While detractors still accuse mixed martial arts of being a barbaric sport with little to no rules and safety measures, the game does have its strict regulations that are mostly aimed towards ensuring the fighters’ well-being and preventing concussion and long-term damage resulting from strikes to the head. Or at least this is the case in the modern era led by the UFC.
While prohibiting headbutts is a good case in point, the downed-opponent rule is another viable example, even if it remains a slightly complicated one.
So what is a downed opponent? What are the rules applied to this case? And can a fighter kick his grounded opponent?
Time to reveal the answers.
What is a “Downed” Opponent in UFC?
A downed opponent is a fighter who has more than just the soles of his feet on the ground. This definition is provided by the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, so it applies in the UFC.
It’s worth mentioning that the old rules used to consider any fighter who lays a hand (or even a couple of fingers on the mat) a downed opponent. This allowed the competitor to escape his opponent’s wrath by placing two fingers on the ground, prohibiting the latter from applying kicks or knees to the head.
Needless to say, fans and observers alike weren’t thrilled with this cheeky maneuver which went against the warrior spirit of the sport. So eventually, the rules were changed, and nowadays, a fighter has to place two hands on the ground – along with the soles of his feet – to be deemed a downed opponent.
On the contrary, placing a single knee, arm or any other part of the body (in addition to the feet) on the mat is enough to consider the fighter a grounded opponent.
“Downed” Opponent Rules
In the UFC, kicking or kneeing a downed opponent in the head is considered a foul. If the referee deems it intentional, the offender should be punished by getting points deducted or even disqualification if the illegal strike causes severe damage to the opponent or renders him unable to continue.
If the illegal strike is undeliberate, the fight ends as a no-contest when we haven’t yet reached the halfway point of the fight, otherwise, we go to the judges’ scorecards for a technical decision.
On the contrary, the downed-opponent rule doesn’t shield the fighter from kicks and knees to the body as they remain perfectly legal.
Moreover, stomping a downed opponent is also an illegal offense. But a fighter is allowed to stomp the foot of his foe in a standing position.
Can You “Soccer Kick” in UFC?
“Soccer kicks” are illegal in the UFC. This term is used to describe kicks to the head of a grounded opponent.
While these strikes were completely legal in PRIDE (the now-defunct Japanese organization that dominated the MMA scene in the early noughties), most modern-day organizations consider it a major offense as it could inflict serious damage to the fighter’s health.
When Can You Kick in UFC?
In the UFC, kicks to the head and body are legal in a standing position, in the exception of strikes to the groin and heel-kicks to the kidney.
But against a grounded opponent, the rules prohibit a fighter from kicking or kneeing his opponent’s head. On the contrary, these strikes remain legal when directed to the body.
Can a UFC Fighter Kick a “Downed” Opponent
A UFC fighter is allowed to kick his downed opponent in the body but not in the head. The same rule applies to knee strikes.
Since this offense is considered too dangerous for the fighters’ safety, the Unified MMA rules decided to prohibit it, and most organizations have adopted these regulations.
Eddie Alvarez vs Dustin Poirier 1 (2017)
The first fight between Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier is probably the most famous UFC fight to end due to illegal knees to a downed opponent.
Alvarez hit Poirier with a series of knee strikes that rendered the latter unable to continue to fight. As we can see in the video posted below, the last strike was unquestionably illegal, as Poirier had one knee on the mat, which is sufficient to deem him a downed fighter.
After ending the fight, referee Dean considered it an accidental illegal strike and declared it a no-contest.