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Two recent fights, Chris Weidman vs. Gegard Mousasi at UFC 207 and Eddie Alvarez vs. Dustin Poirier at UFC 212, have put the spotlight on the new "downed opponent" rules, and not in a positive way. Both fights ended in controversy, and it's clear that the new rule changes--which have not been universally adopted--are causing problems for the fighters, officials, fans and sport itself.

Recognizing the dilemma, the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, which was instrumental in developing the unified rules, has written an open letter to the Association of Boxing Commissions. This letter expresses their concerns and offers ways forward to ensure fighter safety, which is their primary concern. I believe this letter is spot on in addressing the confusion in both the implementation of the rules and of the rules themselves. I urge the Association of Boxing Commissions to give serious thought to NJSACB's recommendations.

You can read the letter in its entirety below:

May 22, 2017

Open Letter to the ABC leadership:

This letter is being written in anticipation of the upcoming 2017 Association of Boxing Commissions ("ABC") annual convention to be held at the Mohegan Sun in late July. This agency feels compelled to respectfully urge that the "downed fighter' and "kidney strike" rule amendments be reconsidered there; fully vetted, addressed and resolved by the conclusion of the aforementioned convention.

The primary reason for writing is to urge all athletic commissions involved to agree on one rule set for the sport. Such is clearly in the best interest of the further growth of the sport; the health and safety of the contestants, and more equitable outcomes for promoters and fans. As of the writing of this letter, we currently have at least four separate determinations of a downed fighter in play. This must be rectified immediately.

The July 2017 convention would be the opportune moment to revisit these two rule changes and get all interested parties involved in advance and build a consensus that all should agree to follow. Let us have the ABC lead the path back to one rule set instead of laying the path to at least four rule sets as we currently face. We previously had unity on these two rules for almost two decades. The ABC's 2016 convention presentation on these matters opened the floodgates to multiple disjointed rule sets in play dependent upon venue.

We should all care about the future of the sport and what is best for it. Having four rule sets is clearly not in anyone's best interest. We must all discuss, debate and find common ground so that there can again be one rule set on these important rule changes most especially the downed fighter definition.

It is time to admit that these two rule changes were rushed to passage by the ABC. They were not distributed to the membership for advance review as past rule changes had been. New Jersey, a dues paying ABC member in good standing, and many other ABC members became aware of these rule changes thru a media member just moments prior to the convention start. Past rule change discussions (see 2009 report) also included advance comment from current and past advertisers, contestants, promoters, sponsors, trainers, media and fans. Consideration of change was open, fluid and transparent. Such comments were then distributed to the membership well in advance of the vote. Such did not occur here. These proposals were not accompanied by written medical committee reports, as past changes had been. Further, no reports of any trial period were distributed. The change proposals were not voted on individually, but as a package; also unlike past rule changes.

These two rule changes were not proposed with accompanying advance written support from the UFC, the world's most recognized promoter of MMA, as past changes had been. When New Jersey wrote its written commentary as it learned about the rule proposals, the ABC's response was to move the vote to an even earlier day and time of the conference to allow less time for consideration and contemplation. We believe that the best decisions are made when consideration and evaluation of differing viewpoints are given due consideration. As stated, building consensus and getting all interested parties involved should have continued to be standard practice.

Finally, no discussion or evaluation was released commenting on the effects of the prior ABC MMA Committee rule change (which passed unanimously by the membership at its convention two years prior) on the very subject matter at hand. In more detail, the ABC recommended a rule change to allow that a referee who believed that a fighter was "gaming the system" and "playing the rules" could be considered a standing fighter even if a finger or hand was touching at the time of the strike's contact. The ABC recommended that referees make fighters aware of the potential of being considered an up fighter if thought by the referee to be playing for the benefit of a foul. No analysis was released indicating that this rule change and referee rule instruction had failed to satisfactorily address the situation.

It should be noted that New Jersey was not opposed to any of the other proposed rule changes or clarifications. Please make note that New Jersey has supported several past unified rule changes including the majority of those presented in 2016 so it would be wrong and ignorant to state that we are holding on to the original unified rules (passed in New Jersey) by any means.

At the time, it seemed that only New Jersey was against this proposed rule change and that Tennessee and Mississippi had abstained and were uncertain. As of the date of this writing (and six months past the ABC's January 1, 2017 new rules implementation deadline) there are many more jurisdictions that have not amended their rule sets. It appears that over twenty jurisdictions have not adopted these rule changes. As examples, Brazil, British Columbia, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, Mille Lacs, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington do not seem to have passed the new rules.

The other concerning developments are that at least three jurisdictions have changed their rules to call for one full hand down to define a downed fighter. This means that there are now at least three different rule sets for the sport. Further, in an audio interview conducted on May 15, 2017, universally respected veteran referee Herb Dean stated that he analyzes whether the downed opponent is "supporting weight'. This analysis is not in  either the writing or the explanation of the ABC's 2016 modified rule set. Thus, one could state that there is a fourth rule set in play. No other major sport that we are familiar with faces such discord with critical rules of play.

The ABC should stop referring to these new rules as the new ABC unified rules. It is clear that there is no unity or uniformity whatsoever. In addition, issues or concerns with the two rule changes raised by Crisiano Sampaio of the Brazilian commission, Renzo Gracie, Ricardo Almeida, Chael Sonnen, Rob Haydak of Alliance MMA, John Rallo of Shogun Fights, Maryland chief physician Dr. John Stiller, New Jersey veteran ringside physician Dr. Michael Kelly, New York ringside physician Dr. Sherry Wulkan, and trainer Ray Longo have remained unaddressed by the ABC.

Separately, we make note of past noted objections to this type of rule change from commentary provided by neurologists and ringside physicians affiliated with such institutions such as UCLA, Mount Sinai, the Cleveland Clinic, Rutgers and other notable medical institutions. In fact, no medical institution we ever contacted was in favor of the proposal at hand here. We would be surprised to learn that ABC medical representatives like Dr. Goodman or the Association of Ringside Physicians would be in favor of this rule. Again, the ABC has not yet responded or released their medical analysis for discussion, review and consideration. It is our duty to protect our athletes, not only during the bout, but to try to ensure that they will be able to live comfortably after they decide to retire from combative sports. This means minimizing long term risks to the best of our current knowledge when we consider rule changes. We cannot do that without distribution of the ABC's medical analysis and consideration of follow up comment and review.

Given the Means-Oliveira situation at UFC 207, Weidman-Mousasi at UFC 210 and Alvarez-Poirer at UFC 212; one could opine that the changes were hastily passed and that a lack of clarity is evident. We have not had such continuous and serious rule interpretation confusion at high profile bouts. Why was there such a rush to change? It is truly difficult to name three UFC main card bouts in the past seventeen years where "playing the game" led to controversial stoppages and follow up appeals.

The stated aim for the harried rule change was to stop contestants trying to "play the game" by touching the ground to prevent their opponent being able to throw kicks or knees to the head. At recent events, the rule change proved fighters still can and are still going to do that. Thus, the rule change does not remedy the very reason for the change.

As stated by media representative Iain Kidd, "'Now we have a situation where referees have to make split second decisions to protect fighters, and not only do referees have to be on the same page about the rules, but they have to be on a different page depending on what state they are in. When they're deciding whether a kick to a guy getting up was illegal, that decision now depends on which arena they're in. That split-second decision just got harder."

With regard to the kidney strike rule change, the ABC has opened a veritable Pandora's Box. Now Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and several others are questioning why any striking to kidney is permitted. They note that specific area as protected and a clear foul in other combat sports of boxing and kickboxing. What is different about the structure of the kidney of the MMA contestant? Pennsylvania has formally directed the ABC to propose a rule change banning directed kidney strikes of any kind in MMA. Implicit in the initial draft of the unified rules was the understanding that it would be unlikely that a competitor would be kicked directly to the kidneys, as that would mean the competitor would be running with his back turned to his opponent. The exception might be a round house kick, although the majority of the power would most likely be absorbed by the abdomen or anterior rib cage. The unified rules therefore singled out heel kicks as the most likely intentional and direct cause of trauma to the kidneys during an MMA bout. Furthermore, we are all aware of the problem of drastic weight cutting in MMA, which only further opens the kidney to risk of harm. We know fighters regularly undergo rapid, significant weight-cuts that already tax and strain the kidneys. Not one of the many prominent MMA fighters, school owners, and MMA competitors with whom we have spoken believes that heel kicks would have made any difference to the outcome of a fight. This concurs with the findings spoken at the ABC's rule presentation. If that be the case, why change to a rule with negligible impact on a fight but potentially increased competitor risk?

Other major sports are implementing changes to make the sport safer while the ABC has rushed through changes that could increase danger.

The primary purpose of all combative sports regulatory bodies, should be, first and foremost, to ensure, in as much as possible with inherently risky activities, the health and safety of all its combative sports athletes. We should be aiming to reduce, not only the risk of immediate debilitating injuries, but also the potential for long term health problems, so that our athletes, once they decide to retire from competition may have a greater chance at productive lives. Our decisions should be based on as much current scientific evidence, and as much collective clinical experience as possible. In addition, if we are aware of these risks, and do not do our best to inform both the athletes and their trainers of these risks, then both sanctioning jurisdictions and promotions arguably run the same risk as did the NFL with concussion/ TE//TBI/withholding of information pertinent to health and safety costing the NFL $765 million dollars and counting.

As New Jersey was the birthplace of the unified rules, the first State to legalize and fully regulate professional MMA, and develop and direct a robust two-tier amateur program; we hold a close and dear relationship with this precocious sport. However, we hereby state that we have and that we will continue to embrace change to the sport. But we cannot endorse change solely for the sake of change itself.

It is our great hope that we can come back to one rule set and a rule set that all can agree upon; as we had prior to the last ABC convention in 2016. No other major sport or league has such disjointed rules of play; rules that vary depending on the locale.

Even though the ABC has no power, control or authority over individual commissions with regard to bout rules, it can still play a pivotal role on the road back to uniformity through open robust debate and consensus building.

Let's consider the fighters and what's best for the sport. What is best is one rule set and not four. It is due time to build consensus and get every commission back to one rule set for these two rules.

Respectfully submitted,

Commissioner Larry Hazzard, Sr.

Deputy Commissioner Rhonda Utley-Herring

Counsel Nicholas Lembo

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