Fan Questions | Martial Arts History

How Does UFC Scoring Work?

Perhaps you found this post after witnessing a bad decision by the UFC judges. Or maybe you’re just curious about how points are earned in a UFC fight. Either way, you ended up here because you wanted to learn about UFC judging, the point system, and how decision victories are decided.

So how does UFC scoring work?

UFC fights are scored by round, with the round either being 10-9, or on rare occasions, 10-10 or 10-8. The fighter who wins the round gets the ten points, with the other fighter getting less. At the end of the fight, the round scores are added to get an overall decision, such as 29-28 (for a three-round fight).

However, there is a lot more to UFC scoring than a one-paragraph explanation can cover. You likely have many questions surrounding the UFC scoring system. What do judges look for when they score? How do they add up points? How do they decide a draw? What’s the difference between a unanimous and split decision?

Well not to worry my friend. All of these questions and more will be answered in the rest of this post.

The Basics Of MMA Judging/Scoring

To start us off, I will give a quick rundown of how scoring works in the UFC. If you are an MMA fan, then you probably already know this, and can skip ahead to see scoring criteria, or the differences between unanimous and split decisions.

So basically, MMA fights last either three or five rounds. There are always exactly three judges sitting cageside, scoring the fight round by round.

Octagon control was widely talked about after Darren Till vs Stephen Thompson, due to a relatively uneventful fight.
Octagon control was widely talked about after Darren Till vs Stephen Thompson, due to a relatively uneventful fight.

After the end of a round, a judge will look at various factors (such as strikes, submission attempts, octagon control, knockdowns, etc.) and determine the fighter who won that round. The fighter who they think won the round will receive 10 points on that judge’s scorecard.

Then the other fighter will receive less than 10 points, unless the round was very close, in which case the judge may elect to score it a draw and give both fighters ten points. I should note that at least one fighter must receive 10 points, unless a point has been taken from them by the referee for a foul.

The judge will typically give the losing fighter a score of nine, which is why most round scores end up being 10-9. If the fighter who won the round was very dominant during the round, then the judge may score the round 10-8. Later in this post, I cover the differences between 10-10, 10-9, and 10-8.

A knockdown is an effective strike, which can bump a round up to a 10-8.
A knockdown is a significant and impactful strike, which can bump a round up to a 10-8.

You guys with me so far? I’ll run through a hypothetical situation to show you how fight scores work. Let’s say Fighter A is competing against Fighter B in a three-round fight.

Judge 1 thinks Fighter A won all three rounds decisively. That means he scored each individual round a 10-9 in favor of Fighter A. At the end of a fight, the three-round scores of a judge are added individually.

So that means the Judge 1‘s final score is 30-27 for Fighter A, after adding up each 10-9.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk (right) beat won every round against Tecia Torres decisively, leading all three judges to score the fight 30-27.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk (right) beat won every round against Tecia Torres decisively, leading all three judges to score the fight 30-27.

Are you still with me here? Let’s now say that Judge 2 and Judge 3 each thought Fighter A won two rounds, but Fighter B won the last one. This means they each scored rounds 1 and 2 a 10-9 in favor of Fighter A, but the last round is scored 9-10 in favor of Fighter B.

This means Fighter A‘s score is 10 + 10 + 9, while Fighter B‘s score is 9 + 9 + 10 (according to these judges). So after adding up the three rounds, Judges 2 and 3 have a total score of 29-28, albeit still in favor of Fighter A.

So if you’re lost, here’s the scores at the end of this hypothetical fight:

Judge 1: 30-27 for Fighter A

Judge 2: 29-28 for Fighter A

Judge 3: 29-28 for Fighter A

So it’s kind of obvious that Fighter A won in this example. Sure Fighter B won a round on two judges scorecards, but it doesn’t mean much overall.

This is the UFC official scorecard for Till vs Thompson. Notice that all three judges declared Till the winner, meaning a Unanimous Decision.
This is the UFC official scorecard for Till vs Thompson. Notice that all three judges declared Till the winner, meaning a Unanimous Decision.

When all three judges agree on the winner of a fight, it is called a Unanimous Decision. I know this was a very simple example, but I don’t want to confuse you if you’re new to the scoring system, as it can get complicated quickly, which you’ll see if you keep reading.

But before we get to that, let’s talk about what factors judges look at in order to determine which fighter won the round.

How Do Judges Score Fights? (Scoring Criteria)

In short, judges score fights based on specific criteria provided in the official Unified Rules of MMA. The criteria (listed in order) are effective striking/grappling, then effective aggressiveness, and then Octagon control. However, aggressiveness and Octagon control are only considered when there is no significant difference in striking/grappling.

So to clarify, these criteria are prioritized. That means that the next one is only considered if the higher priority one is even for both fighters. So for example, if one fighter is clearly outstriking the other, then that fighter wins the round without the judges even considering aggression or Octagon control.

Colby Covington likes to pressure his opponents, which is considered effective aggression. This could help a round go his way in the case that his opponent matches his striking/grappling.
Colby Covington likes to pressure his opponents, which is considered effective aggression. This could help a round go his way in the case that his opponent matches his striking/grappling.

However, if the two fighters are even in the striking and grappling, then aggressiveness is the deciding factor (with Octagon control still being ignored). But if both fighters are passive, then Octagon control will be used to score the round. In the rules themselves, it is stated that “This will be an extremely rare occurrence”.

The rules also make clear distinctions as to what exactly is considered “effective striking/grappling”. It notes that striking and grappling with immediate impact towards ending the match outweigh cumulative striking or grappling.

So basically, if Fighter A knocks down Fighter B, and Fighter B is constantly landing light jabs, then Fighter A had more effective striking, even if Fighter B having more total strikes. The rules go into much further detail on what constitutes effective grappling, which you can read here.

Dominick Cruz (left) landed more strikes than Cody Garbrandt (right) in their fight. However, Cody landed several knockdowns, winning him the decision.
Dominick Cruz (left) landed more strikes than Cody Garbrandt (right) in their fight. However, Cody landed several knockdowns, winning him the decision.

The scoring criteria have been clearer since the implementation of the current rules back in 2017. The language for scoring rounds other than a 10-9 (such as 10-10, 10-8, and even 10-7) is now much more specific.

How Do Judges Decide A 10-10 or 10-8 Round?

10-8 Round

In short, a 10-8 round is awarded when a fighter has dominated the action, has a significant duration of that dominance, and has also impacted their opponent with effective strikes/grappling. This is according to the 10-8 scoring criteria in the Unified Rules fo Mixed Martial Arts.

The Unified Rules of MMA state that “Judges shall ALWAYS give a score of 10 – 8” when the above criteria are met. However, a judge is also required to consider awarding a 10-8 based on either impact or dominance.

For a judge to award a 10-8 round based on dominance, the fighter must be on the offensive, with the opponent continuously defending, with no counters or reactions from the opponent.

Luke Rockhold nearly finished Chris Weidman in the third round of their fight, leading all three judges to award him the 10-8 round.
Luke Rockhold nearly finished Chris Weidman in the third round of their fight, leading all three judges to award him the 10-8 round.

For a judge to give a 10-8 based on impact, the fighter must have shown effective striking or grappling that significantly reduced the opponent’s energy, confidence, abilities, and spirit.

10-10 Round

How do judges decide a 10-10 round in MMA?

A 10-10 round can only be scored when the two fighters have exactly the same amount of output, impact, effectiveness, and competitiveness. A 10-10 round should be extremely rare, and judges are discouraged from awarding 10-10 rounds according to the Unified Rules of MMA.

The Unified Rules also note that there can be no difference or advantage between the two fighters, and that a 10-10 score should not be used as an excuse by a judge who cannot assess the round properly.

10-7 Round

How do judges decide a 10-7 round in MMA?

According to the Unified Rules of MMA, “A 10 – 7 Round in MMA is when a fighter completely overwhelms their opponent in Effective Striking and/or Grappling and stoppage is warranted.” The fighter must be dominant and have significant impact, to the point where the fight is close to being stopped.

Forrest Petz (right) is the fighter that was awarded the only 10-7 round in UFC history during his fight with Sammy Morgan.
Forrest Petz (right) is the fighter that was awarded the only 10-7 round in UFC history during his fight with Sammy Morgan.

There has only been one 10-7 round in UFC history, which was when Forrest Petz dominated Sammy Morgan in his UFC debut. One judge scored the bout 30-23 for Petz, scoring one round a 10-7. It is the most lopsided decision in UFC history.

What Is The Difference Between A Unanimous, Majority, and Split Decision?

So this may have been the question that brought you to this post, and if so, thank you for sticking around. A decision can be very confusing when it is anything other than a Unanimous Decision, and I’ll explain every outcome of an MMA decision in detail below.

What is the difference between a Unanimous, Majority, and Split Decision?

In short, a Unanimous decision is when all three judges agree on the winner, Majority is when two judges pick the same winner but one judge declared it a draw, and Split is when two judges chose one winner, while the last judge chose another.

Below I’ll create a quick overview and example of each one, as well as how a fight can end in a draw.

Unanimous Decision

A unanimous decision in MMA is declared when all three judges agree on a single winner.

Here’s an example of a Unanimous Decision win for Fighter A:

Judge 1: 30-27 for Fighter A

Judge 2: 29-28 for Fighter A

Judge 3: 29-28 for Fighter A

Majority Decision

A majority decision in MMA is declared when two judges score the match in favor of one fighter, while the last judge declares the fight a draw.

Conor McGregor beat Nate Diaz by Majority Decision over five rounds in their second fight.
Conor McGregor beat Nate Diaz by Majority Decision over five rounds in their second fight.

Here’s an example of a Majority Decision win for Fighter A:

Judge 1: 30-27 for Fighter A

Judge 2: 29-28 for Fighter A

Judge 3: 29-29 Draw

Split Decision

A Split Decision in MMA is declared when two judges score Fighter A as the winner, while the last judge declared Fighter B as the winner, resulting in a Split Decision win for Fighter A.

Here’s an example of a Split Decision win for Fighter A:

Judge 1: 30-27 for Fighter A

Judge 2: 29-28 for Fighter A

Judge 3: 29-28 for Fighter B

Can A UFC Fight End In A Draw?

Yes, on rare occasions, an MMA fight can end in a draw. This occurs when one judge selects Fighter A as the winner, the second judge selects Fighter B as the winner, and the last judge declares it a draw (also known as a Split Draw).

A Flyweight division fight between Brandon Moreno and Askar Askarov ended in a controversial split draw.
A Flyweight division fight between Brandon Moreno and Askar Askarov ended in a controversial split draw.

Here’s an example of a Split Draw:

Judge 1: 30-27 for Fighter A

Judge 2: 29-28 for Fighter B

Judge 3: 29-29 Draw

There are also two other types of draws in MMA: Majority Draw and Unanimous Draw.

A Majority Draw is declared when one judge declares a winner, but the other two judges declare it a draw.

The first fight between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson ended in a Majority Draw, meaning Woodley retained the title.
The first fight between Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson ended in a Majority Draw, meaning Woodley retained the title.

Here’s an example of a Majority Draw:

Judge 1: 30-27 for Fighter A

Judge 2: 29-29 Draw

Judge 3: 29-29 Draw

A Unanimous Draw is declared when all three judges score the bout a draw.

Here’s an example of a Unanimous Draw:

Judge 1: 29-29 Draw

Judge 2: 29-29 Draw

Judge 3: 29-29 Draw

Conclusion

Sorry if this was a long-winded or redundant post at times, but I wanted to explain the scoring and decision system in as much detail as I could. I remember how confused I was with decision outcomes when I first started watching MMA, and I hoped to clear any confusion with this post.

That being said, if you want me to clear something up or think I should reword something in this post, I’d be glad to hear from you at quinones.gerardo19@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!