To knee or not to knee? ABC, Colorado at odds over ONE Championship’s ruleset being used in U.S.

To knee or not to knee? That is the question the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports and the Colorado Combative Sports Commission disagree on.

The ABC is not pleased with the Global Rule Set being used for ONE Championship’s first event in the U.S. – but the Colorado commission remains firm in its belief that it’s well within its rights.

On Tuesday, ABC president Mike Mazzulli issued a written statement to MMA Junkie in which he condemned Colorado’s approval of the non-ABC-approved ruleset for ONE Fight Night 10, which takes place Friday at 1STBANK Center in Broomfield, near Denver.

Mazzulli’s primary qualm is with the use of knees to a grounded opponent, which are illegal in the ABC-approved Unified Rules used by the UFC, Bellator and other American-based promotions.

“The Association of Boxing Commissions is very disappointed in the State of Colorado regarding the upcoming ONE Championship event on May 6, 2023,” Mazzulli said. “Colorado is stepping back decades regarding health and safety. In fact, if the executive director in Colorado has any medical documentation or studies that show ‘knees to the head of a grounded opponent is safer,’ he should share the information with the ABC.

“At first glance, it appears the State of Colorado has amended their rules simply to attract a promotion. (ONE Championship has not yet operated in the U.S. and uses ‘knees to the head of grounded opponents’ in their foreign promotions). The ABC Rules specify ‘No knees to the head of a grounded opponent’ because the organization believes a Commission’s first obligation must be to fighter safety. Rule changes should always have fighter safety at the forefront.”

He concluded, “ONE Championship is welcome to bring their promotions to the United States, but they should be using the unified rules. The liability that the State of Colorado is incurring with this rule amendment is staggering.”

The ABC is a conglomerate of regulatory bodies from around North America and beyond. However, commissions are run by each state and can differ in methods of functionality. The ABC “provides framework and recommendations” in order “to promote uniform health and safety standards in boxing and MMA,” according to the organization’s website.

Colorado explains itself

Colorado’s commission is a member of the ABC but argues it’s well within its rights to adopt additional rulesets, Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies spokesperson Lee Rasizer told MMA Junkie.

“The Colorado Combative Sports Commission allows for third-party sanctioning of events provided that the sanctioning body meets requirements under Rule 1.4, including the review and approval of rules by the Director [Tony Cummings],” Lasizer wrote in a written response. “ONE Championship submitted rules that were reviewed and approved in 2021 and will be in effect for the first time for Friday’s card at the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield.”

“The State of Colorado’s first concern has always been fighter safety,” Rasizer continued. “Rules have in no way been amended to attract a promotion. In fact, unlike other states, the Commission adopted the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts set forth by the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) without deviation.”

ONE Championship has historically operated in Asia and follows its own Global Rule Set, rather than the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts used by ABC-regulated states and territories.


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In 2021, Colorado, which typically uses the Unified Rules for MMA, approved the Global Rule Set as an additional option. A copy of the rules acquired and published by combat sports attorney Erik Magraken shows “kneeing to the head of a grounded opponent is legal” is among those rules.

As for fighter safety, Rasizer said there is no evidence to support a claim that knees to a grounded opponent is any more dangerous than knees to the head of a standing opponent.

“’Knees to a grounded fighter’ is permissible under the ONE Championship rules and while this allowance deviates from the ABC ruleset, there is no current study that proves that this technique poses a greater safety risk than that of someone considered a grounded fighter by placing one palm or fingers on the canvas,” Rasizer wrote. “The commission took all available information into consideration prior to approving the ONE Championship ruleset.”

Uncertainty ahead

ONE Championship currently does not have any other U.S. events scheduled, though the promotion has angled to hold shows on American soil for quite some time.

ONE vice president Rich Franklin stated in a 2022 interview with Boardroom that discussions were also occurring with others states like Louisiana and Georgia. It is unclear at this time if other states will follow Colorado in adopting additional rulesets or maintain alignment with the ABC’s Unified Rules.

ONE Fight Night 10 takes place Friday and streams on Amazon Video. It’s headlined by former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson as he rematches Adrian Moraes for the promotion’s flyweight title.

Also on the card, kickboxing star Rodtang Jitmuangnon, grappling sensation Mikey Musumeci, former KSW double champion Roberto Soldic, and former UFC fighter Sage Northcutt are set to compete.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie