Some of the more exciting narratives heading into Front Street Fights 11, presented by Bodybuilding .com, will certainly serve what is familiar for fight fans. Many in attendance have seen fighters like Casey “Wild Style” Johnson and Josh “The White Mamba” Wick before, and they’re signing up for another go-around with their favorite fighters. But February 24th will also introduce a new wrinkle to the bouts that will affect every fighter, the institution of several rule changes that will keep the fighters on their toes.
The Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) voted to approve a number of rule changes last summer, changes that have slowly been adopted and implemented in the months since. Tom Supnet, the Head of Officials for the Idaho Athletic Commission, will be enforcing those changes at FSF 11, rules that will redefine what constitutes a “downed” fighter and affect how judges score each round.
Jesse Brock is one of Idaho’s most decorated MMA fighters and also a coach with several of his fighters taking part in FSF11. The veteran isn’t so sure the rule changes will necessarily have a significant effect on the outcome of fights, but the combatants will need to be aware of them.
“At Front Street Fights, I can’t think of a situation where I thought to myself, ‘Man, if the rules were different it would’ve made for a totally different outcome’. But it will definitely change the way some guys attack,” said Brock, who boasts a 22-9-0 professional record.
“To be honest, I think it’ll make things a little more exciting but it will also make guys a little more cautious trying to work their way back up to their feet from a take-down. There will be a bit more excitement in that regard with guys throwing knees or kicks to the head a bit sooner.”
Fighters are now considered ‘down’, a time when that fighter cannot be hit in the head, when that fighter has two hands down on the mat. Rules had previously required just one hand, or even a finger, to be in contact with the mat.
Josh Wick called Brock one of the best grappling instructors around, and Brock said the new definition shouldn’t affect his students. Brock expects his fighters to be ready for anything, no matter what the rulebook says.
“When I’m showing someone how to get to their feet from a situation on the ground, I’m talking in terms that there are no rules and this guy can kick me in the head at any point,” said Brock. “I’m teaching these guys how to come up safely with that in mind. I’m not thinking, ‘Ok my knee is on the ground so he can’t kick me in the head.’ No I’m going to operate under the assumption that this fighter can inflict violence at any point.”
The rule change that Brock will be most interested in for the 24th is the new attitudes for judges scoring rounds. Judges will be encouraged to score more rounds 10-7 or 10-8, as opposed to 10-9. That’ll leave less gray area at the ends of matches and encourage more aggressiveness from fighters.
Because of the small sample size, it’s hard to be sure of how those new guidelines will be applied. Brock knows the importance of using trends and data, but with the recent implementation of the rules there is little information for coaches to go on. Brock hopes that it will be done in a way that gives powerful strikers their due, but also rewards fighters who are artists on the ground.
“Most people understand violence on the feet and striking, but a lot of people don’t understand what’s happening on the ground. I’ve been accused of being a boring ground fighter and I think I’m anything but that if you know what you’re watching,” said Brock.
“I think I work hard to pass guard and I stay aggressive, but that doesn’t always equate to punches being thrown. Sometimes it equates to posturing and passing guard and breaking guard, and then when you achieve that dominant position you can do damage. A lot of the aggression is in the grappling itself until you can get to a position to strike. I don’t favor any rules that take us away from that appreciation of what happens on the ground.”
The changes won’t only be an adjustment for the fighters earning scores but also for those who are handing those scores out.
“The judges are going to have to evolve, too,” said Brock. “A lot of these guys are probably pretty set in their ways as far as what type of action warrants a particular score. Hopefully they make their adjustments, too.”
The changes in the rules may not be overwhelmingly evident to the fans at CenturyLink Arena, and might not even impact the fighters too much. In any event, Brock hopes the rules and scoring methods are applied in a way that promotes fighting and rewards all the tools a fighter uses to win.
“I’m all in favor of what’s going to promote the sport, and I hope people see how exciting it is,” said Brock. “If we only move towards what looks good on TV, it’s going to take away from some of the art. I’m hoping that the people who made these rules understand that.”
“That’s what makes this sport unique is that you have guys winning fights and they’re able to do it without hurting somebody, and that’s kind of a cool thing to me. It’s going to alienate the true artist if we just highlight what looks violent rather than what is effective.”