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Is Five Minutes Enough?: Who Decided on the Timeout Length for Groin Shots in MMA?

In a sport where violence is a calling card, why does a simple kick in the nuts halt all the action?

April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, and we’re grabbing it right by the balls. Every day for the entire month, we will be publishing a new story aimed at getting men to better consider — and cherish — their family jewels in hopes of helping prevent a diagnosis that, if caught early enough, shouldn’t prove fatal. Read everything here.

There are very few acts of violence that a mixed martial arts bout is paused for. But chief among them is whenever the deafening impact of a punch or kick echoes off of a fighter’s protective groin covering. Presuming that the low blow has been properly identified and called by the referee, the fighter whose nuts have been imperiled has a full five minutes to recover from the (supposedly) errant strike to his balls.

How was it that five minutes was determined to be ample recovery time for the sort of shot that might batter a man’s berries into jelly? 

For the answer to that question, I reached out to Larry Hazzard Sr., the man who headed the commission that established the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. He had refereed amateur and professional boxing matches for 18 years before he was tabbed to manage the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board (NJSACB) in 1985. And it was in 2001, in his role as NJSACB commissioner, that Hazzard was tasked with overseeing the creation of the rules that govern MMA bouts to this very day — and per the topic at hand, look out for the testicles of the sport’s biggest stars. 

What was the atmosphere like when you and the rest of the NJSACB were hammering out the Unified Rules of MMA?

It wasn’t even called MMA at the time. It was no-holds-barred fighting and toughman stuff. There was a great deal of difficulty getting the sport accepted in its raw form throughout the country by many of the state commissions. Even New Jersey was very apprehensive about approving the sport at that time, because it was very raw. There were basically no rules and regulations, so what we decided to do was accept the challenge of trying to legalize the sport.

Then the UFC came into New Jersey from Nevada. They had tried to get some events approved in Nevada, but the commission in Nevada turned them down. Marc Ratner, who works for the UFC right now, was one of the people from the Nevada Athletic Commision who was vehemently against MMA. At one time, Marc Ratner had declared that they would never have it in Nevada. Eventually what happened is that the UFC was told if they came to New Jersey and could get approval and get sanctioned in New Jersey, then they’d be able to get their shows approved in Nevada, too.

So how did the UFC get their first show approved in New Jersey?

They got together with Donald Trump, who at the time was a casino entrepreneur in Atlantic City. He gave them the go-ahead to have an event in one of his properties in Atlantic City — the Trump Taj Mahal. They then came to us, and we told them we would not approve any events unless we could have some rules and regulations that would address some of the health and safety concerns that all of the commissions had throughout the country. I organized a meeting immediately — in my office in Trenton — which was attended by many of the commissions. We had the Nevada commission on the phone. We sat down, and we hammered out a set of rules and regulations that were acceptable to everyone, and that got the ball rolling. We called them the Unified Rules for Mixed Martial Arts. That’s how the rules came to be.

They’ve been in existence since that time with no problem.

Do you remember if anyone was fighting for a rule that didn’t make it in, or if a rule made it in that people didn’t want to see?

Not at that time, because this was emerging out of a toughman environment where the rules barely even scratched the surface. It was pretty much an anything-goes affair. There were no specific rules, which is why most of the commissions wouldn’t approve it. That’s why we hammered them out and named them the Unified Rules for Mixed Martials Arts. Once they were voted on and accepted, that’s when we approved the UFC event at the Trump Taj Mahal, under those Unified Rules. It was well documented, and the rest is history.

There have been several attempts by the Association of Boxing Commissions to change some of the rules. There have been debates and some attempts to change certain rules and regulations, which often occurs in many sports. But the Unified Rules that we solidified in 2001 have outlived many of the commissions that were around at that time.

I’m guessing boxing heavily influenced the shaping of the rules. And in boxing, there is a five-minute recovery period for a low blow. Was that just grandfathered into the Unified Rules for Mixed Martial Arts? Was it really as simple as that?

That’s entirely possible. Many of the people involved with drafting the rules were heading commissions that directly regulated boxing at the time. I was a boxing referee for years before I started running the commission in New Jersey in 1985. And so that’s what opened the door to combative sports. That’s what helped establish the credibility that opened the door in many of those states.

Do you think the five-minute recovery time for when a fighter gets hit with a low blow is still a good rule? Should the fighters get more or less time to recover?

I still believe that the groin protector that’s worn by fighters has been adequate since the beginning of time. History bears that out. I don’t recall many fights, if any, where a fighter was hit with a low blow and really couldn’t continue. As a rule, a fighter is given up to five minutes to recuperate. If he doesn’t continue, or he refuses to continue, he’ll lose the bout by abandonment. You rarely see it happen, and to this day, I still think that it’s a very good rule.