is very strict. Unlike eye pokes or groin strikes, a fighter can’t break their opponent’s fingers or toes by accident

Breaking fingers and toes are taught in martial arts like Krav Maga but you can’t use them in MMA. Instead, MMA fighters focus on using BJJ submissions to manipulate large joints like arms, shoulders or legs. Here are the most popular large joints submissions in MMA:

• Heel hook

• Armbar

• kimura

• Knee bar

Even though chokes and joint locks are legal, fighters still need to give their best to not hurt their opponent. They must let go of the submission as soon as the opponent taps out or the referee tells them to stop. Holding on to submission is a clear sign they are trying to hurt their rival and break their arm or leg. 

MMA fighter Rousimar Palhares got stripped of his WSOF title shortly after he won it against Jake Shields. For some reason, Palhares didn’t want to let go of the submission when the referee stopped the fight and he nearly broke Shield’s arm because of that.

Fish Hooking 

Fish hooking is probably the most illegal things a fighters can do inside the cage and strictly banned in the UFC. Fish hooking is when a fighter puts their fingers into the mouth, nostrils and starts pulling them from the body. Even though this move is taught as self-defense in some martial arts, this move is completely banned in UFC as well as in other combat sports.

What Substances are Banned in the UFC?

Since 2015, UFC has been working together with the USADA anti-doping agency. USADA deals with fighters who use illegal performance-enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids. By doing so, they keep the sport clean and competition fair. 

UFC fighters are not allowed to take any substances banned by USADA.  You can check the entire list of the banned substances on the official USADA website. Here are some of the most important ones:

· Anabolic Agents (Steroids)

· Peptide Hormones and Growth Factors 

· Beta – 2 Agonists

· Hormone and Metabolic modulators

· Diuretics and masking agents 

USADA is spending a lot of resources on keeping the UFC clean. USADA is responsible for testing every UFC fighter(who is under contract) numerous times a year to monitor if anyone takes performance enhancement drugs.

UFC fighters are required to give urine and blood sample at any time and any day when a USADA offical shows up to test the UFC fighter. USADA can literally come to your wedding, and you would have to go to the bathroom first to fill in the cup before saying “yes” to your future wife. 

This is the reason why UFC is one of the most drug-free sports organizations in the world, if not the most.

*Related Questions *

Are There Any Banned Martial Arts in the UFC?

UFC fighters can use any martial art to fight as long as the techniques fit within the unified rules of MMA. In other words, the UFC does not ban any fighting style. But, some martial arts like Krav Maga do not fit well since they use moves like eye-gouging/pokes or breaking fingers.

Are There Any Fighters Who Have Been Banned from the UFC?

Over the years, there have been many MMA fighters who have been banned from fighting in the UFC. In most cases, fighters get banned for violating USADA or unified rules of MMA. We are going to address some of the most popular fighters below: 

· Paul Daley –sucker punched Josh Koscheck after the final bell at UFC 113. 

· Rousimar Palhares – refused to release the submission after the referee called the fight to stop.

· Wanderlei Silva – received a life time ban from the UFC after refusing to undergo a USADA test.

Can You Kick a Downed Opponent in the UFC?

UFC fighters are not allowed to kick or knee a downed opponent to the head. But, they can throw and land these strikes to the body as much they want. In fact, mixed martial arts is the only fighting sport that allows you to kick, punch, or knee the grounded opponent.

What States is UFC Illegal in? 

UFC is legal in all 50 U.S states. In the early 90s, UFC was legal in just a few states and even got banned from the state of New York in 1997. But in the next two decades, UFC would heavily fight for its legal acceptance, and get legal in all 50 U.S. states. The last one to approve it was the state of New York in 2016. 

Are Inhalers Banned in UFC?

UFC fighters are not allowed to use inhalers since they are banned by the USADA anti-doping agency. This is because inhalers contain an ingredient called vilanterol. According to the USADA, vilanterol is a form of Beta-2 agonists which is a banned substance. By using beta-2 agonists, fighters can increase muscle mass or reduce body fat

The first major incident with inhalers came at UFC on ESPN 6 in Boston. Greg Hardy was seen taking a hit from the inhaler between the second and third rounds. Hardy went on to put on a good fight and win a decision. But, the commission overturned his win to “no contest” because of his illegal use of an inhaler.

Are Soccer Kicks Legal in UFC? 

Soccer kicks are not allowed in the UFC and this technique is banned under the unified rules of MMA. These kicks are similar to the ones we have in soccer game when a player is kicking the ball. In MMA, fighters throw this kick in the same motion but they are landing it to the opponent who is lying on the ground or is trying to stand up. According to doctors, this type of kick can result in broken necks and other serious injuries. 

Soccer kicks were legal during the early days of the UFC but they got banned with the birth of unified rules in the early 2000s. Even though UFC fighters couldn’t use them, soccer kicks were legal during the 2000s in other MMA promotions such as the Japanese “Pride FC”. The most notable fighters who used soccer kicks are Brazilians Mauricio Rua and Wanderlei Silva. 

In modern times, soccer kicks are not banned in all MMA promotions. Both “ONE FC” and “Rizin Fighting Championship” allow its fighters to use soccer kicks and land them to the head or body of their opponents.