Unified Rules - Learn the Rules of MMA
New Rules and Rules Changes (video update)
The 10 point must system is defined as follows:
All bouts will be evaluated and scored by three judges. The 10-Point Must System will be the standard system of scoring a bout. Under the 10-Point Must Scoring System, 10 points must be awarded to the winner of the round and nine points or less must be awarded to the loser, except for an even round, which is scored (10-10).
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Effective Striking/Grappling shall be considered the first priority of round assessments. Effective Aggressiveness is a ‘Plan B’ and should not be considered unless the judge does not see ANY advantage in the Effective Striking/Grappling realm. Cage/Ring Control (‘Plan C’) should only be needed when ALL other criteria are 100% even for both competitors. This will be an extremely rare occurrence.
“Legal blows that have immediate or cumulative impact with the potential to contribute towards the end of the match with the IMMEDIATE weighing in more heavily than the cumulative impact. Successful execution of takedowns, submission attempts, reversals and the achievement of advantageous positions that produce immediate or cumulative impact with the potential to contribute to the end of the match, with the IMMEDIATE weighing more heavily than the cumulative impact.” It shall be noted that a successful takedown is not merely a changing of position, but the establishment of an attack from the use of the takedown. Top and bottom position fighters are assessed more on the impactful/effective result of their actions, more so than their position. This criterion will be the deciding factor in a high majority of decisions when scoring a round. The next two criteria must be treated as a backup and used ONLY when Effective Striking/Grappling is 100% equal for the round.
“Aggressively making attempts to finish the fight. The key term is ‘effective’. Chasing after an opponent with no effective result or impact should not render in the judges’ assessments.” Effective Aggressiveness is only to be assessed if Effective Striking/Grappling is 100% equal for both competitors.
Fighting Area Control
“Fighting area control is assessed by determining who is dictating the pace, place and position of the match.” Fighting Area Control” shall only to be assessed if Effective Striking/Grappling and Effective Aggressiveness is 100% equal for both competitors. This will be assessed very rarely.
“A 10 – 10 round in MMA is when both fighters have competed for whatever duration of time in the round and there is no difference or advantage between either fighter.” A 10 – 10 round in MMA should be extremely rare and is not a score to be used as an excuse by a judge that cannot assess the differences in the round. A 10 – 10 round in MMA is a necessity to have for the judge’s possible score, mainly due to scoring incomplete rounds. It is possible to have a round where both fighters engage for 5 minutes and at the end of the 5-minute time period the output, impact, effectiveness and overall competition between the two fighters is exactly the same. It is possible, but highly unlikely. If there is any discernable difference between the two fighters during the round the judge shall not give the score of 10 – 10. Again, this score will be extremely rare.
“A 10 – 9 Round in MMA is where one combatant wins the round by a close margin.” A 10 – 9 round in MMA is the most common score a judge assesses during the night. If, during the round, the judge sees a fighter land the better strikes, or utilize effective grappling during the competition, even if by just one technique over their opponent, the judge shall give the winning fighter a score of 10 while assessing the losing fighter a score of 9 or less. It is imperative that judges understand that a score of 9 is not an automatic numerical score given to the losing fighter of the round. The judge must consider: Was the fighter engaged in offensive actions during the round? Did the losing fighter compete with an attitude of attempting to win the fight, or just to survive the offensive actions of their opponent? A score of 10 – 9 can reflect an extremely close round or a round of marginal domination and/or impact.
A 10 – 8 Round in MMA is where one fighter wins the round by a large margin. A 10 – 8 round in MMA is not the most common score a judge will render, but it is absolutely essential to the evolution of the sport and the fairness to the fighters that judges understand and effectively utilize the score of 10 – 8. A score of 10 – 8 does not require a fighter to dominate their opponent for 5 minutes of a round. The score of 10 – 8 is utilized by the judge when the judge sees verifiable actions on the part of either fighter. Judges shall ALWAYS give a score of 10 – 8 when the judge has established that one fighter has dominated the action of the round, had duration of the domination and also impacted their opponent with either effective strikes or effective grappling maneuvers that have diminished the abilities of their opponent. Judges must CONSIDER giving the score of 10 – 8 when a fighter shows dominance in the round even though no impactful scoring against the opponent was achieved. MMA is an offensive based sport. No scoring is given for defensive maneuvers. Using smart, tactically sound defensive maneuvers allows the fighter to stay in the fight and to be competitive. Dominance of a round can be seen in striking when the losing fighter continually attempts to defend, with no counters or reaction taken when openings present themselves. Dominance in the grappling phase can be seen by fighters taking DOMINANT POSITIONS in the fight and utilizing those positions to attempt fight ending submissions or attacks. If a fighter has little to no offensive output during a 5 minute round, it should be normal for the judge to consider awarding the losing fighter 8 points instead of 9. Judges must CONSIDER giving the score of 10 – 8 when a fighter IMPACTS their opponent significantly in a round even though they do not dominate the action. Effectiveness in striking or grappling which leads to a diminishing of a fighter’s energy, confidence, abilities and spirit. All of these come as a direct result of negative impact. When a fighter is hurt with strikes, showing a lack of control or ability, these can be defining moments in the fight. If a judge sees that a fighter has been significantly damaged in the round the judge should CONSIDER the score of 10 – 8.
A judge shall assess if a fighter impacts their opponent significantly in the round, even though they may not have dominated the action. Impact includes visible evidence such as swelling and lacerations. Impact shall also be assessed when a fighter’s actions, using striking and/or grappling, lead to a diminishing of their opponents’ energy, confidence, abilities and spirit. All of these come as a direct result of impact. When a fighter is impacted with strikes, by lack of control and/or ability, this can create defining moments in the round and shall be assessed with great value.
As MMA is an offensive based sport, dominance of a round can be seen in striking when the losing fighter is forced to continually defend, with no counters or reaction taken when openings present themselves. Dominance in the grappling phase can be seen by fighters taking dominant positions in the fight and utilizing those positions to attempt fight ending submissions or attacks. Merely holding a dominant position(s) shall not be a primary factor in assessing dominance. What the fighter does with those positions is what must be assessed.
Duration is defined by the time spent by one fighter effectively attacking, controlling and impacting their opponent; while the opponent offers little to no offensive output. A judge shall assess duration by recognizing the relative time in a round when one fighter takes and maintains full control of the effective offense. This can be assessed both standing and grounded.
“A 10 – 7 Round in MMA is when a fighter completely overwhelms their opponent in Effective Striking and/or Grappling and stoppage is warranted.” A 10 – 7 round in MMA is a score that judges will rarely give. It takes both overwhelming DOMINANCE of a round, but also significant IMPACT that, at times, cause the judge to consider that the fight could be stopped. Judges shall look for multiple IMPACTFUL blows or knockdowns that diminish the fighter, and/or grappling maneuvers that place the fighter in dominant situations with impact being inflicted that visibly diminishes the fighter’s ability to compete.
Fouls (with explanations where warranted):
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1. Butting with the head: The head may not be used as a striking instrument in any fashion. Any use of the head as a striking instrument whether head to head, head to body or otherwise is illegal.
2. Eye gouging of any kind: Eye gouging by means of fingers, chin, or elbow is illegal. Legal strikes or punches that contact the fighter's eye socket are not eye gouging and shall be considered legal attacks.
3. Biting or spitting at an opponent: Biting in any form is illegal. A fighter must recognize that a referee may not be able to physically observe some actions, and must make the referee aware if they are being bit during an exhibition of unarmed combat.
4. Fish Hooking: Any attempt by a fighter to use their fingers in a manner that attacks their opponent's mouth, nose or ears, stretching the skin to that area will be considered “Fish hooking”. Fish hooking generally is the placing of fingers into the mouth of your opponent and pulling your hands in opposing directions while holding onto the skin of your opponent.
5. Hair pulling: Pulling of the hair in any fashion is an illegal action. A fighter may not grab a hold of his opponent's hair to control their opponent in any way. If a fighter has long hair, they may not use their hair as a tool for holding or choking in any fashion
6. Spiking the opponent to the canvas onto the head or neck (pile-driving): A pile driver is considered to be any throw where you control your opponent's body placing his feet towards the sky with his head straight down and then forcibly drive your opponents head into the canvas or flooring material. It should be noted when a fighter is placed into a submission hold by their opponent, if that fighter is capable of elevating their opponent they may bring that opponent down in any fashion they desire because they are not in control of their opponent’s body. The fighter who is attempting the submission can either adjust their position, or let go of their hold before being slammed to the canvas.
7. Strikes to the spine or the back of the head. The spine includes the tailbone. The back of the head is defined as the area starting at the crown of the head and running directly down the centerline of the head with a one inch variance to each side. The entire rear portion of the neck is also illegal to attack starting at the occipital junction and stopping at the top of the trapezius. From the trapezius muscle down the spine is protected to the tailbone
8. Throat strikes of any kind and/or grabbing the trachea: No directed throat strikes are allowed. A directed attack would include a fighter pulling his opponents head in a way to open the neck area for a striking attack. A fighter may not gouge their fingers or thumb into their opponent's neck or trachea in an attempt to submit their opponent. If during stand up action of a fight a punch is thrown and the punch lands in the throat area of the fighter, this shall be viewed as a clean and legal blow.
9. ** Fingers outstretched toward an opponent’s face/eyes: In the standing position, a fighter that moves their arm(s) toward their opponent with an open hand, fingers pointing at the opponent’s face/eyes, will be a foul. Referees are to prevent this dangerous behavior by communicating clearly to fighters. Fighters are directed to close their fists or point their fingers straight up in the air when reaching toward their opponent.
10. Downward pointing elbow strike (12 to 6): The use of a linear “straight up straight down” elbow strike is prohibited. Any variation of this straight up and down linear elbow strike makes the strike legal. Any arc, or any angle change from straight up to straight down makes the strike legal. Any variation of position does not alter the legality of the strike.
11. Groin attacks of any kind: Any attack to the groin area including, striking, grabbing, pinching or twisting is illegal. It should be clear that groin attacks are the same for men and women.
12. *Kneeing and/or Kicking the head of a grounded opponent: A grounded fighter is defined as: Any part of the body, other than a single hand and soles of the feet touching the fighting area floor. To be grounded, both hands palm/fist down, and/or any other body part must be touching the fighting area floor. A single knee, arm, makes the fighter grounded without having to have any other body part in touch with the fighting area floor. At this time, kicks or knees to the head will not be allowed
13. *Stomping of a grounded fighter: Stomping is considered any type of striking action with the feet where the fighter lifts their leg up bending their leg at the knee and initiating a striking action with the bottom of their foot or heel. (Note) Axe kicks are not stomps. Standing foot stops are NOT a foul. As such, this foul does not include stomping the feet of a standing fighter. *” A grounded fighter is defined as: Any part of the body, other than a single hand and soles of the feet touching the fighting area floor. To be grounded, both hands palm/fist down, and/or any other body part must be touching the fighting area floor. It needs to be clear to all fighters that once an opponent has become grounded, Stomps of any kind are not permitted, even to the feet.
14. Holding opponent's gloves or shorts: A fighter may not control their opponent's movement by holding onto their opponent's shorts or gloves. A fighter may hold onto or grab their opponent's hand as long as they are not controlling the hand only by using the material of the glove, but by actually gripping the hand of the opponent. It is legal to hold onto your own gloves or shorts
15. Holding or grabbing the fence or ropes with fingers or toes: A fighter may put their hands or feet on the fence and push off of it at anytime. A fighter may place their hands or feet onto the cage and have their fingers or toes go through the fencing material at any time. When a fighter's fingers or toes go through the cage and grab hold of the fence and start to control either their body position or their opponent's body position it now becomes an ILLEGAL action. A fighter may not grab the ropes or wrap their arms over or under the ring ropes at any time. The fighter may not purposely step through the ropes. If a fighter is caught holding the fence, cage or ring rope material the referee shall issue a one-point deduction from the offending fighters scorecard if the foul caused a substantial effect in the fight. If a fighter grabs hold of the cage and because of the infraction, the fouling fighter ends up in a superior position due to the foul, the fighters should be re-started by the referee, standing in a neutral position after determining if a point deduction is appropriate
16. Small joint manipulation: Fighters must grab the majority of fingers or toes for use as defense or manipulation. Fingers and toes are small joints. Wrists, ankles, knees, shoulders and elbows are all large joints.
17. Throwing an opponent out of the ring or caged area: A fighter shall not throw their opponent out of the ring or cage.
18. Intentionally placing a finger into any orifice, or into any cut or laceration of your opponent: A fighter may not place their fingers into an open laceration in an attempt to enlarge the cut. A fighter may not place their fingers into an opponent's, nose, ears, mouth, or any body cavity
19. Clawing, pinching, twisting the flesh: Any attack that targets the fighter's skin by clawing at the skin or attempting to pull or twist the skin to apply pain is illegal.
20. Timidity (avoiding contact, or consistently dropping the mouthpiece, or faking an injury: Timidity is defined as any fighter who purposely avoids contact with his opponent, or runs away from the action of the fight. Timidity can also be called by the referee for any attempt by a fighter to receive time by falsely claiming a foul, injury, or purposely dropping or spitting out their mouthpiece or other action designed to stall or delay the action of the fight
21. Use of abusive language in the fighting area. The use of abusive language is not allowed during MMA competition. It is the sole responsibility of the referee to determine when language crosses over the line to abusive. It should be clear that fighters can talk during a match. The mere use of auditory language is not a violation of this rule. Examples of abusive language would be (Racially motivated or Derogatory language)
22. Flagrant disregard of the referee's instructions: A fighter MUST follow the instructions of the referee at all times. Any deviation or noncompliance may result in points being deducted from the fighter's scorecard, or the fighter being disqualified from the match.
23. Unsportsmanlike conduct that causes an injury to opponent. Every athlete competing in the sport of MMA is expected to represent the sport in a positive light emphasizing sportsmanship and humility. Any athlete that disrespects the rules of the sport or attempts to inflict unnecessary harm on a competitor who has been either taken out of the competition by the referee or has tapped out of the competition shall be viewed as being unsportsmanlike.
24. Attacking an opponent after the bell has sounded the end of the period of unarmed combat. The end of a round is signified by the sound of the bell and the call of time by the referee. Once the referee has made the call of time, any offensive actions initiated by the fighter shall be considered after the bell and illegal
25. Attacking an opponent on or during the break: A fighter shall not engage their opponent in any fashion during a time-out or break of action in competition
26. Attacking an opponent who is under the care of the referee. Once the referee has called for a stop of the action to protect a fighter who has been incapacitated or is unable to continue to compete in the fight, fighters shall cease all offensive actions against their opponent.
27. Interference from a mixed martial artist’s corner or seconds: Interference is defined as any action or activity aimed at disrupting the fight or causing an unfair advantage to be given to one combatant. Corners are not allowed to distract the referee or influence the actions of the referee in any fashion.
REMOVED AS A FOUL- Throwing in the towel during competition
A fighter's corner, at the Commission's discretion, should have the option to retire his fighter in the quickest and most efficient manner possible, during competition. A corner person having worked alongside a fighter may recognize and accept what their fighter's capabilities are from past experience. It makes sense from a safety perspective to allow a corner to retire the fighter. If there is consideration that debris in the form of a towel entering the ring or cage may contribute to a disruption or confusion in the contest, then colored towels or special towels might be a consideration to be used.
Scoring the foul to be performed by the Scorekeeper
Fouls may result in a point being deducted by the official scorekeeper from the offending mixed martial artist's score. The scorekeeper, not the judges, will be responsible for calculating the true score after factoring in the point deduction.
Only a referee can assess a foul. If the referee does not call the foul, judges shall not make that assessment on their own and cannot factor such into their scoring calculations.
If a foul is committed, the referee shall:
1. call time;
2. check the fouled mixed martial artist's condition and safety; and
3. assess the foul to the offending contestant, deduct points, and notify each corner's seconds, judges and the official scorekeeper.
If a bottom contestant commits a foul, unless the top contestant is injured, the fight shall continue, so as not to jeopardize the top contestant's superior positioning at the time.
1. The referee shall verbally notify the bottom contestant of the foul.
2. When the round is over, the referee shall assess the foul and notify both corners' seconds, the judges and the official scorekeeper.
3. The referee may terminate a bout based on the severity of a foul. For such a flagrant foul, a contestant shall lose by disqualification.
Time Considerations for Fouls
Low Blow Foul
A fighter who has been struck with a low blow is allowed up to five minutes to recover from the foul as long as in the ringside doctor's opinion the fighter may possibly continue on in the contest. If the fighter states that they can continue on before the five minutes of time have expired, the referee shall as soon as practical restart the fight. If the fighter goes over the five minute time allotment the fight cannot be restarted and the contest must come to an end with the outcome determined by the round and time in which the fight was stopped.
Fighter who is not fouled by low blow but another foul
If a contest or exhibition of mixed martial arts is stopped because of an accidental foul, the referee shall determine whether the unarmed combatant who has been fouled can continue or not. If the unarmed combatant's chance of winning has not been seriously jeopardized as a result of the foul and if the foul did not involve a concussive impact to the head of the unarmed combatant who has been fouled, the referee may order the contest or exhibition continued after a recuperative interval of not more than 5 minutes. Immediately after separating the unarmed combatants, the referee shall inform the Commission's representative of his determination that the foul was accidental.
If a fighter is fouled by blow that the referee deems illegal, the referee should stop the action and call for time. The referee may take the injured fighter to the ringside doctor and have the ringside doctor examine the fighter as to their ability to continue on in the contest. The ringside doctor has up to 5 minutes to make their determination. If the ringside doctor determines that the fighter can continue in the contest, the referee shall as soon as practical restart the fight. However, unlike the low blow foul rule, the fighter does not have up to 5 minutes of time to use at their discretion.
For a foul other than a low blow, the fouled fighter is not guaranteed 5 minutes of recovery time. If deemed not fit to continue by the referee or ringside physician, the referee must immediately call a halt to the bout. If the fighter is deemed not fit to continue by the referee or ringside physician but some of the five minute foul time is still remaining, the fighter cannot avail himself of the remaining time.
If the referee stops the contest and employs the use of the ringside doctor, the ringside physician's examinations shall not exceed five minutes. If five minutes is exceeded, the fight cannot be re-started and the contest must end.
Scoring of incomplete rounds
There should be scoring of an incomplete round. If the referee penalizes either contestant, then the appropriate points shall be deducted when the scorekeeper calculates the final score for the partial round.
Verbal tap out
1.Submission by Tap Out:
When a contestant physically uses his hand to indicate that he or she no longer wishes to continue; or
ii. Verbal tap out: When a contestant verbally announces to the referee that he or she does not wish to continue or makes audible sounds such as screams indicating pain or discomfort
COMBAT AREA ( Ring / Cage )
All MMA contests will take place in either a Cage or a Ring that has been approved by the Commission. The Cage or Ring will meet the requirements set forth by each Commission and also be subject to inspection prior to each event by a Commission representative such as a referee.
The ring specifications for mixed martial arts must meet the following requirements:(1) The ring may be no smaller than twenty feet square and no larger than thirty-two feet square within the ropes;(2) One of the corners must have a blue designation, the corner directly across must have a red designation;(3) The ring floor must extend at least eighteen inches beyond the ropes. The ring floor must be padded with ensolite or a similar closed-cell foam, with at least one inch layer of foam padding. Padding must extend beyond the ring ropes and over the edge platform, with a top covering of canvas, duck or similar material tightly stretched and laced to the ring platform. Material that tends to gather in lumps and ridges may not be used;(4) The ring platform must no be more than four feet above the floor of the building and must have suitable steps for the use of the contestants;(5) Ring posts must be made of metal, not more than three inches in diameter, extending from the floor of the building to a minimum height of fifty-eight inches above the ring floor, and must be properly padded in a manner approved by the commission. Ring posts must be eighteen inches away from the ring ropes;(6) There must be five ring ropes, not less than one inch in diameter and wrapped in soft material. The lowest rope must be no higher than twelve inches from the ring floor;(7) There must not be any obstruction or object, on any part of the ring floor.
The fighting area canvas shall be no smaller than 18 feet by 18 feet and no larger than 32 feet by 32 feet. The fighting area canvas shall be padded in a manner as approved by the Commission, with at least one inch layer of foam padding.
Padding shall extend beyond the fighting area and over the edge of the platform. No vinyl or other plastic rubberized covering shall be permitted.
The fighting area canvas shall not be more than four feet above the floor of the building and shall have suitable steps or ramp for use by the participants. Posts shall be made of metal not more than six inches in diameter, extending from the floor of the building to a minimum height of 58 inches above the fighting area canvas and shall be properly padded in a manner approved by the Commission. The fighting area canvas area shall be enclosed by a fence made of such material as will not allow a fighter to fall out or break through it onto the floor or spectators, including, but not limited to, vinyl coated chain link fencing. All metal parts shall be covered and padded in a manner approved by the Commission and shall not be abrasive to the contestants. The fence shall provide two separate entries onto the fighting area canvas.
RULE MEETINGS ( General Guidelines )
In many jurisdictions, group rule meetings have been commonplace in the reviewing of rules, fouls and other considerations. It is recommended that individual meetings between the bout supervising referee and each competitor in the contest be conducted backstage in the locker room or another appropriate location. Many times contestants will ask questions of the official when the rules are covered individually in private, when they would have been hesitant to ask the same question in front of their competitor. This also provides the referee to observe any peculiar idiosyncrasies of the fighter, such as an odd speech pattern, nervous ticks, or different eye colors. This does not supersede the ability of the Commission to have a general rules meeting about the requirements and also discuss items such as a fighter's time to report, the location, interaction with the inspectors, available liquids and foods, taping requirements and so on, with all the fighters gathered en masse.
The generally accepted weight classes in mixed martial arts are:
Flyweight up to 125 lbs.
Bantamweight over 125 to 135 lbs
Featherweight over 135 to 145 lbs
Lightweight over 145 to 155 lbs
Welterweight over 155 to 170 lbs
Middleweight over 170 to 185 lbs
Light Heavyweight over 185 to 205 lbs
Heavyweight over 205 to 265 lbs
Super Heavyweight over 265 lbs.
It is recommended that the unwritten custom of the one pound allowance for non-title bouts be continued, but only if provided for in the written bout contract or by regulation.
Commissions may also approve catch weight bouts, subject to their review and discretion. For example, the Commission may still decide to allow the contest if it feels that the contest would still be fair, safe and competitive if a set catch weight is set in advance at 163 pounds, for example.
In addition, if one athlete weighs in at 264 pounds while the opponent weighs in at 267, the Commission may still decide to allow the contest if it feels that the contest would still be fair and competitive. This would be despite the fact that the two athletes weighed in at differing weight classes.
Commissions should establish and make known to promoters the maximum allowable weight differences for contestants for each weight class.
All mixed martial arts contestants shall be required to gauze and tape their hands prior to all contests. In all weight classes, the bandages on each contestant's hand shall be restricted to soft gauze cloth not more than 10 yards in length and two inches in width, held in place by not more than 10 feet of surgeon's tape, one inch in width, for each hand. Surgeon's adhesive tape shall be placed directly on each hand for protection near the wrist. However, as opposed to boxing wraps, the tape may cross the back of the hand twice and extend to cover and protect the knuckles when the hand is clenched to make a fist. The bandages shall be evenly distributed across the hand. Bandages and tape shall be placed on the contestant's hands in the dressing room in the presence of the inspector and, if warranted, in the presence of the manager or chief second of his or her opponent.
Under no circumstances are gloves to be placed on the hands of a contestant until the approval of the inspector is received. Substances other than tape and gauze shall not be utilized. For example, prewraps should not be used.
Females competitors should be allowed to compete in five minute rounds, three rounds for non-title bouts and five rounds for title bouts.
All contestants shall wear glove which are at least 4 ounces and are approved by the Commission. The language should not place a limit on 6 ounce gloves. The discussion by the group was prompted by the introduction of triple XL or five XL gloves which, due to the additional material, may weigh over 6 ounces.
Gloves should be supplied by the promoter and approved by the commission. No contestant shall supply their own gloves for participation.
Use of Vaseline and other similar substances
Absolutely "no" body grease, gels, balms, lotions oils, or other substances may be applied to the hair, face or body. This includes the use of excessive amounts of water "dumped" on a contestant to make him/her slippery. However, Vaseline may be applied solely to the facial area at cage side or ringside in the presence of an inspector, referee, or a person designated by the commission. Any contestant applying anything other than Vaseline in an approved fashion at the appropriate time could be penalized a point or subject to loss by disqualification.
Double Knockout Situations
The referee shall stop a contest or exhibition of unarmed combat at any stage if the referee determines that both unarmed combatants are in such a condition that to continue might subject the unarmed combatants to serious injury. If a contest or exhibition is stopped pursuant to this subsection, the decision shall be deemed to be a technical draw.
It is recommended that a Commission inspector or referee bring a clipper and a file to each event and check the fingernail length of all contestants.