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In MMA/UFC, throat strikes are illegal but chokes are legal.

Are throat strikes much more dangerous than chokes or any other acts of violence that are legal in MMA/UFC?

I'm looking for a medical explanation for why throat strikes might be considered much more dangerous than all the other violent acts that are legal. (Can't you also kill someone with a choke or pretty much any hit to the head? Why are those allowed but not throat strikes?)

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Deliberate strikes to the front of the throat can result in a collapsed trachea, the inability to breathe, and in some cases death because of that. It requires emergency surgery to fix. So for that reason, it's illegal in most MMA competitions including the UFC.

Why isn't choking illegal also? It's because it's more controlled and doesn't generally result in a collapsed trachea. There's usually enough time for the opponent to tap out. Most chokes also tend to be blood chokes which don't target the trachea and result in someone passing out due to loss of blood pressure, instead.

Air chokes are those that attempt to suffocate an opponent, sometimes by putting pressure on the trachea. One might wonder why that's not illegal, also. The answer is that once that is felt by an opponent, they usually have enough training or instinct (and time) to get out of immediate danger. Air chokes are considered not very effective by MMA fighters. Blood chokes are more reliable, followed by submissions, and then air chokes far behind that.

Whereas, strikes to the throat are instantaneous.

Accidental strikes to the throat happen all the time, but they're not generally enough to cause serious injury. And it has to be intentional and cause serious pain or injury in order to disqualify someone.

It's also illegal to eye gouge. It's because that technique is instantaneous and causes serious injury (loss of vision) which requires immediate surgery.

The number of rules in MMA / UFC has gone up over the years as they get better at understanding what can cause injuries. The basic philosophy is that you need rules in order to keep people more or less safe. Why is that important? Because if people get seriously injured each time they train at MMA, they'll never get better at fighting. You need to keep coming back day after day in order to get better. You can't do that if you keep getting injured.

Eye gouges, trachea strikes, testicle grabs, and so on are not core techniques. So their importance in fighting is secondary. And once someone has that core foundation, they rarely need to use those kinds of techniques such as eye gouges. They have other options. But they can easily do them if they wanted.

What is a core technique? The foundational / core skill of MMA is the ability to get into positions while fighting against a struggling opponent. This allows them to then go on and reliably apply secondary techniques such as a submission or an eye gouge.

Without that core foundation, you don't have the ability to get into proper position to apply these "deadly" techniques reliably against a struggling opponent. You might still pull it off in a real fight, but it's mostly by luck.

Most MMA people will tell you that they can very easily apply these techniques if they wanted to. And it's not like it would never occur to them in a real fight to do something like an eye gouge or a throat strike. But in an MMA gym or an MMA competition, they know they can't do those techniques.

Hope that helps.

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  • So would you say a throat strike is generally much more dangerous than a head strike?
    – user13330
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 5:34
  • @user24096 If a trachea strike were intentional, done specifically to inflict the most damage to the throat, and was not defended against at all, then yes it would tend to be more serious than a strike to the head. A strike to the head can result in death, but usually not. A KO is more likely. And having a concussion is possible, resulting in death later on. Though, these are less likely than serious injury from a deliberate trachea strike that's unprotected. Trachea strikes themselves are low percentage techniques because people protect throats well and flinch. It's a smaller target, also. Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 13:04
  • @user24096 As for the likelihood of being able to use a trachea strike in a real life fight, it becomes a lot less likely as the fight progresses. Once people square up and begin to trade punches, throat strikes are not viable techniques. But before the fight has begun, and your opponent is standing there wide open to attack, then yes you have a good chance of landing the throat strike. After that, head strikes would be more effective. During grappling, throat strikes are ineffective as well. The best time to use it is before the fight begins. But the law probably would be against you. Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 13:10
  • I disagree. I can't see any reason why a throat strike or other neck strike is more difficult than say a chin strike. Also remember back of the neck strikes are also not legal but are extremely effective. I agree with the rest of your answer though.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 20:41
  • @HuwEvans The reason is that it's one of the most instinctively protected areas on the body. As soon as hands come towards the neck and head in general, people have an instinctive reflex to flinch. That takes the front of the neck out of the line of attack. People naturally tuck their chins to protect the neck even without training. The trachea is also a small target, and there are a limited number of ways of collapsing it. It's hard during a fight to get off a throat strike that actually ends the fight. Much easier to do before the fight begins as a sucker punch kind of an attack. Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 0:45
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The larynx (commonly called throat) is a complex thing made up of small bones and cartilage structures which are in an intricate interplay in order to coordinate speech, breathing, and swallowing.

High-impact trauma to the throat can break or rupture these bones or cartilage structures and make them lose function. This means that either speech, or the interplay of breathing and swallowing do not work anymore. Since healing times are pretty long (months to years) for these kinds of tissue, and impaired breathing leads to death pretty fast, none of these cases is desirable.

Through chokes, these structures are at potential risk as well. But they are always protected through tensed muscles and potentially hands etc. when the force is applied. Therefore, I never heard of actual throat injuries through chokes other than by hearsay.

Therefore, as there are pretty serious consequences if something breaks and the odds of it happening are very different between strikes and chokes, the former are forbidden and the latter are not.

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Yes, throat strikes carry a high risk of injury in a way that is not that "fun" in a fight. You hit the throat, the victim is incapacitated (might need onsite intervention to enable them to breathe again), and it's over. Remember that fights are regularly ended for much less - as soon as a fighter cannot intelligently defend themselves anymore, sometimes even just for a second (especially in the heavier weight classes). Famously, in a legal liver hit, you see that people "shut down" immediately, and the fight is over. Sure this is somewhat exciting, but having a 25 minute highlight end after 5 minutes for a liver shot... not so fun. That said, the liver is a legal target probably because it seems to be very rare to carry permanent injury, and people do recover within minutes.

When fights end due to (accidental) injury, it is never fun - not once have I seen a fight where both fighters and everybody else were not quite unhappy about that. A fighter cannot show their real prowess if the other guy is not available as target anymore. Winning the fight (and the money) is the one part, but at least the high level athletes are driven my much more, as far as I can tell. This is shown time and again on accidental eye strikes where the victim argues that they want to continue the fight, even if they are clearly incapable.

UFC MMA is a sport. The athletes are doing it professionally - that means, to earn their livelihood. From the point of view of the UFC organization, having athletes become damaged in a debilitating fashion (beyond the current bout) is harmful to business - not only because it may sway public opinion, but because it is really hard to come up with fighters who are able to pull in many viewers on their own. Each weight category has a select handful of really known "stars" who guarantee big numbers. Many other fighters are still in a stage where they have to learn a lot, and might not draw a big viewership on their own, necessarily.

So. The few rules forbidding things like eye gouging, hits to the back to the head/spine, and hitting the throat are more or less specifically because a) official organizations want that to not let the sport become too bloody and arguably b) because the UFC (and similar orgs) realize that if their athletes regularly get damaged beyond repair, they will quickly run out of athletes.

A tertiary reason might be that the character of the sport might change significantly if really damaging techniques were allowed. People would have to shift their training to a) be able to do those techniques and b) be able to defend against them. I assume that this would, again, remove possible athletes from the pool - it would never be allowed in amateur leagues, and those are important as "fuel" to become a professional.

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