(Sotiropoulos using his knee and ankle supports to allow Joe Stevenson to get a better grip on his leg.)
A popular topic of debate surrounding next weekend’s UFC 123 event in Auburn Hills, Michigan has focused on the legality of the in-Octagon apparel worn by one of the card’s participants.
Fans and pundits alike seem split about whether or not the compression short-ankle and knee support combination worn by lightweight George Sotiropoulos are legal under the Unified Rules of mixed martial arts.
Even G-Sot’s opponent, Joe Lauzon has labeled the Australian fighter a cheater because of his in-Octagon apparel.
“I don’t see how you can wear your regular fight shorts, compression shorts under that that go to your knee, then wear knee pads on both sides that go halfway down your leg, then ankle supports that go halfway up your leg and down to your toes,” Lauzon explained to Ariel Helwani during a recent episode of MMAFighting’s The MMA Hour. “I don’t know what the deal is with the commission, if he’ll be allowed to wear those or not, but we’re prepared for him either way. I don’t really understand how he gets away with them. We’re definitely going to look into it a little bit.”
(G-Sot chose to forgo wearing his knee braces at UFC 116 in July after opponent Kurt Pellegrino called him a cheater for wearing them.)
Lauzon may be wasting his time.
According to reputable officials we conferred with from the Nevada State Athletic Commission and New Jersey State Athletic Control Board – two of the main regulatory bodies responsible for helping develop the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts as we know them today – Sotiropoulos’s choice of legwear is perfectly legal under their jurisdictions, but ultimately, the final call goes to the commission overseeing each event.
We received the following statement by email from Counsel to the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, Nick Lembo regarding the use of braces in NJACB regulated events:
“The unified rules are silent on the issue with regard to braces. It is not a topic that is specifically addressed there, thus, it would be up to the individual commissions,” Lembo writes. “[NJSACB’s] position is to allow neoprene sleeves, but not taping, pads or [rigid] bracing.
Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer points out that his governing body follows similar guidelines.
“We look at knee “braces” on a case-by-case basis,” Kizer explained via email. “The basic rule is you cannot use anything that could harm the opponent (like sharp edges or buckles or excess padding), could help get and hold a submission (like sticky or gripping material), or could help escape a submission (like slippery material).”
Here’s a photo of Frank Mir submitting Brock Lesnar at UFC 81 in Las Vegas wearing knee braces with Velcro straps and plastic buckles, which, as an aside, is curious considering NSAC does not allow buckles on braces worn inside the cage.
(Why hasn’t anyone questioned Mir’s Octagon attire? Is it because he has lost while fighting in the UFC?)
We asked Nelson “Doc” Hamilton, an experienced MMA referee and judge licensed by both NJSACB and NSAC if it was up to the ringside officials or referees to determine whether or not a fighter’s supports conform to the rules set by the commissions before they are allowed to step into the cage and he says that the responsibility falls on the backstage commission reps who check the fighters hand wraps in the dressing room.
“My understanding is that the use of braces etc. is a determination made by the Athletic Commissions, usually in conjunction with the promoter,” Hamilton One thing is for sure; the ring officials don’t make the final decision.”
We didn’t ask Lembo or Kizer about Sotiropoulos’ shorts as they are covered in section 13:46-24A.9 of the Unified Rules, which states that: ”Each contestant shall wear mixed martial arts shorts, biking shorts, or kickboxing shorts.” There is no clarification as to what length they must be, but according to the Oxford Dictionary, “shorts” are defined as “short pants that reach only to the thighs or knees,” which Sotiropoulos’s do.
A request for clarification about Sotiropoulos’ supports from the body that will be overseeing Saturday night’s event – the Michigan Unarmed Combat Commission, has not been answered as of time of writing, but considering that most commissions allow similar braces to be worn and the precedents set by NSAC and NJSACB, it’s unlikely that MUCC will prevent him from wearing them.
It’s also unclear whether or not MUCC will enforce the often overlooked rule 13:46-24A.10 which requires that, “All contestants shall be cleanly shaven immediately prior to competition, except that a contestant may wear a closely cropped mustache.”
If so, the card could be in trouble.
(Pic props Bloodyelbow)