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ASK THE COMMISSION: Is Minnesota's rule for 'back of the head' different than it is in other states? Print E-mail
Written by Matt Schowalter   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 14:05

(EDITOR'S NOTE: During the weekly "Ask the Commission" feature, Matt Schowalter or someone else from the Minnesota Combative Sports Commission will tackle your questions. If you have questions for the commission, send them to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Enjoy!)

QUESTION: In fighter meetings the last year, the refs have been saying that the top of the head is included in the "back of the head" definition for illegal areas to strike, whereas it seems in the UFC and other states the top of the head is legal to strike. ... Does Minnesota have separate rules defining the "back of the head' or are they just interpreting them differently? Their current interpretation limits what a fighter can do from bottom guard when the person on top buries their face in your chest. Or maybe my understanding is incorrect?

This is a great question. Although rules can be put down on paper, the interpretation of those rules can vary from person to person. Our job is to come up with our interpretation of the rules and then ensure that the officials we license follow those interpretations to the letter.

The other thing to consider here is that a person's perspective can also come into play. Just because you see an illegal strike from where you are doesn't mean someone sees that same thing from where they are. For example, let's say that Fighter A takes Fighter B to the ground and gains mount. In order to defend, Fighter B rolls to his side and covers his head. Fighter A starts raining down punches to Fighter B's head. From where you are sitting, Fighter B is facing you, so every punch thrown behind Fighter B's head looks as if it's an illegal strike to the back of the head. However, the referee is positioned where Fighter B is facing away from him and can see that those same punches are either hitting the canvas, or sneaking under Fighter B's head and hitting him solidly in the ear, which would be a legal strike. The two different perspectives show two completely different strikes, one legal, and one illegal.

In regards to what constitutes the back of the head, the definition we use is the same as the Association of Boxing Commissions

(ABC): "Illegal Strikes to the Back of the Head - The Committee has found a compromise between the Mohawk definition and the headphones definition. The Committee recommends a nape of the neck definition. Basically, the group concluded that a strike that touches the ear is generally acceptable.


"Strikes are not permissible in the nape of the neck area up until the top of the ears. Above the ears, permissible strikes do not include the Mohawk area from the top of the ears up until the crown of the head. The crown of the head is found where the head begins to curve.

"In other words, strikes behind the crown of the head and above the ears are not permissible within the Mohawk area. Strikes below the top of the ear are not permissible within the nape of the neck area."

I know the wording may be a little hard to understand, so let's take a look at the following photos.

In the first photo, we see the side of a fighter's head. Anything in front of the white lines is considered a legal blow and anything behind the white lines is considered an illegal blow.

As you can see, there's a very fine line between what is legal and what is illegal. It's up to the referee to make a split-second decision on where the strike landed and whether that would be considered legal or not.

The term "back of the head" can be deceiving because the crown, or top of the head, is also part of this definition. In the second photo, we see the back of a fighter's head. Anything outside of those lines is considered a legal blow and anything inside of those lines is considered an illegal blow.

In your example, you talk about a fighter who buries his head in your chest, limiting what strikes you can deliver. Unfortunately, this is a smart move by the fighter on top. He's going on the offensive and also limiting what you can do from your position.

To put it in a different perspective, kneeing an opponent in the face is a completely legal move. However, if that fighter has more than just his two feet on the ground, you can no longer knee him in the face. In order to avoid getting kneed in the face, a bent over fighter will put his hand on the ground. Your ability to strike your opponent legally has now been altered and is no different then the fighter burying his head in your chest.

It's your job to know where the legal striking areas are, and deliver a strike to that area when your opponent makes it visible. This brings us back to perspective and timing. In most cases, strikes being delivered to the back of the head are happening at a very high rate of speed. Not only is the fighter throwing a flurry of strikes, their opponent is also moving and trying to avoid the strikes.

Then you add hair into the factor. If a fighter has extremely long hair, it can sometimes become difficult to determine where the legal and illegal strike zones are.

Add all of those factors together and you are putting an extreme amount of pressure on the referee to make the correct decision at the exact precise moment. Even though the referees know the rules, it's still up to them to make a split-second judgment call.

Sometimes they are wrong and sometimes they are right, we just have to make sure the times they make the right call far outweigh the times they are wrong.

The only way you can have near 100 percent accuracy is if you have instant replay available. Like I stated last week, Minnesota doesn't have instant replay yet, but hopefully will in the near future.