What is Fish Hooking in MMA?

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There was a significant problem with the regulations and the brutal perception of the sport when MMA was in its infancy. The guidelines have evolved over time into the unified rules we know today. Many followers of mixed martial arts are still unfamiliar with the regulations.

In fact, some individuals believe there are no rules in the Octagon at all. Those folks are entirely incorrect since MMA now has many rules governing what is and isn’t permitted.

fish hooking in mma

The regulations encompass everything from whether or not strikes are permitted, what is and is not permitted within the cage, and what is and is not permitted in terms of clothing. Fish hooking is an illegal maneuver in mixed martial arts that doesn’t get much attention. But what is fish hooking in MMA?

Fish Hooking Explained

Fish-hooking is when a fighter places a finger or several fingers into a person’s mouth, nose, or other orifices and pushes away from the body’s midline, usually intending to rip or lacerate the surrounding tissue. Fish-hooking with force has a considerable risk of irreversible harm to the face or orifice. 

Fish hooking is often used to describe a sort of eye-gouging. However, several martial arts, such as Krav Maga and some forms of karate, teach this technique as part of their self-defense curriculum, and it was once utilized in catch wrestling.

Why is Fish Hooking Illegal?

As of 2022, it’s prohibited to perform fish hooking in MMA fighting, and it’s also unlawful to employ it on civilians since it causes disfigurement. Due to the potential for lifelong harm, fish-hooking techniques are prohibited in modern combat sports, mixed martial arts, and martial arts tournaments. 

Fish hooking is one of the most unlawful activities a fighter can engage in. It’s absolutely prohibited in the UFC because, as stated in the section above, severe damage caused by fish hooking can lead to permanent damage. 

Bryan Caraway had one of the most significant accomplishments of his career in Albuquerque, NM, but the accomplishment was marred by scandal in the aftermath. The former The Ultimate Fighter contestant knocked out highly-rated contender Erik Perez in a brutal match in which Caraway won by submission in the second round. The event occurred when the two combatants were fighting for position on the canvas in the first round. 

fish hooking in mma

The Xtreme Couture fighter had seized Perez’s back and was trying to lock in the choke with his hands. Caraway’s left hand’s fingers caught onto the edge of Perez’s mouth during his attempt to gain position, resulting in the application of the fish hook. However, the official missed the event during Caraway’s battle with Perez, and the fight went on for another round and a half until “Kid Lightning” latched on the fight-ending rear-naked choke.

Following the bantamweight bout, social media was flooded with photos of the event, drawing the attention of the competitors and teams involved. There have been many incidences of fights where there were debates about whether the act of fish hooking was done by accident or on purpose in a match, and some people defend the fighters and claim they should not be punished – which is probably why it has not been banned altogether. 

What Happens if You’re Caught Fish Hooking in MMA?

There are varying degrees of offense, so there’s no set punishment for fish hooking in MMA. If the referee catches the fish hooking early, they’ll either give the fighter a warning or deduct a point.

If the fish hooking results in a severe fight-ending injury, then the referee will rule the fight as a no contest. In some cases, the referee may even find it justifiable to disqualify the offender and award the victory to the competitor. 

According to the Unified Rules of MMA, intentional fouls and accidental fouls get penalized in different ways. Here are the basics of how all fouls are penalized in MMA. 

fish hooking in mma

Rules About Intentional Fouls 

1. If a fighter is injured due to an intentional foul and the harm is severe enough to end the fight immediately, then the fighter who caused the injury is disqualified.

2. If an intentional foul results in an injury and the fight is permitted to continue, the referee must inform the authorities and subtract two points from the fighter who committed the offense. Intentional fouls will result in automatic point deductions.

3. If intentional fouls cause swelling or a laceration and the referee allows the fight to continue. The injury causes the fight to be stopped after the scheduled rounds; the wounded fighter wins by TECHNICAL DECISION if they are ahead on the score cards. The bout will end in a TECHNICAL DRAW if the injured fighter is behind or even on the score cards. 

4. If an MMA fighter causes an injury to themselves while attempting to foul the other fighter intentionally, the referee won’t intervene. The damage will be treated as if a fair hit caused it.

5. If the referee believes a fighter has behaved in an unsporting manner, the referee may stop the action of the fight to deduct points, or the referee may stop the combat to disqualify the fighter.

Rules About Unintentional Fouls

1. If an accidental foul produces an injury severe enough for the referee to halt the fight before the completion of the planned rounds, plus one second of the fight has been finished, the fight shall be declared a NO CONTEST.

2. If an incidental foul produces an injury severe enough for the referee to stop the contest after 12 of the planned rounds, plus one second of the fight, the bout will be decided by a TECHNICAL DECISION in favor of the fighter who is ahead on the score cards. Rounds that are partially completed or fully completed will be scored. The round should be rated as an even round if no action has happened. The judges have the last say on this.

3. If a fighter loses control of bodily function (vomit, pee, feces) during a round, the referee will halt the fight. The fighter will be declared the winner by Technical Knockout (TKO) due to Medical Stoppage. If a fighter loses physiological function during the rest period between rounds, the ringside physician will be summoned to determine whether or not the belligerent can continue. 

If the ringside physician doesn’t clear the fighter to continue, the fighter will lose by Technical Knockout (TKO) owing to Medical Stoppage. If feces becomes visible during the fight, the referee will stop the fight, and the offending fighter will be declared the winner by Technical Knockout (TKO) due to Medical Stoppage.

Is Fish Hooking Still a Problem in MMA?

Whether intentional or unintentional, fish hooking still poses a problem in MMA as it still happens. There are speculators that say making fighters use full gloves (gloves with fingers) prevents this illegal move (and others), but they could also hamper the fighters’ abilities to perform other moves successfully. At the moment, combat sports are performed using fingerless gloves. 

Combatants wear these to protect their hands, leaving their fingers open and free to use. The assumption is that if fighters were forced to wear closed gloves that cover the whole hand, similar to boxing gloves, they would be unable to perform many illegal moves. Fish hooking wouldn’t be an issue because the gloves are too big to possibly fit in a mouth or any other orifice for that matter, and even eye-gouging would be impossible. 

Unfortunately, this idea doesn’t hold much weight. Apart from the fighters not being physically capable of performing illegal moves, they will also be significantly restricted when it comes to performing standard, legal MMA moves as well. For example, how would they successfully grapple without using their fingers for movement and balance? Or get their opponents into locks and holds without the ability to grab onto things? 

This means that unless gloves are modified for MMA to make room for the above, changing fingerless gloves to finger-covering ones is not the answer to solving fish hooking issues. The responsibility remains with the fighters to stop themselves from performing the illegal move. 


A variety of tactics are prohibited in the UFC’s rule book, which follows the Unified Rules of MMA. The fish hook is one of the forbidden tactics, which involves a fighter inserting their fingers into their opponent’s mouth or nose and tugging. The method is, without a doubt, frowned upon in practically all martial arts circles.

However, this heinous tactic has been employed in the UFC, and, strangely, the incident did not occur during the time when rules were ‘blurring.’ It happened in the bantamweight contest between Bryan Caraway and Erik Perez in the 2014 UFC Fight Night show.

Fish hooking is one of the most unlawful activities a fighter can engage in within the ring, and it is absolutely prohibited in the UFC. Fish hooking occurs when a fighter inserts their fingers into the mouth or nostrils and pulls them away from the body. Even though this maneuver is taught as self-defense in several martial arts, it’s strictly prohibited in the UFC and other combat sports. Check out our page for more informative articles on MMA.

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