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How Do Street Fighting Laws Apply To MMA Fighters Clear Info

An MMA fighter observing people training.

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As it is an unsanctioned fight, street fighting is seen as an illegal form of combat. Not to be confused with mutual combat, street fighting can and does result in its participants being arrested for engaging in illegal and dangerous activity. But are the laws different for MMA fighters?

The laws in relation to street fighting are equal for all citizens. Where necessary MMA fighters like any other trained fighter are able to use the proportionate force required to defend themselves. If they go beyond that point and use excessive force, that is when they or any other citizen will be in breach of the law.

So is it illegal to use martial arts on someone, the answer is no, when in self-defence? The problem arises when someone attacks another person and inflicts damage or death upon that person, when not in a self-defence situation.

For example, a trained MMA fighter may be able to inflict severe damage on another person who is not trained in any way, even if they did not start the altercation. But the issue is, did the MMA fighter or martial artist overstep the bounds and inflict excessive unproportioned damage on the other person?

It is in these types of scenarios, whether using the training in an unprovoked attack against your person. Or in a situation where another person is being attacked and there is at risk of harm or even death. Then again, the trained MMA fighter can use force equal to the imminent threat.

And while statistics show that assaults are still all too common. They are down massively in places like the US since the 1990s, dropping by almost half in that time.

US Reported Violent Cime Statistics 1990 – 2020

Statistic: Reported violent crime rate in the United States from 1990 to 2018 | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

Meantime in the UK, year ending June 2019 the current overall statistics for assault-related crimes showed:

  • there has been a 5% decrease in homicides across the UK after it had been increasing over the previous 4-year period
  • a 4% increase in firearms-related offences
  • a 7% increase in crimes which involves knives or other sharp objects.

Martial Arts And The Law

When a martial artist finds themselves in a dangerous situation where either they or another person may be in danger. The law would expect that you first try to diffuse the situation before it escalates. But if this is not possible, then next would be the use of reasonable force to neutralise the perpetrator.

If you run out of options and there is no other way than to use force in the situation. Then you are legally covered to use your training, to a reasonable degree, to neutralize the aggressor.

This is where many people often fall foul, as reasonable force can sometimes lead to deadly consequences. For instance, the fighter kicks or punches the attacker knocking them to the ground where they hit their head and die.

The trained martial artist who is versed in the art of Brazilin Jiu-jitsu gets the attacker to the ground and chokes them out. And the attacker subsequently dies due to an existing medical condition or simply because the choke was held too long.

It can be incredibly difficult even for a person who is trained to some degree to gauge what is reasonable force. What if the attacker is much bigger, and stronger, what if they continue to struggle and will not submit? There is a multitude of situations where what was deemed reasonable force can turn into a far more complicated situation.

Registering Yourself As A Lethal Weapon

We all know from the bygone days of martial arts action movies, how the main martial artist would have to register himself or his hands as a deadly weapon. And while it did seem pretty cool that you can be certified as a lethal weapon, how much truth was there to it?

Even to this day, it is a question that pops up quite regularly on forums and social media. Well, I hate to burst your celluloid dreams but is registered as a lethal weapon is not a real thing, at least not in the western world! But hold your horses, as there is one location on the planet where there is a degree of truth to this normally urban myth!

A man is assaulted on the street and get involved in a street fight.
A man getting involved in a street fight.

On the tiny US island territory of Guam which is part of the Micronesia islands, located in the Western Pacific. In Guam persons who are an expert in karate, Judo or other similar physically trained martial art. Are in fact required to register their feet and hands as deadly weapons.

While the main purpose of the law is for those trained in hand-to-hand combat to be registered and levied with a $5 tax. The law is also a register that ensures anyone who lives within the territory is on file as a trained martial artist. The law also clearly states that;

Any registered karate or judo expert who thereafter is charged with having used his art in a physical assault on some other person, shall upon conviction thereof, be deemed guilty of aggravated assault.


Can You Go To Jail For Using Martial Arts

Can MMA fighters be involved in street fighting, the answer is yes, but with a caveat! Trained fighters can only fight on the streets when they or others are the victims of an attack or they are deemed to be in mortal danger.

A trained martial artist, like any other member of the public, is not allowed to participate in unsanctioned street fighting or even worse, participate in the attack of another member of the public.

There is however what is known as a mutual combat. An unsanctioned fight situation where both parties agree to fight, one on one, without damage to other members of the public or public property. And while slowly being resigned to the history books. There are still some US states and India where it can be found.

As of this time of writing mutual combat is still legal in the US states of Washington and Texas. while there have been multiple recorded instances where the mutual combat law has been used. One of the more well-known and relevant was that of trained MMA fighter Phoenix Jones vs a member of the public.

Phoenix Jones AKA Ben Fodor talks about legal street fights in Washington State.

Jones who dresses as a Superhero had made a name for himself by patrolling the city streets of Seattle Washington. Where a team of like-minded individuals intervened in a number of street fight situations, helping to protect members of the public, often from one another.

Can You Use Martial Arts For Self-Defense?

You can absolutely use your martial arts training for self-defence. Often this is the very reason the vast majority of people train in their chosen discipline. When a person does not actively compete, outside of their personal health and well-being, what other reasons would there be to train?

Many Martial arts are specifically designed to ward off single or even multiple attackers. But the key to using a trained martial art in any situation where you may be the victim is not to use excessive force. When excessive force is used the whole situation then changes in a court of law.

Take the following example of an instance where the use of appropriate force was necessary. To where things can quickly escalate into criminal liability.

What Do You Think About This Type Of Scenario

You are a trained professional MMA fighter, out in a bar having a good time, when Mike, a rather drunk individual bumps into you spilling their drink all over his new expensive evening jacket. Now it’s a busy bar, so it’s not quite clear who bumped into who.

Before you know it the guy starts screaming and shouting, using abusive language and threatening to attack you.

An Appropriate Level of Response

You keep calm and explain to Mike that it was an accident. And offer to buy Mike another drink, Mike slowly calms down. You acted in an appropriate manner to neutralise the situation before it escalated even further.

Realizing Mike is drunk, as he lunges at you you hit him one time, knocking him to the floor with a single punch. You acted in an appropriate manner repelling the attack.

Mike lunges at your friend, and you strike him with one punch, knocking him to the ground, perhaps even knocking him unconscious. You used appropriate force in the situation.

Mike picks up a stool and attempts to throw it at you and your friends. You grab the stool, then punch Mike several times, knocking him to the floor. You call for security to have him removed. Again appropriate force in the given situation.

The situation escalates and Mike smashes a glass attempting to stab you in the neck with it. You kick the glass from Mike’s hand and knock him to the floor. While Mike is down you land several blows, and he dies as a result. Given the situation, this is an appropriate and proportionate use of force. Protecting yourself and others from an immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death.

Use Of Excessive Force Resulting In Criminal Charges

Reacting to Mike’s verbal threat to attack you, which he does not attempt to act upon. Using your MMA training, you attack Mike seriously injuring him in the process, because he had threatened to hurt you. In this scenario, you may now be liable for arrest and prosecution for overreacting to a benign threat.

Mike lunges at you with the broken glass, which you knock from his hand. You then land several strikes which knock Mike to the floor, rendering him unconscious. While Mike is on the floor, you continue to kick him in the head until he is dead. This excessive use of force after the attacker was already neutralized now opens up the possibility of prosecution for aggravated assault and manslaughter.

In a given situation where you are being attacked, you must be acting entirely out of fear that you feel threatened by the other person.

On a more personal note, MMA news outlets like MMA Junkie have not helped with the street fight stories section of their show. Where they would often ask visiting MMA fighters to tell them a story of street fighting they had been in. Helping to glamourise the issue of being assaulted by or assaulting another member of the public. Terrible so-called “MMA journalism” which made my skin crawl and which they should not continue with.

Street Fights Involving MMA Fighters

Two of the highest-profile street fight incidents involving MMA fighters were that of lightweight Roger Huerta. Huerta became embroiled in an incident where a woman was attacked from behind by a man who was much larger.

Seeing the incident unfold, Huerta chased down the man who was again much larger than him. Confronting the man Huerta knocked him to the ground and unconscious, landing some additional kicks on the downed attacker.

In this case, nothing further happened as no charges were pressed and nothing was ever heard from the other man or woman involved in the incident.

Huerta may have been criminally liable for using excessive force once the man had been rendered unconscious. As well as the attacker who had first assaulted the woman.

The other high-profile incident was of that between two MMA fighters, Tito Ortiz and Lee Murray. At the time Ortiz was the reigning UFC light heavyweight champion., while Murray was a fast-rising fighter from the UK.

The incident occurred outside a London nightclub when Ortiz and Murray were involved in an altercation. Being the biggest star in the UFC, eyewitnesses reported that Ortiz had some unsavoury words for Murray.

This resulted in Murray knocking out Ortiz, who had thrown the first punch, rendering him unconscious on the floor. Murray apparently followed with some foot stomps to the face while Ortiz was down. But another incident in which trained fighters use their skills to neutralise another person.

“Tito fell face-first down to the ground, and then Lee Murray stomped him on the face a couple of times with his boots.”

Former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes

Blackbelt Registration Laws

Another fallacy which I covered in part is the black belt registration laws. The idea is that any trained martial artist is at the blackbelt level. While the trained martial artist does not have to register themselves as lethal weapons, the very same applies to any blackbelt.

Black belts are the very highest ranking in martial arts that furnish actual belts to their participants. And so it is understood that they would be the highest trained and most deadly, outranking all other belts in their chosen discipline.

However, black belts do not have to register themselves as lethal weapons. But like any and all other members of the public, must not use their trained skills to excess when defending themselves or others against an attacker.

In Conclusion

It is obvious from the above research piece that street fighting laws are the same for members of the public as they are for trained MMA fighters of any other trained martial artist. However, that is not to say that the presiding judge may make an exception to the fact that a part in a case may be trained, thereby influencing their final decision.

In the case of street fights, the best course of action is to avoid them at all costs. Glamourising by the media has led to somewhat of an urban myth that most fights end with a simple knockout and all parties involved live to fight another day. But the truth of the matter is much scarier.

Every year, many thousands of people around the world lose their life in street fights. Whether by being hit with one punch and then dying as a result of the fall. Being beaten so severely that they die of their injuries. Or by weapons being used, often in the most unsuspecting of situations for what seem like minor reasons.

Street fighting is not cool, regardless of how some people try to glamourise it and it is not the route you want to take. Often fuelled by alcohol and accompanying violence. You do not want to find yourself in a situation, being attacked by persons unknown, putting your and their lives at risk.

Something that may begin as a pretty innocuous situation turns into a struggle for life and death. And may very well change the course of your and others’ lives. So think very wisely before you or someone you know is that person who perhaps takes things too far. And be careful out there!