5 illegal moves that were once legal in the UFC

Petr Yan lands an illegal knee on Aljamain Sterling
Petr Yan lands an illegal knee on Aljamain Sterling

MMA fans would rank UFC as the best platform for combat sports because it is believed to be the house of the purest form of violence. MMA involves different styles of martial arts, be it striking with punches, kicks, elbows, knees, or wrestling and locks. Therefore, it is often believed that MMA does not involve any rules, but that is far from the case.

Curiously, the slogan used by the UFC in 1990s was "There are no rules." However, the MMA promotion still did not allow many things like fish-hooking and eye-gouging. With that said, it was still a scary era when a number of dangerous moves were allowed that are now deemed illegal.

Here are five illegal moves that were once legal in the UFC:

#5 Hair-pulling

Royce Gracie
Royce Gracie

Hair-pulling is a move that belongs to the street. It is by no means a martial arts move, but can be used regardless and very effectively. If allowed inside the octagon, it would prove disadvantageous, especially to fighters who sport a longer hairstyle. It can also cause indiscriminate pain and discomfort.

Hair-pulling is presently an illegal move in the UFC but that was not always the case. MMA legend Royce Gracie was one of the very first to use the move in 1994 against Kimo Leopoldo. Being on his back, Royce was getting dominated by Leopoldo, but the jiu-jitsu legend avoided some significant ground and pound, thanks to the hair-pull, and eventually won the bout via an armbar.

Watch Royce Gracie use the hair-pull move in the UFC from the 7:20 mark:

#4 Headbutts

Joseph Benavidez gets accidentally headbutted by Deiveson Figueiredo
Joseph Benavidez gets accidentally headbutted by Deiveson Figueiredo

a Headbutt is a brutal move that belongs only in action-movies. It is now considered an illegal move in the UFC and has become a rarest of the rare sight, but once upon a time, it was completely legal. Headbutting an opponent can lead to severe physical trauma to the head, causing serious and long-term damage.

Headbutts are also not very technical and pretty straight-forward to perform. If it was legal in the UFC, fight fans would see much more severe injuries inside the octagon. The now-illegal move would come in handy in several situations, be it in the clinch or in certain grappling positions.

While headbutting is an illegal move in the UFC, many MMA analysts and experts, like Joe Rogan, are of the opinion that it should be made legal. Speaking on his podcast, Rogan said:

"Even to this day, I don’t mind headbutts, it’s a legit technique. Why is it okay to slam your elbow into someone’s face, but it’s not okay to slam your forehead into someone’s face?"

#3 - Rabbit Punches

Conor McGregor finishes Dustin Poirier at UFC 178
Conor McGregor finishes Dustin Poirier at UFC 178

Strikes to the back of the head and neck, or 'rabbit punches', are one of the most debated illegal moves in the UFC. However, they were very much legal during the early days of the organization. The back part of the head is an extremely vulnerable area that, if subjected to significant trauma, can cause comas and other serious disabilities.

While rabbit punches are now deemed illegal, they were once legal in the UFC. Despite strikes to the back of the head and neck being illegal, they do still often occur unintentionally. This doesn't mean outright disqualification as long as the fighter doesn't continue with it despite warnings.

Strikes to the back of the head can also be tricky to spot, and there are a handful of cases where UFC fighters get away with such violations. An example of this is Conor McGregor's first meeting with Dustin Poirier at UFC 178.

Also read: Watch what unfolded when Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier first met at UFC 178.

#2 - Groin Strikes

Jon Jones lands a groin strike on Alexander Gustafsson
Jon Jones lands a groin strike on Alexander Gustafsson

Groin strikes are outrageous and outright unethical. However, just like other moves on this list which are now deemed illegal in the UFC, they were legal in the organization at one point in time. A famous incident involving a fighter handing out groin strikes in the UFC is a 1994 fight between Keith Hackney and Joe Son.

After getting locked in a partial guillotine by Son, Hackney resorted to at least a dozen groin punches before getting his neck free. He eventually won the fight soon after a submission.

While groin punches have now become almost absent from the UFC, we do see groin kicks every now and then, but as an occupational hazard rather than a malicious plan. Fighters who are on the wrong end of accidental groin kicks are given a decent amount of time to recover.

#1 - Kneeing a grounded opponent to the head

The illegal knee that disqualified Petr Yan
The illegal knee that disqualified Petr Yan

While it is legal in the UFC to kick or knee an opponent in the head while he or she is standing, doing so to a grounded opponent is illegal. Knees to a grounded opponent's head is a move that is often witnessed in the UFC, and is often responded to with warnings, point deductions, or even a disqualification.

Conor McGregor kneed Khabib Nurmagomedov in the face during their fight at UFC 229, but the illegal move was ignored by referee Herb Dean. Knees to the head can be devastating in terms of damage, and Jorge Masvidal's KO against Ben Askren is the perfect example.

Former UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan lost his title to Aljamain Sterling at UFC 259 after landing an illegal knee on Sterling's head.

Also read: Petr Yan clarifies why he threw an illegal knee on Aljamain Sterling at UFC 259.

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Edited by Harvey Leonard
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