Are Soccer Kicks Legal In UFC?

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion on the planet.

As the second-fastest growing sport in the world, MMA has gained millions of followers due to explosive knockouts, exciting brawls, and larger-than-life personalities.

As a fundamental technique of an MMA fighter, have you ever wondered if soccer kicks translate to the sport of fighting? Are soccer kicks a valid and legal move in UFC? 

The answer requires some explaining and it may come as a surprise. Throughout this article, we will discuss what soccer kicks are and whether or not they are legal in MMA.

Conor McGregor. One of the UFCs biggest stars
Conor McGregor. One of the UFCs biggest stars

What Are Soccer Kicks in MMA?

In MMA, a “soccer kick” is a term used to describe leg strikes to a downed opponent. 

Fighter is considered down if they are off their feet in any way, including kneeling and rising.


This type of kick is similar to a kick in a soccer game as the target is on the ground. In MMA, soccer kicks can cause severe damage as they are very difficult to defend from the ground. 

Depending on the position of the grounded fighter, soccer kicks may be aimed at different parts of the body, including the head, legs, and torso. 

The main difference between kicks in MMA and soccer is that MMA fighters tend to use their shins as the point of contact to protect their feet and inflict more damage.


Soccer kicks are a topic of controversy in the sport of MMA with many conflicting opinions on whether or not they should be legal. 

Before we find out if soccer kicks are legal in the UFC, what do you think? Should you be allowed to kick a fighter while they are on the ground? 

Here are some examples of this brutal technique.

In short, soccer kicks are illegal in the UFC. 

The UFC enforces the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts. This framework has been in place since November 2000. 

According to this ruleset, knee strikes and kicks to a downed opponent’s head are prohibited.

However, soccer kicks and knees to the body and legs of a grounded fighter are allowed. Punches and elbows are also legal. 

Exceptions to the Rule

Although the majority of major MMA organizations abide by the same unified ruleset, there are some exceptions.

One of the most loved MMA organizations from the ‘90s and early 2000s, PRIDE Fighting Championships, famously implemented their own rules, allowing soccer kicks and head stomps. PRIDE is no longer in operation, having hosted its final event in 2007.

ONE Championship, the biggest MMA promotion in Asia, allowed soccer kicks to the head until as recently as 2016. 

However, these were only allowed after a fighter was given permission by the referee. This was to prevent a fighter from absorbing unnecessary damage if they were already hurt.

Soccer kicks to the head are no longer allowed in this promotion.

The only major MMA organization that permits soccer kicks to the head at the moment is Rizin Fighting Federation, a Japanese promotion. Kicks, knees, and stomps are allowed, regardless of either fighter’s position.

Lesser known, regional promotions around the world may allow soccer kicks. 

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MMA fighter utilizing leg kicks in the cage

Why Are Soccer Kicks Illegal in UFC?

In the early days of the UFC (1993 to 2000), the promotion rose to prominence due to the no holds barred fighting that it advertised. They famously brandished the slogan:

“There are no rules!”


It was a brutal spectacle at times and typically hosted fights between competitors with different fighting styles from opposing martial arts disciplines.

For example, an American collegiate wrestler may come up against a Taekwondo striker. 

There were little to no rules or weight classes, and soccer kicks to the head were permitted.

As the UFC grew and became increasingly popular, it drew the attention of US government officials, with then-Senator, John McCain proclaiming that MMA was “human cockfighting”.

In 1996, he called for the governors of every US state to ban the UFC. 

UFC’s Response

The UFC responded by working alongside state athletic commissions to create a more regulated, viewer-friendly, and palatable fighting competition.

This involved developing a more precise ruleset, introducing rounds (similar to boxing), and banning certain actions, including soccer kicks to the head.

In November 2000, the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts were officially created and sanctioned by state athletic commissions nationwide.

The main motivation behind these rule changes was to rebrand MMA as a sport instead of a spectacle. 

Techniques deemed “barbaric” were banned, such as: 

  • Soccer kicks 
  • Groin strikes
  • Eye-gouging
  • Biting
  • Headbutts

This allowed the UFC to gain more credibility among sports fans. The reformed ruleset helped highlight the skill level and unique combination of techniques that MMA fighters possessed.

What is the Punishment for Throwing a Soccer Kick in the UFC?

Punishment for fouls in a UFC fight is at the discretion of the referee. Depending on the circumstances, the penalty for throwing an illegal soccer kick can vary.

For minor infringements, such as an accidental strike to the head that doesn’t result in injury to the opponent, the offending fighter may receive a warning. Alternatively, they may have one or more points deducted from the official scorecard. 

In more severe cases, the offending fighter may be disqualified. 

As most modern MMA fighters have competed under the unified rules for the entirety of their careers, instances of intentional soccer kicks to the head are extremely rare.

However, soccer kicks to the legs and body are very common, and you’re likely to witness them on any UFC fight card. 

Penalties for illegal strikes are more common due to accidental contact. For example, the instigator may not realize that their opponent is technically grounded with a knee on the mat. 

Do Soccer Skills Benefit MMA Fighters?

Soccer skills complement the sport of MMA. Not only does soccer develop leg dexterity, kicking technique, and strength, it can also help improve quickness and footwork.

As some of the fittest athletes on the planet, soccer players develop excellent stamina, which is a key attribute of an MMA fighter.

Like soccer players, fighters must also have fast reactions to slip and dodge punches, kicks, and takedown attempts. 

It’s no coincidence that former UFC champions and ferocious kickers, Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo, came from soccer backgrounds. 

Do MMA Skills Benefit Soccer Players?

Similarly, MMA skills and training can benefit soccer players. 

MMA helps build cardiovascular health and improves strength in the body and legs, benefiting your physical game.

Boxing footwork drills may also promote quick feet for dribbling past players. 

However, intense training and competition in MMA can inhibit your soccer career. Even at an amateur level, it is an extremely demanding sport and injuries are common.

Soccer players should avoid competitive grappling and sparring to reduce the risk of injury. Perhaps basic striking technique and movement are most beneficial. 

Soccer Players Who Practice Martial Arts

Surprisingly, several high profile soccer players have participated in martial arts to some extent, including: 

  • Cristiano Ronaldo 
  • Chris Smalling 
  • Bolo Zenden 
  • John Fashnu 
  • Sandro
  • Bixente Lizarazu

Perhaps the most notable martial arts practitioner, who’s skills clearly translate to the soccer field is Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Having received his Taekwondo black belt at the age of 17, Zlatan is an accomplished martial artist.

Known for his freak athleticism, power, and leg dexterity, his martial arts background has enabled him to complete physical feats on the field that few players could dream of. 

There are countless examples of Zlatan displaying Taekwondo skills in a football environment.

Check out some of these jaw-dropping Taekwondo goals!

Soccer Player Fighters?

What soccer players would make the best UFC fighters? 

Could Cristiano’s powerful shooting make him an elite kicker in MMA? Or, perhaps Messi’s quick feet could make him an elusive threat. 

Let us know what you think!

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