Every MMA fighter prefers to finish his opponent by knockout or submission because it’s more convincing. It avoids the additional risk of being finished themselves and depending on the judge’s decision. But more often than not, the judges have the final say in the outcome of a fight. But do you know how they decide who the winner is?
UFC fights are scored using a 10-point must system. In each round, the judges must award 10 points to the winner and 9 points or less to the loser.
As simple as this sounds, this system has created countless controversies. You can only be certain what the judges will decide once the final scorecards are revealed. But every MMA fan must at least know what the specifics are on paper, so here you learn everything you need about UFC scoring.
How Are UFC Fights Scored
The UFC and most other MMA organizations use the Unified Rules of MMA, created in the early 2000s and unanimously adopted by the Association of Boxing Commissions in 2009. The scoring system in these rules was adopted from boxing and is called the 10-point must system.
In the 10-point must system, each round is scored individually by 3 judges who write down the points in scorecards based on a few criteria we will examine further in the article.
The winner of the round takes 10 points unless he is deducted a point due to a foul, and the other fighter gets 9 or fewer points.
There is a possibility that both fighters get 10 points, in which case the round is a draw. If the winner of the round receives a penalty, the point is deducted from his score, which can lead to a 9-9 round.
Then, at the end of the fight, each fighter’s round score is summed up, and the winner is the one with the higher score. For example, in a standard 3-round fight where one fighter wins all 3 rounds, he wins with 30-27 scores on all 3 judges’ scorecards. Let’s take a look at the most common round scores.
A 10-10 round is a true rarity, as judges are dissuaded from using this score as an excuse not to award a winner. If there is even a slight difference in the output, control, or aggressiveness of one fighter, the judges must award him the round.
The rules state that judges must use this score mainly for incomplete rounds and should otherwise find factors that separate both fighters and not give an even round.
A10-9 is the score awarded for the vast majority of rounds in MMA. When one fighter has some advantage, even a slight one, the judges give him 10 points, and the other fighter takes 9.
A 10–9 round can reflect a clear victory for one fighter (but not domination). Still, it is also used for extremely close and competitive rounds.
A 10–8 round is given when one fighter has dominated the round. The rules state, “A round is to be scored as a 10-8 round when a contestant wins the round by a large margin by impact, dominance, and duration of striking or grappling in a round.”
In boxing, a 10-8 round is given when there is a knockdown. This is also a viable criterion in MMA but not a necessary one.
A 10-8 round can be awarded when one fighter has dealt visible damage or pressured enough through striking or grappling, visibly diminishing the other fighter’s energy, ability, and fighting spirit.
A 10-7 round is given when one fighter dominates the other and hurts him with multiple knockdowns, significantly deteriorating his ability to fight. A 10-7 round is very rare; if a fighter is by such a margin, the referee stops the fight.
These are the possible round-scoring options for judges. If there is a point deduction, it is removed after the judges decide the score for the particular round. The scoring criteria do not influence their decision on who won the round.
What Are The Scoring Criteria In A Fight
Judges must always follow a guideline that outlines how actions are prioritized. These are divided into three categories: Effective striking and grappling, Effective aggressiveness, and fighting area control.
Effective striking and grappling
The number one priority of round assessments is effective striking and grappling. In striking terms, this means landing significant strikes that damage the opponent and have the potential to end the fight. Strikes with less impact also matter but are secondary.
Effective grappling is defined as moves and positions that lead to attacks with fight-ending potential. A takedown is scored only if it impacts the fight and leads to a better attacking position. A momentary change of passion with no further implications is not scored highly.
A fighter can even win a grappling exchange from below if he attacks with impactful strikes and threatens with submissions.
Effective striking and grappling are the first criteria that judges use. Aggression and area control is considered only when both fighters are viewed as even in the striking and grappling department.
When judges cannot discern who is gaining the advantage through striking or grappling, they can turn to effective aggressiveness. This means aggressive attempts to finish the fight that has some effect on the opponent. Chasing after the opponent with no result does not score.
If judges deem striking, grappling, and aggressiveness equal between the two fighters, they can finally use the fighting area control criteria. Which is determined by who dictates the fight’s pace, place, and position.
Possible Judges Decisions In A UFC Fight
Depending on the scorecard totals of the 3 judges there can be a few different outcomes of a fight.
The unanimous decision is very straightforward. When all 3 judges have scored the fight in favor of the same fighter, he is awarded the win by unanimous decision. Here is what an example of a unanimous decision in a fight between fighter A and fighter B might look like:
- Judge 1- 29-28 for Fighter A (2 rounds for fighter A and 1 round for B)
- Judge 2- 30-27 for Fighter A (3 rounds for A)
- Judge 3- 30-27 for Fighter A
In the majority decision, two judges agree that one fighter won the fight, while the third judge thinks the bout is a draw. The fighter who got the nod from the two judges still wins the fight, but not unanimously, but with a majority decision.
For example, this can happen if a judge gives a 10–10 round or the winner is deducted a point, resulting in a 9–9 round.
- Judge 1- 29-28 for Fighter A
- Judge 2- 29-28 for Fighter A
- Judge 3- 29-29
A split decision win is awarded when two judges think one fighter won, but the third judge scores the fight in favor of the other fighter. This happens relatively often in competitive fights.
For example, all three judges could give the first round to fighter A and the third to fighter B. But if they disagree about who won round 2, a split decision occurs.
- Judge 1- 29-28 for Fighter A
- Judge 2- 29-28 for Fighter A
- Judge 3- 28-29 for Fighter B
The last option for a judge’s decision is a draw. This is usually an outcome that no one desires, and it’s relatively rare, but it still happens. There are also 3 types of draws:
- Unanimous draw- All three judges score the bout a draw.
- Split draw-one judge scores the bout a draw while the other two scores the fight for opposing fighters.
- Majority draw-two of the three judges score the bout a draw.
Problems With The UFC Scoring System
While the 10-point system sounds clear and well thought out, it has created countless poor decisions that have robbed the rightful winner of a fight. The system was created for boxing, making it less than perfect for MMA.
First, boxing is easier to score because there is only striking. Second, boxing matches are much longer, making the round-by-round judging more realistic regarding the true winner.
With that said, boxing is notorious for poor decisions, but this is a matter of politics and money rather than a flaw in the scoring system.
Sadly, MMA also has its fair share of bad decisions. Many people have pointed out that the judges are not competent enough to judge the significance of the action in the octagon.
Most of them are not former fighters and have no practical experience. This makes their decisions less well-informed and confusing to fighters, coaches, and fans.
A possible solution is a system in place in ONE FC, which has abandoned the round-by-round number system. Each fight is judged entirely based on near knockouts, submissions, damage, striking efficacy, takedowns, and aggression.
This means if a fighter dominates the last 3 rounds and is close to finishing the fight, he may win even if the other fighter had the edge in both the 1st and 2nd rounds.
Three judges consistently score UFC fights. The match may end prematurely with a knockout, submission, doctor’s stoppage, or other reasons.
Still, if the allotted time runs out, the judges’ scorecards decide the winner using a 10-point must system. In this system, the winner of the round takes 10 points. While the other fighter takes 9 or less, and their totals are summed at the end of the fight.