UFC Illegal Moves – The big No’s of MMA

In the 1990s, the UFC’s motto was “no rules”. However, there were a few regulations in place; biting and eye gouging were not permitted, while other moves such as headbutts, hair pulling and groin shots were accepted. Nowadays, the rules have been modified and there is a definite list of prohibited strikes.

A UFC fight can appear to be intensely aggressive (given the use of strikes, kicks, elbows, knees, chokes, submissions, takedowns, and wrestling), but it can also be a great way to gain an understanding of the sport. As a sport, safety is always of the utmost importance and so not all techniques are allowed. There are still regulations in place concerning what is not allowed.

Certain moves, either intended or accidental, can cause severe harm to the adversary and are thus not allowed. Here is a comprehensive list of techniques that are forbidden in the cage. These include headbutts, hair pulling, small joint control, attacking the groin area, striking the back of the head or spine, and more.

The following techinques are illegal moves in the UFC and the reasoning behind why they are not allowed.

UFC Illegal Moves


Headbutts were once legal in the UFC, but now they are not. This is one of the most discussed illegal moves in the UFC. Headbutts can cause extreme head trauma and lasting harm for the rest of one’s life.

Since they are pretty straightforward to do, if they were accepted, there would possibly be numerous serious injuries in the cage.

There has been much discussion about if headbutts should be allowed in the cage, with many, including Joe Rogan, in favor of it. If headbutts were allowed, the whole game would be changed (from clinches to grappling stances, etc.).

Eye Gouging

It’s clear that fingers in the eyes are incredibly hazardous. Despite this, they take place frequently.

We often witness fighters competing with their fingers open. Poking an opponent, intentionally or not, can lead to serious injury and potentially alter the fight’s result.

At times, eye contact is penalized with a point deduction or even disqualification. But usually, they are not punished.

Punishments for eye hits should be stricter so that fighters are encouraged to keep their fingers closed when they attempt to hit them.

The most well-known UFC match where eye gouging was an issue was the Cachoeira vs Robertson bout.

Jillian Robertson had a Rear Naked Choke applied, and Cachoeira purposely gouged the eyes in order to break free. After this incident, many fight fans demanded that Cachoeira be released.

Groin Strikes

It’s against the rules to hit the groin area with any type of strike. When a fighter delivers a low blow, they usually receive a warning from the referee. If they do it again, they may incur a point deduction or even a direct check for a deliberate strike to the groin.

The fighter struck with a low blow is given five minutes to recover from the blow. If they cannot proceed, the match is halted.

Strikes To The Back of The Head

Strikes to the back of the head are viewed as illegal moves in the UFC. Referees explain to the fighters at the rules meeting that any hit behind the eye is deemed to be the back of the head.

Nevertheless, there are some loopholes to this illegal activity. Head kicks that move around the head or strike behind the ear while standing are typically acceptable.

Striking anywhere on the top of the adversary’s head with any blow is considered an illegal move.

Strikes To The Spine

Apart from strikes to the back of the head, competitors are not permitted to strike the adversary’s spine.

Any potential harm to the spine from a strike that could cause paralysis to the fighter is typically a direct disqualification.

Thus, it’s essential for the fighters to always be cognizant of the positioning of the opponent’s spine.

Kicking a Downed Opponent

Kicking or kneeing a downed adversary in the head has not been permissible in the UFC since the official regulations were implemented.

If a fighter has one or two knees on the ground, they are considered a downed fighter.

The last time a fighter was struck with a knee while on the ground, it culminated in a title change, with Aljamain Sterling becoming champion.

Testicle Grabbing

Apart from hitting the groin, competitors are not allowed to grab their adversary’s testicles. This rule was established after an occurrence during a Vale Tudo battle in Brazil featuring UFC veteran Gary Goodridge.

During the fight, Goodridge grabbed his opponent’s testicles and squeezed them as hard as he could. Incidents like this are the reason why regulations were created in MMA.

Fence Grabbing

Grabbing the fence is one of the worst errors that UFC fighters attempt to avoid. Fighters try to surreptitiously grab the barrier in an effort to get up or keep their adversary in close quarters.

When the referee spots a fighter gripping the fence, they remove the hand. In general, fighters will only get a warning for grabbing the fence.


You are not able to drive your adversary’s head on the floor like a piledriver in professional wrestling. This move would lead to intense neck damage or paralysis.

In the famous bout between Nogueira and Bob Sapp, Minotauro was tackled to the ground by Sapp and spiked. Although Nogueira won the fight, he experienced severe neck injuries, which he still suffers from currently.

12-6 Elbows

12-6 elbows are one of the most contentious illegal moves in the UFC and many people think that they should be allowed. The history of the illegality of 12-6 elbows dates back to when the official regulations were established. 12-6 elbows are deemed to be more hazardous due to their downward trajectory, which boosts the likelihood of a head injury.

As Big John McCarthy clarified on Joe Rogan’s podcast, the New Jersey State Athletic Commission was against the move. They had watched a brick-breaking demonstration where a karateka used a 12-6 elbow. McCarthy was able to convince the commission to accept all elbows except the 12 to 6. The only blot on Jon Jones’ record was a defeat through disqualification because of the use of a 12 to 6 elbow.

No Swearing

Strictly speaking, fighters are not allowed to curse or swear while competing in the octagon. Even though this rule is not truly implemented, as one may have witnessed at any UFC event.

You will always hear at least one competitor using profanity during the battle. Particularly fighters like the Diaz brothers, who are renowned for trash-talking during a fight.

Fish Hooking

As demonstrated in the TV Show Friends, fish hooking is when an individual inserts a finger inside the cheek of their adversary and attempts to drive it through.

This move has never been allowed in the UFC, even when there were no regulations in the fights. Fish hooking can lead to intense harm to the face, eyes and mouth, so it’s understandable why it’s illegal.


Scratching, clawing, or pinching an adversary’s flesh are some of the more evident illegal moves in the UFC. We have never viewed a fighter in the modern period commit these fouls, but that is not to say it does not take place. All these moves can bring about major harm and should be evaded at all costs.

Throat Strikes

Strikes to the throat in any form are not accepted in the UFC or any other MMA organisation. Any harm to the throat could lead to death which is why throat strikes are not seen in the UFC.

The only time we have ever watched throat strikes was in the early days of the UFC when there were no rules.

Hair Pulling

Hair pulling is another blatantly illegal move that has not been proper since the initial days of the UFC. You will never observe a fighter pull their adversary’s hair as Royce Gracie did to Kimo in their intense battle.

Hair pulling can bring about a great deal of agony and can even make a fighter lose their vision if done constantly.

Grabbing Shorts/Gloves

Just like clutching the cage, grabbing a fighter’s shorts/gloves is illegal but moves some competitors to sneak in. It’s common for fighters to slyly snatch in a short or glove grab while fighting.

Referees will slap their hands off and caution fighters, but this does not stop some fighters from attempting these illegal moves.

Throwing an Opponent Out of The Cage

To the disappointment of some fight fans, competitors are not allowed to throw their adversaries out of the cage. You will have to watch a pro wrestling event if you desire to see that.

Fingers in Cuts

We already listed eye gouging and fish hooking, but overall, fingers in any orifice or cut are not allowed. Fighters can not put their fingers in an adversary’s cut and attempt to open it further.

This practice is incredibly hazardous and can lead to a great deal of harm, so it’s understandable why it’s illegal.

Small Joint Manipulation

Fighters are unable to break their opponent’s fingers when it comes to small joint manipulation. Generally, it’s permissible to grab three fingers but any attempt to break them is not allowed.

This technique is employed to gain an advantage and gain control over the adversary.

Outstretched Hands

The use of outstretched hands toward an opponent’s face became necessary in response to fighters like Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. Eye pokes, as a result, were deemed illegal as they posed a serious risk of injury.

Therefore, fighters must now keep their hands open, or fingers outstretched when attacking their opponent’s face. This rule was established to protect fighters and guarantee a fair fight.


Spitting is not viewed as acceptable behavior within the sport of MMA, and the UFC is strict in their punishments for such a violation.

This type of conduct is not tolerated in the cage, and any fighter engaging in it will face a fine, suspension, or even release from their contract.

Attacks After The Bell

Illegal behavior during a fight can lead to serious repercussions, as was the case for Paul Daley. After the end of a bout between Daley and Josh Koscheck, Daley made contact with Koscheck despite the bell had already sounded.

This resulted in the fighter’s permanent ban from the UFC. Such action is highly frowned upon and can lead to hefty punishments.

Attacking The Opponent During The Break

Hitting an opponent out of rounds is an infraction that can result in point deductions. This type of behavior is considered inappropriate and the consequences can either be losing points or disqualification.

UFC Illegal Moves – Conclusion

In conclusion, MMA is a sport with a wide variety of techniques and moves. While some of these can be used to create an intense fight experience, they can also be dangerous and lead to serious harm.

This is why there are rules in place that prohibit certain moves, such as headbutts, eye gouging, groin shots, small joint manipulation, strikes to the back of the head, fish hooking, hair pulling, and more.

These illegal moves should be avoided in order to ensure the safety of both fighters, as well as the integrity of the sport.