I think you’ll agree with me when I say:
MMA is one of the best sports in the world to watch.
But if a fight goes the distance, how does a fighter win?
Well, to understand this, we need to know how MMA scoring works. Which is what we’re going to discuss today.
While the MMA scoring system works most of the time, it seems to be a common occurrence that a rogue judge or two will score a fight completely wrong. This, in turn, can result in some very questionable results, that not only leave the fans disappointed but can have a serious impact on the career of fighters.
With this in mind, I’ll also touch on a couple of key issues with the MMA scoring system, and how it can be improved.
Let’s get to it.
How MMA Fights Are Won/ Lost
Before we dig too deep into how the scoring system works, it’s important to discuss when the scoring system is needed.
Scoring is only called upon should the fight go the distance, meaning a winner has not been determined throughout the fight.
The way a fighter can win a fight is as follows:
- KO/TKO: KO stands for “knock out” when a fighter knocks out their opponent with a strike. TKO stands for “technical knockout”. This is where the referee deems a fighter is not actively defending themselves or able to recover, and steps in to end the fight.
- Submission: A submission win is where a fighter utilizes a grappling technique, forcing their opponent to “tap out”, essentially admitting defeat.
- Disqualification: When a fighter breaks a severe enough rule, the referee can disqualify them, meaning that they lose the fight.
- Doctors stoppage: To be fair, these don’t happen as much as you think. This is where a doctor will inspect a fighter, and if they believe the fighter cannot, or should not continue, they will lose the fight. Severe cuts are the most common type of doctor’s stoppage.
- Decision: Finally we have a decision win, which is where MMA scoring comes into effect. The judges score the fight on a round-by-round basis, and whichever fighter wins the most rounds in the judge’s eyes, wins the fight.
An exception to the above is a no-contest. This is when the results of a fight are deemed void, as if the fight never happened. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but most often from an accidental foul leading to an injury, for example, an eye poke.
Types of Decisions in MMA
It’s also worth mentioning that there are multiple types of decision wins, based on how the judges scored the match.
- Unanimous decision: This is when all judges score the match in favor of the same fighter.
- Majority decision: When two judges score in favor of the same fighter, whilst the other scores the fight as a draw.
- Split decision: When two judges score a fight for the same fighter, and the third judge scores the fight for the other fighter.
- Majority decision draw: Two judges score the fight as a draw, and the other judge scores the fight with a fighter winning.
- Split decision draw: When one judge has the fight a draw, the other judge scores one fighter winning, and the final judge scores the other fighter winning.
What are the MMA Scoring Criteria?
The judges scoring an MMA fight have set criteria that they base their scores on, which are laid out in the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts.
When judging a fight, the following factors are taken into account when determining the score of a round. I’ll list these in priority order, with the top being the most important, and working our way down.
- Effective striking/ grappling
- Effective aggressiveness
- Fighting area control
I’ll quickly break down what each of these means, but if you’d like to see the official definitions, I’d recommend checking out the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts.
Effective Striking/ Grappling
Effective striking essentially means consistently landing strikes (punches, kicks, elbows, and knees) and causing damage to your opponent. A fighter who demonstrates effective striking in a round will typically have a higher number of significant strikes landed than their opponent.
A fighter that displays effective grappling will utilize various grappling techniques to maintain a superior, and threatening position. This can be through takedowns, pressure against the cage, top control on the ground, and submission attempts.
If both fighters display an equal level of effective striking or grappling, then the judges will consider their effective aggressiveness. When assessing effective aggressiveness, the judges will ask themselves which fighter is attempting, with the most success, to try and end the fight.
Fighting Area Control
If the above two criteria are equally matched, then the final factor to take into account is fighting area control. Area control refers to which fighter is controlling where the fight takes place. A fighter with superior area control will often force their opponent back towards the cage and control the center of the octagon.
How Does MMA Scoring Work?
So, we know what judges look for when they’re watching a fight, but how does MMA scoring work?
Well, MMA utilizes the 10-must-point system.
But what does this mean?
The judges will award the fighter that they think won the round 10 points. The other fighter will receive a score anywhere between 7-9, depending on how the judge perceived their performance. If a judge thinks the round was a draw, they award both fighters 10 points.
Now that’s all figured out, let’s look at the various round scores you’ll see in MMA.
A 10-10 round occurs when a judge deems both fighters have performed equally. Given that a round lasts 5 minutes, a 10-10 round should be rare as it requires neither fighter to have more success than the other.
A 10-9 round is a close round where both fighters have some success, however, one fighter is seen to perform better in the judge’s eyes. This could be from more damage caused, more control time, or any other of the MMA judging criteria listed above.
When watching an MMA fight, if you think it’s a close round, but just give the edge to a certain fighter, you would score the round 10-9 in their favor.
10-8 rounds happen when one fighter is far more dominant than the other. The more dominant fighter will meet much more of the scoring criteria than their opponent. If you’re watching an MMA fight, a 10-8 round will be fairly obvious, as it is clear when one fighter is demolishing another.
If you’re sitting there and thinking “This isn’t even close”, then the chances are it’s a 10-8 round.
10-7 rounds are incredibly, incredibly rare. I can only recall seeing a 10-7 round once. This was back at UFC Fight Night 118, where Josh Emmet was awarded a 10-7 round by one of the judges.
A fighter should display complete and utter dominance throughout the round, landing multiple impactful strikes that can feasibly lead to the end of the fight.
How Are Points Lost in MMA?
Having points deduced in MMA isn’t that common. A point is usually deducted from a fighter when they repeatedly foul their opponent.
For example, if a fighter repeatedly lands kicks to the groin of their opponent, the referee can decide to deduct a point. This is at the discretion of the referee, but if they feel a fighter is being reckless and not heeding the their warnings, a point can and usually will be deducted.
How Many Judges Are There in MMA?
Professional MMA fights, for example within the UFC, are scored by 3 judges. Having an odd number of judges is of course vital, as it helps to prevent draws from happening, although they do from time to time.
There’s a great website called MMA Decisions that lists all of the UFC scorecards and logs the judges’ decisions for all to see. I’d recommend checking that out to see a full list of the certified judges working for the UFC.
What is Wrong with MMA Scoring
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched a UFC fight, sure a certain fighter has it in the bag. Moments later, the other fighter’s hand is raised and I’m left sitting there questioning my eye site. After a quick look on Twitter, I find I’m not alone in my confusion.
Generally speaking, most fights are scored as you would expect them to be, but there are some very, very questionable results.
At the time of writing this, I’m still recovering from the fact that Kai Kara-France lost to Amir Albazi at UFC Vegas 74.
What blows my mind even more, is that one particular judge (who made questionable scoring decisions in the past), scored the 4th round to Albazi. I can’t understand this, given the fact that Kara-France landed 27 significant strikes, to Albazi’s 5 – is this not effective striking? .
This brings me back to the question, what’s wrong with MMA scoring? Simply put, it’s the quality of judges.
Looking back at the Kara-France, Alabazi fight, the judge who somehow scored the 4th round in Albazi’s favor, has a track record of questionable decisions. 27 times he has been the dissenting judge, scoring the fight the complete opposite way to the two other judges.
I think there needs to be more accountability for the judges. I love Israel Adesanya’s idea of having the judges talk through their decisions after the fight.
At the end of the day, the judge’s decisions hold a lot of power and have a direct impact on the careers of fighters. These judges should be the best-of-the-best, and know the scoring system inside-out, back to front.
If you don’t believe me, watch the video below of Joe Rogan discussing the quality of MMA judging with current UFC fighter, and former Bellator Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler.
Should There Be Open Scoring in MMA?
Another scoring method, which some combat sports events utilize, is open scoring. This is where the corners of both fighters are made aware of the scorecards throughout the fight.
This makes fights much more interesting, as a fighter knows when they are behind and need to put their foot on the gas. You could argue that the fighter ahead may take a more defensive approach, knowing that they’re winning. But, if you’re winning, you’re doing something right, so why would you change your approach?
Another benefit of open scoring links back to my feelings that judges need to have more accountability. If people knew throughout the fight how a fight was being scored, there would be a lot more backlash for poor quality scoring.
UFC VS ONE FC Scoring
Most MMA organizations such as the UFC and Bellator use the same round by round scoring method listed in the Unified Rules of MMA.
ONE FC does things a bit differently.
Instead of scoring a fight on a round by round basis, the fight is instead scored in its entirety, using slightly different scoring criteria.
ONE FC judges fights on the following:
- Was there a knockdown, or a submission attempt that was close to forcing a submission.
- Accumulated damage done to a fighter.
- Striking combinations and cage/ring generalship (ground control and superior positioning)
- Earned takedowns or takedown defense
While they are similar, it is interesting to see a different approach to MMA scoring, and I think ONE FC does a great job scoring fights fairly.
Example UFC Scorecards
Now let’s take a look at some example scorecards that have taken place in the UFC.
Example 1: Amanda Nunes Vs. Irene Aldana
Having just watched Amanda Nunes retire after her dominant performance at UFC 289, I thought this would be a fitting scorecard to take a look at.
As you can see from the scorecard, this fight was completely one-sided, with Nunes earning multiple 10-8 rounds. It’s worth noting that the final round, in which all 3 judges scored 10-8 in favor of Nunes, saw her maintain a superior ground position with a ton of ground and pound for much of that round.
Example 2: Leon Edwards Vs Kamaru Usman 2
Being from the UK, this is one of those historic fights that I’ll never forget. Although winning the first round across all three judges’ scorecards, Edwards was down 3 rounds to 1 going into the 5th.
While it was a decently close fight, as shown by the various 10-9 rounds, it was clear that Usman was ahead, and Edwards needed to pull something out of the bag.
And he did. Landing a crushing head kick that saw Usman unconscious on the canvas, rendering the judge’s scorecard pointless.
Example 3: Alexander Volkanovski vs Max Holloway
You may struggle to find a big Max Holloway fan anywhere in the world, so this one hurt me.
In what was one of the closest Championship fights to date, Holloway and Volkanovski put on one hell of a show.
The first 2 rounds saw the fight go Holloways way, however, with a few successful takedowns and unrelenting pressure, Volkanovski was able to pull it back and take the final 3 rounds.
How Does MMA Scoring Work: Final Thoughts
Well, there we have it.
With a bit of luck, you’ve got a better idea of how MMA scoring works.
It can be a bit complicated, but after a while, you’ll be scoring fights subconsciously and shouting at your TV when the judges’ decisions are announced.
If you’ve got any questions, please feel free to leave a comment in the section below.