MMA regulators discuss Jessica Andrade's violent knockout slam of Rose Namajunas at UFC 237 and whether it should remain legal in the sport.
Jessica Andrade is the new UFC women's strawweight champion. She attained that statute title with a violent, second-round slam knockout of Rose Namajunas at UFC 237 on Saturday nighttime in Brazil.
The technique, Andrade impulsive Namajunas down to the mat head and neck first, was a legal one. It was well inside the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. Regulators hold on that fact.
The big inquiry approaching out of this weekend, though, is not if such a barbarous slam is legal -- it's whether or not it should be.
According to the Unified Rules of MMA: "Any propulsion with an arc to its movement is to be reasoned a legal propulsion." In addition, if a entry is beingness unsuccessful by one combatant, his or her opposing is able to pick that combatant up and "bring that opposing down in any manner they feeling because they are not in power of their opposing's body." Andrade's slam met both criteria; it had an arc and Namajunas was attempting a kimura entry at the time. It was legal.
An illegal slam is a very specific violation and extremely rare in MMA. It is defined in the rules as a "pile driver," where a combatant powers the opposing's body, "placing their feet up in the air with their head straight down and then forcibly drives the opposing's head into the canvas or flooring material."
Namajunas was knocked out by the legal slam and Andrade was ruled the winner via TKO by referee Marc Goddard. The angle in which Namajunas' head hit the mat was difficult to watch, but Namajunas did not go to the hospital afterward, her agent, Brian Butler, told ESPN's Ariel Helwani.
Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission (CABMMA) executive director Cristiano Sampaio told ESPN that he has already requested that the topic of slams be brought up this month on the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) rules and regulations committee conference call. Sampaio, whose agency regulated UFC 237, is a member of that committee.
"Whatever is decided, I am sure combatants' safety will always be the No. 1 priority," Sampaio wrote in an email statement. "And I have also requested an input from CABMMA's medical committee. Hopefully by July, in the ABC's annual conference, we can come to conclusions whether or not this rule should be improved."
Dr. John Neidecker, the vice president of the Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP), told ESPN that while the kind of slam Andrade used was dangerous, a straight up-and-down spike of the head into the mat is likely to be what would put combatants "more at risk" for short- and long-term damage -- even paralysis.
"The most dangerous thing as far as a neck is concerned is that head-on collision, that axial pressure going straight down the cervical spine," Neidecker, a sports medicine and orthopedics specialist, said. "So if you're doing a slam that is going straight up and down, you're definitely putting somebody more at risk for that type of impact.
"When you're having that arc [on a slam], you're really taking away that component of axial pressure down the neck. You may get more hyper extension or hyper side-bending to the neck, and that can cause injury, but that's not going to cause the catastrophic injuries you see with paralysis like an axial spine blow does. There's a potential of injury to the neck with any type of slam, but there's the potential for injury with pretty much everything in MMA. That's the name of the game."
The slam rule is written so specifically, because of the feeling to keep "fighting as limitless as possible in the cage," inside reason when it comes to health and safety, according to California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) executive officer Andy Foster, who also chairs the ABC's medical committee."Fighters get damaged and they get paid to get damaged. That's what they're there for. They know the risk." John McCarthy
The slam rule dates back to the original writing of the Unified Rules in 2001. Legendary referee John McCarthy said there was a movement at the time to ban slams after Tito Ortiz knocked out Evan Tanner with one at UFC 30 just months earlier. McCarthy said he brought DVDs to the meeting of wrestling slams and judo tosses from the 1996 Summer Olympics to show the other regulators that these were already accepted practices in other sports.
"This is all legal right now in the Olympic Games," McCarthy said he told those gathered. "Every one of these propulsions were legal in their sports, and you're gonna say they're not legal now in MMA?"
A consensus was built and that's how the current slam rule came to be, said McCarthy, who began refereeing fights at UFC 2 in 1994 before retiring last year to pursue color commentary with Bellator.
McCarthy, who also is on the ABC rules and regulations committee, said he stands by the language as currently constituted. He said if Namajunas didn't want to get slammed that way, she would have released the entry.
"That's her choice," McCarthy said. "She made a choice. She's an intelligent combatant, and she suffered the consequences of a bad decision. Should we sit there and say we should change the rule? Absolutely not."
McCarthy acknowledges that it was a dangerous slam, but added that knockouts of any other kind are dangerous, too. It's hard to legislate the danger out of MMA, he said.
"Fighters get damaged and they get paid to get damaged," McCarthy said. "That's what they're there for. They know the risk. And you cannot take fighting and make it so that no one gets hurt. It's not gonna happen. Every time someone steps on a football field, there's a possibility they can be paralyzed for the rest of their life. Same thing with basketball."
Foster said he'd be open to discussing the slam rule, but doesn't believe any kind of change is necessary at this juncture. There have only been 11 slam knockouts in UFC history, four in UFC statute title fights. The last slam knockout in a UFC statute title fight before Saturday was when Matt Hughes stopped Carlos Newton at UFC 34 in 2001.
"I think it's fine to talk about it, to debate it, to have these kinds of conversations about it," Foster said. "Unless it starts beapproaching a regular issue, I don't think a change is necessary."
New Jersey State Athletic Control Board (NJSACB) counsel Nick Lembo, who also was in the room 18 years ago when the Unified Rules of MMA were written, said he would not advocate for a change in the slam rule, but would be willing to listen to anything that could make MMA safer for combatants. Lembo and New Jersey are against the new definition of a grounded combatant rule that was passed in 2016, because they feel it increases the risk for athletes.
"Fighters already get injured enough when training and competing and will likely face further consequences after their careers end," Lembo said. "I've always believed that currently active combatants should have a large say in rule changes that directly affect them and what is permissible.
"[Saturday] nighttime's situation is rare, and the rule generally does not need to be discussed or applied. I am not advocating for a change, but if there was a substantial call for change, I would be in favor of a change that makes it safer for combatants."