TXMMA – Texas Mixed Martial Arts

Exploring the merits of the three-point rule for fighter safety

By Felix Rodriguez | Cover photo by Susumi Nagao


Discussing the pros and cons of the three-point rule and fighter safety with Chas Skelly and Chris Reed


DALLAS, TX, April 29, 2014 – The sport of mixed martial arts has come a long way from its over the top Mortal Kombat-meets-Bloodsport inspired beginnings. Since the first UFC card aired in 1993 the sport slowly began to evolve and develop a set of rules that would eventually become the unified rules of Mixed Martial Arts. These rules were added organically to build on the initial no eye-gouging and no biting starting point and have grown into a complex list of rules and regulations meant to ensure fighter safety and help the sport gain acceptance/regulation in all 50 states of the country.

One particular MMA rule has come under hot water recently due to repeated controversies stemming from fighters trying to manipulate it and make it work to their advantage. The rule in question is the three-point rule, or kneeing the face of an opponent standing in a three-point stance (on both feet with one hand touching the ground). The rule is meant to minimize excessive concussive damage to athletes, but there has been a disturbing and unsportsmanlike trend of fighters trying to draw fouls and point deductions from their opponents by baiting them into throwing knees to their faces while in a three-point stance.

The trend of fighters “playing the game” has become a far-reaching problem that has become noticeable at all levels of MMA competition today. Zuffa has seen a spike in these incidents, including controversies stemming from fighters possibly “playing the game” in two of last scheduled programs aired by the UFC. UFC on Fox 11 and the second episode of TUF 19 both featured situations where fighters could be interpreted as manipulating the three-point stance rule to gain an unsportsmanlike advantage. Things have gotten so out of hand at times that Dana White has felt compelled to rant against the rule on twitter when Chas Skelly was deducted a point for an illegal knee during his fight against Mirsad Bectic.

1511349_10152283705259293_1228835748_nTXMMA spoke to Chas Skelly about his UFC debut and the controversy surrounding the point deduction he suffered for kneeing a visibly stunned Bectic in the face while he had a hand (barely) touching the ground and to Chris Reed, who is a promoter, retired MMA fighter to help Texas fight-fans gain a better understanding of this rule and its value in combat sports.

Chris Reed is a TDLR-licensed referee and judge with an in-depth understanding of the unified rules of mixed martial arts. He explains, “The rule states no knees or kicks to the head of a grounded opponent. And grounded is defined as 3 points of contact on the mat. That’s where it gets tricky. The obvious reason for the rule is fighter safety, [because it has been determined] that knees and kicks to the head on the ground are dangerous. Now MMA guys aren’t stupid so they learned to manipulate the rule to avoid knees or kicks. When they feel threatened they put their hand on the mat. Obviously this violates the spirit of the rule. And most refs explain in the rules meeting that if you play that game and you get inadvertently kicked then it’s going to be ruled accidental.”

This was certainly the case during the house fight of TUF 19’s second episode. Cathal Pendred received stern warnings from the referee for kneeing Hector Urbina in the face while he was in the three-point stance. The knees seemed to be legal when being thrown, but by the time they landed Urbina had already put a hand down making their legality questionable. After receiving his warning Pendred asked to be notified if Urbina attempted to play the game again. The referee would have none of it though angrily informing Pendred that “he is responsible for watching the use of his own weapons.” The questionable knees did not result in point deductions because referee Steve Mazzagatti determined that when the knees were thrown they were still legal.

46567_10151159687894293_688653277_nChas Skelly was not as fortunate when he experienced a similar situation in his match against Bectic. He suffered a point deduction in the second round that ended up being insurmountable because it resulted in him being behind two rounds and forced to look for a finish that would not come in the third. Skelly explained that the rule is meant to protect downed opponents and that “the damage you take while attempting to get off the bottom is limited, [but] people are able to use the rules to their advantage to “bait” an illegal strike.” Whether Bectic was working the rules to his advantage in order to bait Skelly into losing a point or not is debatable. The always classy Skelly does not suspect foul play; he noted, “I think that ‘playing the game’ is a good way to get kneed in the face. I feel like it’s a chicken shit way to get a point or DQ, but I really don’t think he was [playing the game]. [Bectic] was hurt pretty bad from the punches. I don’t think he realized what he was doing. I did see the hand come off the mat and thought the knee was legal till I saw the replay. I know the rules, and regardless of what I think the knee was illegal. I heard the guy say he wasn’t “playing the game”, and I will give him the benefit of the doubt. I think he is tough, and probably wouldn’t wanna get a win in that manner and I will get better because of this fight.”
Both Skelly and Reed believe that the rule needs some revising because fighters defending and attacking can abuse it. Reed explained, “A fighter sees his opponent playing the game so he knows he probably won’t be held accountable so he starts throwing kicks and knees more. It would be very hard to articulate a rule against touching the mat in MMA. However as more of those guys get “inadvertently” kicked maybe the problem takes care of itself. Or maybe the fans start viewing it as unsportsmanlike and boo as they do when a guy fakes touching gloves and punches.” Skelly’s experience during his UFC debut seems to corroborate Reed’s position. He also believes changes are needed. “I think the rule should be changed to just knees on the mat and not a hand. Marc Laimon asked the ref one question about 20 min before my fight. He asked, ‘What is your take on guys putting their hand down and picking it up while we are throwing knees?’ and the ref said ‘If a guy is playing that game throw the knee because it is completely my discretion.’ It is fair to say that this leaves a lot of room for subjective interpretation and, thus, exposes fighters to a lot of unwarranted room for error.

The three point rule is a well-intentioned rule designed to enhance fighter safety, but it has come under fire as of late do to mounting controversies stemming from referee interpretation during its enforcement.

Do you think it is worth keeping in the rule book as is or if revision would benefit all parties involved when it comes to kneeing an opponent in the face when one of their hands is touching the mat. Chime in with your own thoughts in the comments section below!