As free as MMA’s ruleset is, there are still many rules that are there not only to ensure the safety of the fighters but also to guarantee the sportsmanship of the contest. One of the less understood rules in MMA is the up-kick.
Technically, the up-kick is not illegal in MMA. But every kick to a grounded opponent is deemed illegal, including the up-kick.
Let’s continue the discussion in a bit more detail to clarify what is and what is not legal in MMA, concerning up kicks and some other strikes.
Up kicks are legal in most MMA rulesets. In most cases, being on the back is considered a serious disadvantage in the cage, and the up kick is one of the few powerful tools that can help you get out of this less-than-ideal position.
However, there is one crucial distinction that we must make. Kicks to the head of a grounded opponent are not permitted under the unified rules of MMA, which are widely used, including in the UFC. So, first and foremost, we must define what a “grounded opponent” is, as this is one of the rules that caused the most confusion.
Today, a grounded opponent is considered a fighter who has the palms of both hands, both fists, a knee, or any other body part touching the floor. In the case of up kicks, if a fighter is in top guard position, at least one of his knees is touching the floor, meaning that up kicks are not allowed.
Here is an excellent example of an illegal up kick that led to a disqualification (it is also a good example of acting on the victim’s part):
The up kick is a perfectly legal weapon when the opponent is on his feet and looking for ways to enter into guard or smash his way with ground and pound, but he is still not considered grounded.
Kicking from the back can generate a lot of power, which is further amplified when the fighter on the receiving end is rushing downwards and into the kick. Such knockouts are rare, but they are always spectacular.
What About Other MMA Organizations?
Not all MMA organizations use the unified MMA rules. While the UFC, Bellator, and all major American and European organizations have adopted them, in Asia, things are different. Since the 1990s and through the glory days of Pride FC, kicks and even knees to a downed opponent were allowed.
This created amazing highlight reels full of soccer kicks (remember Shogun Ruas’s kicks and stomps). This may seem barbaric to some, but the rules are there to mitigate stalling tactics. When kicks and knees are allowed on the ground, the game changes quite slightly.
There are still debates about how dangerous soccer kicks and overall kicks to a downed opponent are. Many studies show that a standing head kick or even a punch can generate more than enough force to cause severe trauma, no less than a soccer kick can.
Another credible defense of such kicks is that elbows are more dangerous and cause more damage and pain than soccer kicks, and elbows are perfectly legal under the unified rules.
This is why kicks to a downed opponent are still allowed in many Asian MMA organizations like ONE FC, Rizin, Deep, and others who refuse to use the American rules.
Naturally, this ties in with up kicks as well. This rule gives another dangerous weapon for a fighter on his back to attack. Here are some nasty up-kick knockouts, some of which are scored on a “grounded opponent.”
MMA is far gone from the days of anything goes fighting. Some restricted moves are pretty obvious and non-debatable, like hair-pulling, eye-gouging, biting, and groin strikes. But some other less-known techniques are not allowed because they are deemed too dangerous for the fighters’ health.
- Head-butting– The head butt was a legal move in the early days of the UFC. Today, however, it is difficult to find an MMA organization that uses them. This is one of the techniques that many defenders believe should be included in the sport.
- 12-6 elbows- one of the stranger rules today is 12-6 elbows. The downward elbow strikes are illegal because they are “too dangerous.” We don’t see how they are more dangerous than other elbow strikes, especially when used in ground and pound. But nevertheless, the rules are there, so fighters have to follow them. Some prominent names like Daniel Cormier also agree that the 12-6 elbow should be banned.
- Pile driving- Unfortunately for professional wrestling fans, slamming someone flat on the head or neck is not permitted. This can indeed cause serious spine injuries and is rightfully restricted. However, some slams walk a fine thread between legal and illegal, but at least the rule discourages fighters from trying head slams in the first place.
- Strikes to the back of the head- the back of the head is very vulnerable, and strikes there can lead to potentially life-threatening harm. So they are illegal, just like in any other striking combat sport.
- Small joint manipulation- Submissions are a significant part of MMA, but there are limits to what can be used legally. Small joint manipulation means twisting and pulling the fingers and toes. If this was legal, we can be sure that there would have been a lot of fingers left in the octagon.
Up kicks are only illegal on a grounded opponent. So if an opponent is on their knees while you’re on your back, you cannot up-kick them. However, if they are standing ready to throw a diving overhand right, you’re well within the rules to throw brutal up-kicks.