Illegal Moves in the UFC: Protecting Fighters & Preventing Unfair Advantage

MMA has gained immense popularity in recent years, with the UFC being the premier organization in the sport. However, with the high level of physicality involved, fighter safety is obviously of utmost importance.

In the UFC, illegal moves such as eye gouging and hair pulling are strictly prohibited. The UFC has a strict list of prohibited illegal moves during fights to ensure fair and safe competition. If executed, these moves can result in severe injuries to the fighters, leading to significant consequences for both the fighters and the sport as a whole.

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive list of the UFC’s illegal moves, including eye-gouging, biting, hair-pulling, fish-hooking, groin attacks, small joint manipulation, rabbit punches, 12-6 elbows, piledriving, kicks/knees/stomps to the head of a grounded opponent, and holding opponent’s shorts/gloves and fence.

We will also discuss the potential consequences of these moves and the importance of preventing unfair advantages in UFC fights. By understanding these rules, we can better understand the sport and appreciate the efforts taken to ensure the safety and fairness of MMA competitions.

Key Takeaways

  • The safety of fighters is a top priority in UFC fights.
  • There is a list of illegal moves in UFC fights that can result in point deductions or disqualifications.
  • Some of the illegal moves, such as eye-pokes, rabbit punches, and piledriving, can cause serious and lifelong injuries.
  • The UFC used to have the slogan ‘There are no rules’ but now has a precise list of illegal moves to protect fighters and prevent unfair advantage.

Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts and the UFC

The rules and regulations of MMA and UFC fights prioritize the safety of fighters, with a precise list of illegal moves that can cause serious injuries or give an unfair advantage to one fighter. As discussed in the pre-existing knowledge, these moves include eye-gouging, biting, hair pulling, fish-hooking, groin attacks, small joint manipulation, rabbit punches, 12-6 elbows, piledriving, kicks/knees/stomps to the head of a grounded opponent, and holding opponent’s shorts/gloves and fence.

These rules have evolved over the history of MMA, from the early days of UFC when there were few rules to the present-day UFC with a comprehensive list of illegal moves. Additionally, there have been discussions and debates about whether traditional martial arts, such as the Shaolin Monk, could defeat an MMA fighter, but the rules and regulations of MMA fights are designed to protect all fighters and prevent unfair advantages.

The unified rules of MMA and UFC fights are designed to minimize the risks of serious injuries and ensure fair play. MMA rules have evolved over time, reflecting the development of MMA as a sport and the need to protect fighters. The history of MMA shows that rules were necessary to prevent the sport from becoming too violent and to allow for fair competition.

In the present day, the rules are strictly enforced, and any violation can result in point deductions or disqualifications. The debate about whether a Shaolin Monk could defeat an MMA fighter is interesting, but ultimately, the rules of MMA fights prioritize the safety of all fighters and prevent any unfair advantage.

List of Illegal Moves in the UFC

One important aspect of mixed martial arts is the existence of a set of regulations, which includes a list of actions that are considered unacceptable and can lead to point deductions or disqualification. The UFC has a precise list of forbidden moves, which are designed to protect the safety of fighters and prevent any unfair advantage from being gained.

Here are the most common moves that are prohibited in UFC fights:


In the world of mixed martial arts, headbutting is considered a dangerous and unsportsmanlike tactic. It can cause significant injuries, including cuts, concussions, and fractures. The UFC prohibits this move to ensure the safety of its fighters and to maintain the integrity of the sport.


Eye-gouging is not only painful but can do severe damage and lead to permanent vision impairment. The UFC strictly prohibits this move due to the severe and lasting damage it can inflict. Fighters are trained to protect themselves, but the unpredictable nature of a fight can sometimes lead to accidental eye pokes, which are treated differently from intentional gouging.


Biting is seen as a desperate and unprofessional act in the UFC. It can cause infections, scars, and other complications. The UFC bans this move to uphold the sport’s honor and to prevent unnecessary harm.

Hair pulling

Pulling an opponent’s hair can cause pain and distract them from the fight. It’s considered unsportsmanlike and is prohibited in the UFC, ensuring that fighters compete based on skill and strategy rather than resorting to such tactics.


Fish-hooking involves inserting fingers into an opponent’s mouth and pulling, which can cause tearing and severe pain. This move is banned in the UFC due to its potential for causing significant injury.

Groin attacks

Strikes to the groin can be excruciating and debilitating. The UFC prohibits these attacks to protect fighters from severe pain and potential long-term reproductive issues.

Small joint manipulation

Targeting small joints, like fingers and toes, can lead to fractures and dislocations. The UFC bans this tactic to prevent these types of injuries and to keep the focus on more strategic fighting techniques.

Rabbit punches

A rabbit punch is a blow to the back of the head or neck. It’s dangerous due to the vulnerability of the area and the risk of brain injury. The UFC prohibits this move to prioritize fighter safety.

Throat strikes

Striking the throat can obstruct breathing and cause serious harm. Given the potential life-threatening consequences, the UFC strictly bans throat strikes.


Clawing, or scratching, can lead to serious injury due to open wounds, infections, and scarring. The UFC prohibits this move to maintain a professional and honorable fighting environment.


Piledriving involves lifting an opponent and driving their head into the mat. Due to the high risk of neck and spinal injuries, this move is banned in the UFC.

12-6 Elbows

A 12-6 elbow strike is delivered vertically downward, resembling a clock’s hands at 12 and 6. This move can cause significant damage, especially to the head, and is thus prohibited in the UFC.

Strikes to the back of the head

The back of the head is a vulnerable area, and strikes here can lead to concussions or other brain injuries. The UFC bans these strikes to protect fighters from potential long-term damage.

Strikes to the spine

The spine is a critical and vulnerable part of the body. Strikes to this area can lead to paralysis or other severe injuries. The UFC prohibits these attacks to ensure fighter safety.

Kicking/kneeing a downed opponent in the head

Attacking a downed opponent’s head with kicks or knees can cause severe injuries. The UFC bans this move to protect fighters in vulnerable positions.

Grabbing Testicles and Groin Attacks

This move is not only painful but is also seen as highly unsportsmanlike conduct. Although often accidental, groin attacks can cause severe pain and lead to disqualification.

Grabbing the Fence or Opponent’s Clothing

Holding onto the cage or fence can provide an unfair advantage by preventing takedowns or improving positioning. The UFC bans this tactic to ensure a level playing field. Likewise, grabbing a hold of the opponents clothing is also forbidden in the UFC. 

Consequences of Illegal Moves

Engaging in prohibited actions during a match can lead to serious repercussions for the participants. Here are some potential outcomes of such actions:

  1. Disqualification: A participant may be immediately disqualified by the referee for committing a prohibited action, regardless of whether any injury has occurred.
  2. Point deductions: Depending on the seriousness of the action, participants might have points taken away from their overall score.
  3. Suspensions: Those who commit prohibited actions might be barred from participating in future events. The duration of this ban can differ based on the action’s severity.
  4. Medical suspensions: If participants are injured due to prohibited actions, they might be barred from participating until they are fully healed.
  5. Financial penalties: Committing prohibited actions can also result in monetary penalties, which can include fines or loss of earnings.

It’s crucial for participants to understand and adhere to the established rules to ensure their safety and that of their opponents. Being aware and cautious can prevent potential harm during competitions.

Injuries Caused by Illegal Moves

Fighters must understand the consequences of committing prohibited actions in mixed martial arts fights. Not only can illegal moves lead to point deductions or disqualifications, but they can also result in potential injuries that can have long-lasting or permanent effects on the fighters. Therefore, it is essential for referees to enforce the rules strictly to ensure the safety of all fighters involved in the match.

The table below outlines the potential injuries that can result from some of the most commonly committed illegal moves in MMA fights. The table serves as a reminder that the safety of the fighters should always be the top priority in any MMA match, and it is the responsibility of all those involved, from the fighters to the referees, to ensure that the rules are followed to prevent any unnecessary harm.

Illegal MovePotential Injuries
Eye-gougingEye damage, blindness
BitingLacerations, infections
Hair pullingNeck injuries, loss of hair
Groin attacksTesticular rupture, severe pain
Small joint manipulationFinger and hand injuries
Rabbit punchesConcussions, brain damage
12-6 elbowsSkull fractures, brain damage
PiledrivingSpinal cord injuries, paralysis
Kicks/knees/stomps to the head of a grounded opponentBrain damage, concussion
Holding opponent’s shorts/gloves and fenceUnfair advantage, disruption of opponent’s position

Evolution of UFC Rules

The evolution of the rules in mixed martial arts has been a significant development that has brought about safer and fairer fights.

The UFC, in particular, has come a long way from its early days when few rules existed.

Today, the UFC has a precise list of moves that fighters must avoid to ensure the safety of their opponents.

However, the UFC has also faced several controversies regarding its rules, including the ban on knees and kicks to the head of a grounded opponent.

While these rules were implemented to prevent serious injuries, some fighters argue that they limit their ability to compete effectively.

Looking toward the future, the UFC will likely continue to re-evaluate its rules to ensure its fighters’ safety while allowing for exciting and competitive fights.

The UFC may also need to consider how its rules compare to those of other combat sports, such as boxing and kickboxing, to ensure that they are standardized and fair.

Ultimately, the evolution of the rules in the UFC and other mixed martial arts organizations is essential to continue to promote the sport’s growth while ensuring its athletes’ safety and well-being.

Protecting Fighter Safety

Ensuring the safety of mixed martial arts fighters is a crucial aspect of the sport that requires constant attention and evaluation. The UFC has implemented rules and regulations to protect fighters from illegal moves and dangerous techniques. However, fighter safety also depends on proper training techniques and the use of appropriate equipment.

To promote fighter safety, coaches and trainers must teach their fighters proper techniques and discourage them from using illegal moves. Additionally, fighters should use protective gear, such as mouthguards and shin guards, to prevent injuries during training and fights. The following table summarizes some recommended equipment for MMA training:

EquipmentDescriptionRecommended Brands
MouthguardProtects teeth and jaw during strikesShock Doctor, SISU
Shin GuardsReduces risk of leg injuries during sparringVenum, Hayabusa
GlovesReduces impact of punches and protects handsEverlast, Cleto Reyes
HeadgearReduces risk of head injuries during sparringRingside, Fairtex
Groin ProtectorProtects against groin strikesDiamond MMA, Jaco

By using proper training techniques and equipment, fighters can reduce the risk of injuries and ensure their safety in the Octagon. Coaches and trainers should prioritize fighter safety and encourage their fighters to do the same

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the scoring criteria in UFC fights?

The scoring criteria in UFC fights are based on effective striking, grappling, and octagon control. The judges score each round based on the fighter’s ability to dominate in these areas. The criteria aim to ensure judging accuracy and fighter safety.

How are weight classes determined in UFC fights?

Weight classes in UFC fights are determined by cutting weight and weigh-in procedures. Fighters must weigh in at or below the designated weight limit for their specific weight class, with strict regulations on rehydration after weigh-ins to ensure fighter safety.

What is the process for fighter drug testing in the UFC?

Fighter eligibility in the UFC is contingent on passing drug tests before and after fights. Consequences for failing a drug test include suspension, fines, loss of prize money, and possible termination. The UFC has a strict anti-doping policy to ensure fair competition.

What is the role of referees in UFC fights?

The role of referees in UFC fights is to ensure fighter safety and enforce the rules. Referee authority includes stopping fights, deducting points for illegal moves, and disqualifying fighters who violate the regulations. Their decisions are crucial in determining the outcome of the fight.

How are UFC fighters compensated for their participation in fights?

Fighter payment in the UFC includes a base salary plus performance bonuses. Sponsorship deals were previously allowed, but the UFC now has an exclusive deal with Reebok. Fighters can also earn additional income through pay-per-view revenue sharing and merchandise sales.

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