By: Kim Winslow

MMA referee Kim Winslow

As referees we are always under the gun to ensure the safety of fighters while making sure a fight is not stopped prematurely or points deducted unnecessarily.  One of the most misunderstood rules in MMA is blows to the back of the head.

Rules Regarding Back of the Head
I will start off by explaining what we are looking for as referees!  We are looking for a fighter that sees his opponent’s head (the opponent is not moving his head). He then targets and strikes the no strike zone

If this occurs then this is considered an intentional foulIf an opponent is moving and turns his head into the strike there is NO foulIf the fight can continue the offending fighter can receive anything from a warning to a point deduction.  If the fighter cannot continue  then the offending fighter is disqualified.

If a fighter does NOT see where his punches are landing and he hits the no strike zone many referees consider this an unintentional foul and give time for the injured fighter to recover and the offender receives a verbal warning

If the injured fighter is unable to continue, and  it is prior to the first two rounds being completed in a three-round fight, it is considered a no contest.   If two rounds have been completed then it would then go to the judges’ scorecards.

 Many people are under the assumption that a fighter is entitled to a warning before any point deduction or more severe punishment during a fight.

What most people don’t understand is that the fighters have all been warned about the back of the head extensively in the back by most referees before the bout even begins.  The size and power of some of these fighters don’t give much leeway for a warning!

We are dealing with a concussive impact and fighters cannot always recover or the damage can be to the degree from one punch that it is warranted that one or more points is mandatory to make up for the deficit.

Usually anything more than one point is reserved for when the referee feels the foul is intentionalIf the foul is intentional then the referee has the ability to take two points from the offending fighter.  

No Strike Zone 
So what is the “No Strike Zone,” you ask?  Let me explain it to you in simple terms the same way I explain it to fighters in the backKeep two fingers (from your striking hand) on the ear in any direction at all times and it will keep you clear of the No Strike Zone

I can give you the complex tip of the ear to the tip of the ear straight across down including the neck…blah blah blah blah, but let’s face it, that is a lot for fighters to remember when they are out there!

I do give fighters the official definition before a bout but then I give them the visual aid (it’s not changing the rule just simplifying it to keep them out of trouble).  

What we are trying to protect is the Occipital Region of the brain.  We are trying to do this because if they take a shot there it can affect their ability to see and process what it is they are seeing.  Think about that as a fighter!  That is BIG!  

The brain is also divided into several lobes:

  • The frontal lobes are responsible for problem solving and judgment and motor function.
  • The parietal lobes manage sensation, handwriting, and body position.
  • The temporal lobes are involved with memory and hearing.
  • The occipital lobes contain the brain’s visual processing system.

The brain is surrounded by a layer of tissue called the meninges. The skull (cranium) helps protect the brain from injury. The occipital lobe is divided into several functional visual areas. Each visual area contains a full map of the visual world.

Although there are no anatomical markers distinguishing these areas (except for the prominent striations in the Striate cortex), physiologists have used electrode recordings to divide the cortex into different functional regions.

The first functional area is the primary visual cortex. It contains a low-level description of the local orientation, spatial-frequency and color properties within small receptive fields. Primary visual cortex projects to the occipital areas of the  ventral stream (visual area V2 and visual area V4), and the occipital areas of the dorsal stream — visual area V3, visual area MT (V5), and the dorsomedial area (DM).

Head Injuries and Your Brain:
Your brain is well protected from most damage. It sits inside a hard, bony skull. Layers of membranes and fluid provide even more padding. But even with all of this natural protection, the brain can still get injured.

And damage to it can affect everything you do, from thinking to moving. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is any blow to the head that’s hard enough to affect the brain’s function.

Photo of brain anatomy

What is a Concussion?
A concussion is caused by a jolt that shakes your brain back and forth inside your skull. Any hard hit to the head or body — whether it’s from a football tackle or a car accident — can lead to a concussion.

Although a concussion is considered a mild brain injury, it can leave lasting damage if you don’t rest long enough to let your brain fully heal afterward.

Illustration of a concussion


  1. ^WebMD, Stanford Hospital & Clinics, St. Rose Dominican Hospitals 
  2. ^Carlson, Neil R. (2007). Psychology : the science of behaviour. New Jersey, USA: Pearson Education. pp. 115
  3. ^Destina Yalçin, A., Kaymaz, A., & Forta, H. (2000). Reflex occipital lobe
  4. ^Spark Notes Brain Anatomy: Parietal and Occipital Lobes 2007-12-31.
  5. ^Wikipedia

Ask the Ref” is a blog featuring female pro mixed martial arts referee Kim Winslow. Submit your questions for Ms. Winslow by sending them to [email protected] with “Ask the Ref” in the subject line, or you can submit your question in the comments section below.

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