Have you ever watched a Mixed Martial Art fight and didn’t understand why the combatant with fewer strikes won? Well, you’re not alone as UFC is the biggest promotion of mixed martial arts with the most controversial scoring system. You may wonder how UFC scoring works.

The UFC judges deduct or allocate points during a five-minute bout based on a 10 point must scoring system. That’s why you usually see 10-10, 10-9, or 10-8 on the scoreboard. The points differ depending on effective grappling, ring control, effective striking, active defense, and aggressiveness.

The 10 points must system should give you a rough idea of a UFC round. But if you want to understand the complexities of the intricate labyrinth that is UFC scoring, read on.

The 10 Point Must System

The Association of Boxing Commission And Combative Sports unified rules as amended in 2018 determines the scoring system. Per their rules, three judges shall score a fight using a standard system. 

Based on this system, the winner of the round gets 10 points and the loser receives nine or fewer points. The only exceptions here are when the winner gets a penalty for a foul, or the round was 100%. Even in that case, both will get 10 points.

Effectiveness is the keyword here. Effective grappling/striking is more important than the other two means of assessment. Effective aggressiveness is the second scoring criteria and will only count when combatants even out in effective striking and grappling. A judge considers effective octagon control when the first two criteria are equal for both competitors, an extremely rare event.

Definition of Terms

First things first, the following terms are the keys to unlocking the 10 points must system:

Effective Striking/Grappling

Effective striking is any legal blow, jab, or kick that contributes immediately or cumulatively towards the bout’s end. It’s any blow that a fighter uses on the opponent leading them to lose morale, spirit, motivation, or control. A good example is when you land a heavy blow on an opponent causing their knees to buckle.

Effective grappling involves successful execution of reversals, takedowns, submission attempts, and advantageous positions that can end the match.

A successful takedown isn’t merely laying your body over an opponent so that they don’t hit you. It is the quality of the execution of attacks while at it. If you drop them on the floor, how hard do they land on that canvas? A judge observes the body positions of both fighters and the effective actions they take, before awarding a mark.

Effective Aggressiveness

Effective aggressiveness is any attacks successfully executed towards an opponent with the immediate or cumulative potential of ending a match. Did you launch any sort of attack towards the other fighter? Effective aggressiveness is not chasing the other guy around the ring while throwing aimless punches. You must hit the target with visible results like bumps and lacerations.

Fighting Area Control

Ring control or octagon control depends on who held advantageous positions for the longest time. The judges award points to the fighter who dictates the bout’s pace, place, and position. If you find yourself cornered with your back pressed against the ring several times, you can lose points.

Round Scoring

Let’s now weave the information above into points. Three judges sitting on different sides of the ring observe a UFC match and award points based on the differences. The fighters usually go for three to five rounds, five minutes each. The judges add the points scored in each bout to get a cumulative score. Below are the most common scenarios.

10–10 Round

A 10-10 round isn’t a favorable occurrence and it purely happens by chance. That’s because no two human beings are equal in all aspects. Why does the 10-10 round exist? The round only exists in the judges’ score count for the sole purpose of scoring incomplete rounds.

While highly unlikely, it is possible. After a five-minute round, judges find that the fighters’ effectiveness, output, impact, and overall spirit of competition are exactly equal.

However, the Mixed Martial Arts associations unified rules of 2018 extremely discourage using the 10-10 round. If there was any difference, however minor, that should contribute to choosing the winner. Judges should not award equal points on the excuse that they couldn’t tell the difference between the two competitors.

10–9 Round

If you are a UFC fan, you must have seen this score frequently on the scoreboard after every round. Judges typically award the winner 10 points unless they committed a foul and award the loser 9 points or less. 

Suppose that during the UFC night, the judge observes a fighter land effective strikes or utilize effective grappling. In that case, the fighter gets ten points even if they exceed their competitor by a single technique. Sometimes the scores are so close that even experienced fighters can’t tell why they lost.

The judge will look at ring control, effective attacks, and effective defense. Did the fighter hit back when their opponent attacked them? If they took down an opponent, did they continue striking them and defending while on the ground? Note that the 9-point award for the loser is not automatic. 

Did the fighter engage in offensive techniques during the bout? Did they fight with an attitude of winning the match or just surviving? Even if the losing party got a 10 in one of the rounds, they would still lose because it doesn’t count much overall. 

Example:

  • Winner-10+9+10=29
  • Loser-9+10(win)+9=28

10–8 Round

A 10 – 8 round in UFC is where the winner dominates the round in almost all areas. The fighter dominates the match for a significant duration, lands effective strikes and takedowns. It’s a rare score that only exists due to the evolution of the sport and showing fairness to the fighters. A judge will only use the score when they observe verifiable actions from either competitor. These actions include effective grappling maneuvers and good blows or strikes that neutralize the opponent.

Note that the UFC sport hinges on offense, and the fighters don’t get any scores for defensive maneuvers. The attacker should use smart, tactically sound, and legal blows to stay in the fight and display competition. A good show of dominance is when a fighter is continuously landing effective legal blows. However, the opponent is just defending and failing to strike back when an opportunity arises. This example is a classic case of 10-8.

Dominance during grappling happens when fighters take advantageous positions over their opponents, using them to fight, end attacks, or submissions. Failure to display any offense during a five-minute round calls for an eight instead of 9.

10-7 Round

A fighter receives a 10-7 when they completely punish their opponents. They use effective strikes and effective grappling until the judges have to stop the match. The blows should make the opponent lose energy, fighting abilities, confidence, and spirit until the referee almost stops the round. In other words, the opponent does completely nothing to defend themselves and just sticks around until the opponent finishes them.

The only 10-7 round awarded in UFC history was when Forrest Petz conquered Sammy Morgan during the latter’s UFC debut. While UFC history is full of controversies, the decision was one of the most controversial ones. It made the two great MMA fighters add it to their list of worst UFC decisions of all time.

Unanimous, Split, and Majority Decisions

If you have read this far, you must be a passionate UFC fan, congratulations! Give most people something other than a unanimous decision, and you have lost them when giving a UFC match outcome. You will now learn what the three outcomes mean and what prompts judges to make such decisions.

You should keep in mind that every bout has three judges. It would be very unnatural if they always agreed on the scores every time, hence the differences.

Simply put, the three judges make a Unanimous Decision when they declare a common winner. A Majority is when one judge out of the three declares or calls it a draw. And a Split happens when one judge chooses one winner. At the same time, the last judge chooses a different winner.

Below is a quick overview of the three decisions and sample scenarios of each category:

Unanimous Decision

A unanimous decision in UFC occurs when the three judges’ scores favor one competitor. Every judge is sure that they dominated the match and executed smart and effective striking and grappling, ending the match. 

Below is a scenario where Fighter 1 won by a unanimous decision:

  • Judge A: 30-27 for Fighter 1
  • Judge B: 29-28 for Fighter 1
  • Judge C: 29-28 for Fighter 1

Everybody is in a harmonious agreement that Fighter 1 completely dominated over Fighter 2

Majority Decision

A UFC majority decision means that two judges favor one combatant while the last judge calls it a draw. 

Below is a majority decision for Fighter 1:

  • Judge A: 30-27 for Fighter 1
  • Judge B: 29-28 for Fighter 1
  • Judge C: 29-29 Draw

A good example of a real-life majority decision was when Conor McGregor defeated Nate Diaz in their second fight. It happened although they went for five rounds.

Split Decision

This decision can be pretty confusing, but I hope you are following. It means that two judges agree on one fighter as the winner while the other judge declares the second fighter. For example, Judge A and Judge B declare Fighter 1 the winner while Judge C stands with Fighter 2. 

The following should help you understand:

  • Judge A: 30-27 for Fighter 1
  • Judge B: 29-28 for Fighter 1
  • Judge C: 29-28 for Fighter 2

What About Draws?

The Majority, Split, and Unanimous decisions show scenarios where two judges agree on the winner while a third judge differs. What if all of them arrive at similar scores? Or, one judge considers Fighter 1 the winner, the second calls it a draw, while the third declares Fighter 2? Although rare, the match ends in a split draw, as happened in a match between Askar Askarov and Brandon Moreno.

Here is a Split Draw:

  • Judge A: 30-27 for Fighter 1
  • Judge B: 29-29 Draw
  • Judge C: 29-28 for Fighter 2

Like the decisions, we also have unanimous draws, and majority draws. A Unanimous Draw is when all three judges agree that the bout ended in a draw, as seen below:

  • Judge A: 29-29 Draw
  • Judge B: 29-29 Draw
  • Judge C: 29-29 Draw

A Majority Draw happens when two judges call it a draw while the last judge declares a winner. A famous example is when Tyron Woodley successfully defended his title from Stephen Thompson. Below is an example of a similar scenario:

  • Judge A: 29-29 Draw
  • Judge B: 29-29 Draw
  • Judge C: 30-27 for Fighter 1

How Are Fouls Scored?

As extreme as Mixed Martial Arts sport is, a combatant can do some things counted as fouls. These fouls can lead to a deduction of points or disqualification.

Some actions considered as faults include:

  • Head butts 
  • Gouging opponent’s eyes
  • Biting
  • Fish hooking
  • Hair pulling 
  • Spine strikes 
  • Neck chops
  • Groin attacks of any kind 
  • Stomping a fighter on the ground

Note that the three judges dominated all the scoring, but this case is different. Only a referee has the authority to declare a foul. And even then, judges don’t have any authority to include the foul when calculating their scores. The fighter who committed the fault will lose one mark for every foul. And the Scorekeeper will deduct it from the judges’ score.

Final Thoughts

UFC scoring is not as complicated as many people think. The fighters get scores based on a 10 Points Must System. The winner gets all 10 points while the loser gets 9 or 8 depending on active involvement during the bout. 

Judges award scores, determine draws and make decisions while the referee calls fouls and the Scorekeeper deducts the foul penalties from the scores submitted by the judges.

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