Are Elbows Allowed in UFC?

Yes. Elbows are allowed in the UFC, however they cannot be downward elbows meaning (from a clock's perspective) 12 o'clock down to 6 o'clock. Famously the only loss in the career of Jon Jones is a disqualification from downward elbows.

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12 to 6 Elbows

When picturing a clock, the number 12 is located in the top center, and the number 6 is located in the bottom center. Downward elbows are commonly referred to as '12-6 elbows', and the idea is that the elbow goes directly downwards from 12 to 6.

12 to 6 clock

If this is the case, the elbow under the Unified Rules of MMA is considered an illegal elbow.

Why is it Illegal?

One of the referees who helped create rules in MMA and was an instrumental part in the advancement of the sport, Big John McCarthy, explains that there was a proposition to take away elbows completely from the sport.

He explained that elbows are used in Muay Thai, and a rule like this could completely change the sport.

Eventually the conversation turned to how karate fighters have broken bricks and ice with a downward elbow, and McCarthy initially began arguing against it, but his boss agreed it was dumb but advised to let it go.

downward elbow

Alas, the illegal downward elbow was born. You can watch his entire interview with Joe Rogan below. McCarthy is very well spoken and can explain each rule and situation thoroughly.

If the Downward Elbow Doesn't Land

If a downward elbow is thrown but it doesn't land, the fighter will immediately lose his dominant position. The referee will pause the action and stand them up.

In fact, this happened when Eddie Alvarez fought Dustin Poirier. He was mounted on Poirier against the cage when he inexplicably threw a downward elbow, mimicking the action his coach was doing.

The referee stood them up and Alvarez lost his dominant position. Shortly after, Poirier would knock him out.

If a Fighter Can Continue

If there's a downward elbow that occurs and that lands on an opponent, the match is paused.

The referee will then take a point from the perpetrator.

mma referee

If a Fighter Can't Continue

An illegal strike like this occurring will result in the referee pausing the match, and if that strike has caused enough damage where the opponent cannot continue, the match will end.

The perpetrator will be disqualified, and the fighter hit with the illegal elbow will win.

This is exactly what happened in the case of the only loss in the career of Jon Jones. He was handily beating Matt Hamil until several illegal elbows caused the match to be paused and eventually ended.

elbows ufc

Controversy With 12 to 6 Elbows

There is a large controversy with this rule for many reasons. Some argue that a downward elbow isn't any more dangerous than a horizontal elbow.

Others argue that a downward elbow isn't more dangerous than a kick to the head, which is equivalent to getting hit with a baseball bat.

mma kick

Dana White

Dana White famously has never agreed with this rule. When the stoppage against Jon Jones occurred, White explained that the referee should have taken a point, not stopped the fight.

He later explained that Hamill could not continue due to having a dislocated shoulder, rather than the downward elbow having landed.

elbows ufc

How Effective are Elbows in General?

Elbows are extremely effective in causing damage, but in particular in causing cuts.

Any time that an elbow lands, there's a much higher chance of the fighter causing a gash to their opponent.

When a cut opens up, the fighter who is cut up is immediately at a disadvantage. The immediate bleeding can affect the vision of the fighter if it gets in their eye, and if the opponent targets this area, it can cause even more bleeding to the point where the referee can waive off the fight.