Illegal UFC Moves: Inside the Forbidden Strategies of the Octagon

Illegal UFC Moves

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Although the UFC is considered a full-contact sport, there are several moves that have been outlawed inside the Octagon because they put the health and safety of fighters in peril.


Like any fight sport, mixed martial arts has rules and regulations to be followed. Included in this list are moves that are not allowed to be executed inside the cage. These moves are considered dangerous and put a fighter’s life in danger.

Here are the most common illegal moves in the UFC:

Groin Shot

In boxing, this is called a low blow. But while this is just a punch below the waistline in boxing, the groin shot in MMA can be from a punch or a leg kick. Although this is common in any fight sport, it is usually unintentional. It’s just that sometimes a fighter does miss on his target and the strike lands where it shouldn’t.

In the UFC, when a fighter gets hit with a groin shot, the referee stops the bout and gives the aggrieved fighter up to five minutes to shake it off and continue fighting. Fighters may or may not use the entire five minutes of rest. But if a fighter is unable to continue because of the low blow, the bout could end in a no-contest or a Disqualification win in favour of the wronged fighter.

Strike to the back of the head

This move is also illegal in boxing as it could potentially cause serious injury to a fighter. In mixed martial arts, it’s even more dangerous because imagine if someone kicks his opponent in the back of the head. It’s like football and with vital structures vulnerable at the back of a person’s head, a leg strike could even be fatal.

Depending on the severity of the blow, the penalty for this strike can be a warning, point deduction, or even disqualification. Although we haven’t seen someone get seriously hurt with this illegal strike in the UFC, former boxing prospect Pritchard Colon nearly died after receiving several rabbit punches to the back of his head during his fight against Terrell Williams. Although Colon eventually woke up from a coma, he has never fully recovered from the incident.

Eye Poke

The eye poke is perhaps the most common illegal move in the UFC and like the groin shot, it is not always intentional. Unlike boxers who use closed gloves, mixed martial artists use open gloves where a fighter’s fingers stick out. Because of these, we’ve seen countless times where a fighter gets poked in the eye. 

Of course, getting hit in the eye is very dangerous. A person’s eyes are two of the most delicate parts of the human body and a brutal eye poke could mean permanent eye damage or even blindness. The 2021 bout between current UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards and Belal Muhammad was declared a no-contest after Muhammad was unable to continue after an inadvertent eye poke.

12-6 Elbows

12-6 elbows are elbows landed on a downed opponent via a vertical pattern – straight from the roof down to the floor. These aren’t really common moves because a fighter needs to be on top of his opponent to land this. However, the illegal 12-6 elbow is what caused the only blot in UFC heavyweight champion Jon Jones’ MMA career.

Jones was dominating his 2009 bout against Matt Hamill and was well on his way to an easy fight. But late in Round 1 when Jones was pounding Hamill from the mount, he landed several elbows which referee Steve Mazzagatti declared as vertical elbows but instead of issuing Jones a warning or declaring the fight a no-contest, he disqualified Jon which stands as the only loss in Bones’ career.

Leg Strike to the head of a grounded opponent

A UFC fighter is not allowed to use a leg strike on an opponent who is on the ground. Leg strike here includes kicks, knees, or stomps to a grounded opponent. A fighter on the ground usually has his hands down too and hence is unable to defend the strike to the head.  Which could be potentially dangerous because the downed fighter is in a compromised position.

As with the 12-6 elbows to the head and a strike to the back of a fighter’s head, leg strikes to a grounded foe can cause serious head trauma or injuries that could be fatal. The most famous example of this was Petr Yan who lost his UFC bantamweight title to Aljamain Sterling at UFC 259 due to disqualification.