UFC adopted the Unified Rules of MMA in 2000, and since then, the rule set has gone through many changes. Although the majority is standardized, many rules are still not clear to the general public, such as the ones regarding whether UFC fighters can wear contact lenses during the fight.
In short, UFC fighters can wear contacts during the match and there is no rule prohibiting them from doing so. However, they must pass a pre-fight medical eye test carried out by the Athletic Commission without contact lenses. If they meet the minimum requirements, they are allowed to fight. But if their vision is below the minimum, the commission won’t allow them to compete.
Stay with us to learn more about the rules regarding contact lenses in the UFC. We will also explore why fighters need to wear contact lenses, and how safe this solution is.
Can UFC Fighters Wear Contact Lenses?
According to the Unified Rules of MMA, UFC fighters are allowed to wear contact lenses. Or in other words, there is no strict rule within any specific rule set forbidding fighters from wearing contacts, or stating this is illegal. However, this doesn’t mean that anyone wearing contacts can fight in the UFC, and here is why.
Before each event, UFC fighters must pass a pre-fight medical test. This includes various medical procedures, including the vision test. And this is where things can get problematic for some athletes.
Each fighter must meet the minimum vision requirement in order for the commission to give them a green light to compete. And the test is performed without contact lenses. In the US, the exact vision requirements may vary between the states but are generally the same.
One famous incident happened in the state of Ohio. In 2012, the commission wouldn’t allow you to fight if your eyesight was below 20/200 in either eye or 20/60 in both eyes, again, without contact lenses. To put it into perspective, the perfect eyesight is 20/20.
One UFC fighter who had big issues with vision tests in this specific US state was the middleweight, Derek Brunson. Despite wrestling for many years in college and being an established MMA fighter, he failed the vision test as his result was 20/400, whey below the minimum requirement.
His fight with Jacare Souza was later re-booked in San Diego, California, and Brunson fought with contacts that enabled him a close to ideal, 20/20 vision. But he still lost via TKO in the first round.
Why is there a minimum requirement issued by the Athletic Commission?
The main concern is the fighters’ safety. According to the commission, it is dangerous to let a fighter with such a bad vision compete inside the cage. Yes, they will wear contacts and have clear vision, but what if one or both of these fall out? Fighters with 20/400 vision would be compromised and in serious, serious danger of sustaining severe injuries.
Can Amateur MMA Fighters Wear Contacts?
Amateur MMA fighters are under no restriction of wearing contact lenses in competition. In fact, there is no specific rule related to contact lenses saying you are not allowed to wear those in competition and you won’t get punished for it.
But as professional fighters, amateurs also must undergo a pre-fight medical test which includes the same vision test they need to pass. They must meet the minimum vision requirement, which may vary between the states and commissions, but it is usually the same. Passing this test makes the Athletic Commission sure that you are able to see enough to effectively compete without contact lenses and be safe inside the cage.
In case you don’t meet the requirements, you won’t be allowed to compete. But this rarely ever happens.
Why Are UFC Fighters Wearing Contacts?
MMA is a hand-to-hand combat sport and it’s not even worth explaining why wearing glasses won’t work. So, each fighter whose vision is damaged to the point it has a negative impact on their performance inside the cage must wear contacts. They can’t spar or grapple while wearing glasses or even sports goggles.
The two main medical conditions that cause bad vision are called “myopia” and “hyperopia”.
Myopia reduces one’s eyesight. It causes the objects in the distance to be seen as blurry and unrecognizable, while the near ones are seen normally. Some people with light myopia may start to see objects as blurry only if they are 40 feet in distance. But in some bad cases, the distance could be significantly reduced. Hyperopia is the total opposite as it causes close objects to look blurry, and the ones in distance are seen normally.
Like other people who have problems with their vision, UFC fighters wear glasses and contact lenses. They must do this as their vision is damaged to the point they can no longer train or perform at the best level without the lenses. For instance, they might have a hard time seeing the strikes coming at them, or may even see a blurry opponent in front of them.
While outside of the fighting game, fighters get to choose whether they will wear glasses or contacts. It’s up to their personal preferences. But once they switch to their professional life, they must wear contacts.
Is Wearing Contact Lenses In MMA Safe?
Wearing contact lenses in MMA is safe. All the striking, grappling, and fighting on the ground won’t damage your eyes. However, absorbing repeated strikes to the head may cause eyesight and brain damage in the long run on its own. But contact lenses won’t contribute to these injuries.
Though the only available solution, contact lenses are not ideal. This is because lenses can easily fall out, not just during a fight, but during everyday activities as well. In other sports like basketball, you can stop and search for the lens on the ground to put it back on. Or, you might ask the coach to go back to the bench, and maybe take a new one.
But MMA rules do not specify what happens when a fighter loses one or both of their contact lenses during the match. Or in other words, a fighter is not allowed to ask the referee to stop the match so that they can search for the lens on the octagon floor.
No, the action continues and they must continue fighting until the end of the round. Even then, they would have only one minute to find the missing lens. This would be hard with the coaches, cameramen, security guards, ring girls, and all other staff members running in and out of the cage between the rounds.
And this is where things become dangerous. In this situation, you have to enter the next round with bad vision in at least one eye. However, this is not a “big” problem as they have already passed a minimum vision test a day before during the pre-fight medical checks, which means their vision is good enough.
And, most fighters would tell losing lenses or having a blurry vision does not impose a great risk. They often end up fighting half-blinded due to the injuries they sustain in a match caused by strikes.
Overall, contact lenses in MMA are safe, but clearly not an ideal solution.
Do MMA Fighters Wear Contact Lenses in Training?
MMA athletes with bad vision can wear contact lenses in training, and this is actually highly recommended. There is also an option where you can get custom sports goggles from your optometrist. You can get the goggles on the market, and ask the optometrist to adapt your lenses to them and this is a very practical solution. However, the design of these contact goggles differs a lot from the ones used in swimming for example.
In MMA, sports goggles work as long as you are doing exercises where you are not in contact with other people. This includes working on the heavy bag, hitting the pads, shadow boxing, lifting weights, etc. The design is not suitable, however, for the grappling or striking exchanges in sparring for obvious reasons. Just a single strike or squeeze may easily damage the goggles.
In order to spar with clear eyesight, you would have to get contact lenses. Just remember that lenses can fall out of place when you get punched or slammed on the ground and you will immediately get the feedback the lens is out. In this case, stop the sparring session, immediately check both of your eyes for damage, and try to find the lens on the mats, which you will most of the time.
UFC Fighters Who Compete Wearing Contact Lenses
Throughout MMA history, there have been many UFC fighters who fought with contact lenses. In fact, you might be surprised to find out that some of the most popular ones are on this list too.
Gouti is not a famous name among UFC fans as he had a short stint where he went 1–5 in his 6 UFC fights. However, he was involved in a famous and quite bizarre incident related to contact lenses.
At UFC Fight Night 138 in Canada, Gouti fought Nasrat Haqparast. With no more than a few seconds left in the second round, Gouti stopped, put his hand in his eye, and started talking to the referee. Initially, everyone thought he was complaining about an eye poke. However, he actually lost one of his contact lenses and wanted the referee to stop the match so that he can find it. Of course, the referee didn’t stop the match and Gouti had to search for those in between the rounds.
Karo Parisyan is one of the most famous judokas to ever fight in MMA and he had a decent UFC career. In his career, he fought 37 times and came into the UFC as a WEC Welterweight champion and a promising prospect. But many fans also remember him as the fighter who wore contact lenses in most of his fights.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
You might be surprised to see the legendary Rampage on this list. But yes, one of the most violent and entertaining MMA fighters of all time used to wear contact lenses in his fights. In his career, Rampage fought for various promotions and managed to win the UFC title and Season 10 Bellator Tournament. But the majority of fans remember him for his wild wars in Pride FC.
Derek Brunson is a UFC contender famous for his exceptional wrestling skills, and the incident he had with the Ohio Athletic Commission over contact lenses back in 2012. Because he wasn’t able to pass a vision test in the state of Ohio, his match in Strikeforce had to be canceled and re-booked in San Diego, California, which had different requirements. In the following years, most states in the US would allow fighters to wear contact lenses. This enabled Brunson to build a successful UFC career despite having poor vision.
Is Wearing Contact Lenses In The UFC Cheating?
No, according to the Athletic Commission, MMA fighters are allowed to wear contact lenses so it can’t be considered cheating. In the end, fighters are not gaining any advantage over the competition.
However, the question is probably more related to ethical values within the sport. For example, Dan Hard’s win was against Ben Sosoli was famously overturned to no contest because he used an inhaler in between the rounds. According to USADA, the problem was the substance within the inhaler, which is on their list of prohibited substances.
Though these are separate medical conditions, it still raises some questions within the MMA community. How can you use lenses to increase the damaged vision, and not inhalers to treat breathing issues? This shows you how confusing the rules can be, and that there is a lot of room for improvement and things to work on in the future.
UFC fighters and all athletes who compete in MMA in general are allowed to wear contact lenses. This specific issue is not strictly standardized within the rules of Athletic Commissions across the world. But it doesn’t say you are not allowed to wear those. Throughout MMA history, there have been many fighters who competed while wearing contacts.
However, it is crucial to remember that you can compete in MMA wearing contacts only in case you pass a pre-fight medical vision test. In case your vision is so bad it does not meet the minimum requirements, the commission would consider it too dangerous for you to enter the cage with such bad eyesight.
During the match, you might lose one or both lenses, like Thibault Gouti did, and be seriously compromised.