CSAC Director Andy Foster explains new grounded fighter rule proposal: ‘It’s caused too much confusion’

Andy Foster hopes to finally solve the grounded fighter dilemma.

For the past several years, one of the biggest headaches in MMA has been the rule declaring knees to the head of a grounded fighter illegal. The rule has gone through a few changes over the years in regards to what being a “grounded fighter” actually entails, and is still not universally adopted in all jurisdictions, leading to rampant confusion in bouts as the UFC travels to different locations. Most recently, the issue popped back up again at UFC 297, when Arnold Allen delivered a series of questionable knees to Movsar Evloev.

But this week at the upcoming Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) rules committee meeting, Foster plans to propose a change to help solve this problem once and for all.

“We’re going to get rid of the hand,” the California State Athletic Commission executive director said on The MMA Hour. “That’s my proposal. We’re going to get rid of it. If you want to be down, you need to put something else down. Knee, back, anything. Anything other than — you can’t be standing up, putting your hand on the ground. It’s caused too much confusion. A rule that we put in for safety has in fact created an unsafe environment, and it’s created an untenable environment for referees to regulate this. They all view it differently.

“Herb [Dean] likes weight bearing, others do different things, different commissions look at it different ways. You can’t have unified rules where the rules aren’t unified. We’ve got to get rid of this. It’s a situation that we, the regulators, have created. It’s our creation, it hasn’t worked, and we need to fix it.”

Aside from serving as executive director of the California State Athletic Commission, Foster is also the Chairman of the ABC Rules Committee. The official wording of the change is that a fighter will be considered grounded “when any part of their body besides their hands or feet come in contact with the canvas,” a departure from the current ABC rule defining grounded as “anything other than the soles of the feet, bearing weight” touch the canvas.

Foster said he expects the changes to be accepted by the committee and that they will then propose it for adoption at the ABC conference this summer, where he also expects it to pass through, with its implementation following shortly thereafter.

Assuming that all comes true, Foster believes this change will not only lead to a safer and more efficient environment, it will also bring about more action in the cage.

“This grounded fighter takes up a good portion of the rules meeting, because there are questions about it, and the referees go back and forth,” Foster said. “Here in California, we have a ‘weight-bearing’ type, we want to see you bear some weight [on the hand]. That’s really not written down anywhere, that’s just a rule because all these things are ambiguous. What exactly is ‘the hand down?’

“Some people just put the fingers down and hope they don’t get kneed in the face, and there’s been a couple examples where Herb just let it keep going, which I think he’s right. But that’s what I’m talking about. The fighter thinks they’re protected when they’re not, and the knee is on its way. Then they find out after the fact that Herb wasn’t going to enforce that. He tells them in advance, ‘You need to have weight bearing,’ and they’ll put it down, but it’s hard to tell what exactly is weight bearing, what’s not in the heat of the moment. The referee is looking at a lot of things. It’s a lot cleaner.

“And by the way, I think it creates a lot more action. Because there’s been a lot of stall points when you get there and maybe if they’re a grappler type person, they’re looking for a re-shot, and if they’re a striker, they’re looking for the timing of the knee. It’s just a bizarre game we’ve created. Stand up and box or kickbox, set up your shot, do something, or get on the ground and grapple. One of the two.”

Of course, the other way to solve an ambiguities around grounded fighters would be to simply get rid of the rule entirely. Several international sanctioning bodies allow for knees to the head of grounded fighters, and the Colorado Athletic Commission already approved such an exemption for ONE Championship. But Foster isn’t on board with that.

“I’m not to the point yet though we’re I’m ready to go to knees to the head of a grounded opponent,” Foster said. “I’m just not there. Some people are, I’ve talked to a lot of people. ‘Why don’t you just do the global rules?’ as they call them. I’m just not there.

“It comes from experience. I watched a fight back years ago … where a guy got soccer kicked in the head, and that kind of turned me off to that,” Foster continued. “I was cageside when it happened and it was a pretty damaging strike. I never had seen anything quite like it, at that time. I feel like there’s limits to this and that’s too dangerous right now, for me. But maybe one day I’ll get there. They can show me some data or something.”

The grounded fighter rule isn’t the only change Foster is proposing. Foster also noted that he’s suggesting the committee remove the “12-6” elbow rule, which prohibits elbows thrown straight downward. One of the most controversial rules currently in MMA, it famously led to Jon Jones’s lone MMA loss, a disqualification against Matt Hamill in 2009. And while Foster wants the grounded fighter rule changed for safety reasons, he’s proposing this rule because it’s pointless.

“That rule, I don’t even know if there is anybody that will disagree with this — it’s just silly,” Foster said. “That rule is just — what about 11-5 if we’re going to use the clock? Or 1-7? Those aren’t illegal; 3-9 is an awful hard strike from side control, but that’s not banned. It doesn’t make any sense, is the point I’m trying to make. Either you ban elbows or you allow them. This is the only one that’s not, and it’s poorly enforced. Hardly ever is it enforced, and when it is enforced, it’s enforced wrong. And you certainly shouldn’t have people being DQed over this. You go back and you have people arguing, ‘Well, it wasn’t straight down.’ I’ve had all this. This rule is untenable as well. Terrible thing we’ve put our referees in. We should not have rules on the books that are clearly unenforceable.

“This one particular strike — you see guys from the bottom of the guard throwing elbows. Those hurt. I’ve seen guys do a lot of damage with those elbows, cut them up, and those are legal but this [is not]? It doesn’t make any sense.”

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