“At the risk of sounding like the kid in class who reminds the teacher to hand out homework, one of the best things to happen to the sport of mixed martial arts was the implementation of rules. As fun as it was to watch the early days of no-holds-barred fighting, that was not a tenable system for any organization. Sure, it was great to see the weirdness of grappling legend Royce Gracie resort to hair-pulling against Kimo Leopoldo at UFC 3, and it was downright hilarious to watch Keith Hackney pummel Joe Son’s testicles at UFC 4 — especially when considering what we later found out about Son — but those are the types of occurrences that justified the sport’s label as “human cockfighting.”
Without rules, sanctioning would have been a near insurmountable obstacle. That would have greatly strained the remunerative potential of MMA, which would have prevented most of the great fighters we know today from ever entering the sport. Part of the reason why those early Ultimate Fighting Championship tournaments were fun was because the competitors weren’t particularly skilled or athletic. They were tough enough, scrappy enough and probably more than a little off-in-the-head enough to want to fight a stranger in some random sketchy arena. They were regular people you’d see in regular life with a dash of martial arts and/or street-fighting experience; they weren’t world-class athletes.
The problem: Enforcing rules can be hard. The very thing that makes MMA so dynamic and exciting — the constant potential for an instantaneous ending of the fight — also makes it unmanageable. Pity the thankless, fallible work of refereeing…”