How UFC Scoring Works: Rules and Regulations
If you’re diving into the gripping world of MMA and considering betting on the UFC, understanding how UFC scoring works is vital. From analyzing the criteria for determining winners to exploring the different methods of scoring, let this be your one-stop shop when it comes to the rules and regulations of the UFC.
As noted, it is extremely important to know how scoring works in UFC and how a judge may well be seeing how the action unfolds. Knowledge is power, and if you know what to look for inside the octagon, then you’ve got an advantage when you place your stake in a particular outcome.
Suppose a competitor is not able to get the win in a UFC/MMA fight during the rounds allocated. In that case, the fight will ‘go to the judges,’ and we’ll be looking at exactly what that means in this article and the impact it can have on some of the biggest bouts in the entire sport. Gaining a win via decision, whether via a unanimous decision or split decision, is all down to how the three judges outside the cage saw the action. Their result is final, whether the scores may be completely out of left field or not.
UFC, and the majority of MMA bouts, are scored via the 10-Point Must system. There are three judges that sit cage-side during a bout, and all three of these judges score the bout individually with the 10-Point Must system dictating their scorecards. The ‘winner’ of a specific round is given 10 points by the judge, and the ‘loser’ of the round is given 9 or less, depending on how dominant their opponent was in the round in question.
If a fighter is able to assert dominance on the feet, get into strong positions in the clinch, on the ground or are able to set up well for submissions, then they will likely be given ten points. If the aforementioned fighter completely blows their opponent out of the water, then the judge may well give them a 10 on the scorecard and their opponent a 9, 8, or, on very rare occasions, 7.
One of the rare occasions that there was a 10-7 was part of the Sammy Morgan vs Forrest Petz bout at UFC Ultimate Fight Night 6 in 2006, where Petz took the unanimous decision with one of the most lopsided 3-round scorecards ever: 30-23.
All three judges will score the round independently, and the difference in opinion between them can sometimes be pretty vast and shocking. There have been many times where what appears to be an ‘obvious’ outcome, where for example, Fighter A has been completely dominant over Fighter B, where a judge has had a different assessment of proceedings that can turn a unanimous decision into a split decision.
There are three main areas that the judges scoring UFC contests look for when it comes to their MMA scoring, and these are Effective Striking, Grappling and Octagon Control/Control of the Fighting Area.
The definition of “effective striking” in an MMA bout can vary based on the judges’ criteria throughout the fight. Generally, it refers to a legal blow that can immediately or cumulatively impact the opponent, potentially leading to the end of the bout. In the UFC, fighters can use a range of strikes, such as boxing-style punches, kicks, knees, and elbow strikes to the head, torso, or legs of a standing opponent to deliver effective attacks. If a fighter can land several effective strikes without committing any fouls, they are more likely to win the bout by decision.
To put it simply, effective striking is when a fighter is able to use their offensive capabilities to inflict significant damage on their opponent during the round. While a fighter may throw multiple strikes, judges may lean towards a fighter who has less output but has been able to manage the pressure effectively if the effectiveness and technique of the strikes are lacking.
Grappling in the UFC takes various forms, but the most common ones are Greco-Roman Wrestling and Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, particularly when the fighters are on the ground. In mixed martial arts, having experience in amateur wrestling or BJJ is critical as a fighter’s ground game, including the ability to execute reversals or counters on the mat, can significantly impact the fight’s outcome.
Regarding grappling, judges evaluate whether a fighter is using their abilities to try and finish the bout. For instance, if a fighter merely takes their opponent down and holds them on the ground without attempting to advance their position or finish the fight, the judges might not consider it effective grappling and could award the round to the other fighter if they display good defence.
In terms of scoring, judges also evaluate grappling from both standing positions and on the ground in BJJ. Fighters with impressive amateur wrestling backgrounds can build successful careers if they maintain activity in the clinch, grapple, or ground position. However, it is essential to note that having grappling skills does not guarantee winning a fight outright. With the evolution of mixed martial arts, judges now seek to see fighters utilize their grappling abilities to gain a position to throw an effective strike or attempt a stoppage.
As an expert on mixed martial arts, I can tell you that octagon control is a crucial factor in determining a fighter’s success in a match. At first, it might seem difficult to explain, but let me break it down for you.
Octagon control, also known as fighting area control, refers to how a fighter dominates the center of the octagon and dictates the pace of the match. The fighter who controls the center of the octagon can determine where most of the action takes place, giving them a significant advantage.
It’s worth noting that a fighter does not need to be standing in the center of the octagon to be in control of the match. Many Brazilian Ju-Jitsu practitioners, for instance, are just as proficient at controlling the outcome of a bout on their back as they are standing up.
Octagon control, or ring control in MMA bouts outside of the UFC, is all about how a fighter moves inside the cage and how they can influence their opponent’s movements. If a fighter can establish their position in the center of the octagon and guide their opponent where they want them to be, they are demonstrating excellent octagon control.
A takedown is essentially what it sounds like when a fighter is able to remove their opponent from their standing base and get them to the floor. Takedowns are scored within about as part of grappling, with successful takedowns and maneuvers to advance a fighter’s position during the contest being looked at favourably.
Significant Strikes vs. Non-Significant Strikes
Significant Strikes in a UFC contest refer to all strikes at distance as well as power strikes in the clinch and on the ground. Basically, any strike that significantly improves your chance of winning the fight can be deemed as a significant strike. The more significant strikes a fighter can accrue in a fight, especially if it’s complete domination over their opponent, the more likely they are to be crowned the winner.
Ground and Pound
Ground and Pound is a term that has been defined throughout the years in the UFC and has become an essential part of the language of the sport. Being able to ground and pound an opponent means that a fighter has successfully pulled off a takedown and is then in a position to throw strikes to their opponent’s head or body repeatedly. The best Ground and Pound fighters can usually be found in the upper weight classes of the sport, with the likes of Tito Ortiz, Mark Coleman, Cain Velasquez, Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar all being able to commit harm on their opponents from a dominant G&P position.
A submission attempt is when a fighter locks in a body part of their opponent to try and force them to verbally submit or ‘tapout’ due to severe pressure/pain or the potential of long-term damage. Good submission attempts that look like they could’ve led to the culmination of about are scored well in the eyes of the judges.
Knockdowns and Knockouts
A knockdown is determined by a fighter being taken off their feet and in a dangerous position. If the referee determines that the fighter cannot continue from that position, then it is sometimes deemed as a technical knockout. Multiple knockdowns in a round will be seen favourably by the judges and can mean that the fighter pulling them off may well get the 10 points to win that round.
A straight knockout is an incredible spectacle and achievement in a UFC fighter’s career. It sees a competitor landing a legal strike on their opponent, which means they cannot continue the contest. A Knockout means that the judge’s scorecards will not need to be brought into account for the result of the fight.
There are certain factors that do not actually affect scoring, despite the impact they appear to make on the fight itself and how they might favour a particular fighter. The amount of blood that a fighter has lost does not necessarily affect their position. If they’re still able to score better overall, then they can still take the win.
Aggressiveness is a term that people like to use as well, but it all comes down to the actual ‘effectiveness’ of a fighter. The official unified rules of MMA dictate that effective Aggressiveness is: “Aggressively making attempts to finish the fight. The key term is ‘effective.’ Chasing after an opponent with no effective result or impact should not render in the judges’ assessments. Effective Aggressiveness is only to be assessed if Effective Striking/Grappling is 100% equal for both competitors.”
Finally, verbal exchanges and verbal attacks between fighters also have absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of a fight in terms of judging.
It is not uncommon to witness controversial decisions by judges in UFC events. Throughout MMA history, there have been several instances where a fighter who appeared to be losing was given the win, or a bout that seemed like a draw was scored as a majority decision for one fighter.
One of the most controversial decisions in the history of the UFC was the result of the 2020 bout between Jon Jones and Dominick Reyes. It was Jones’ final defence of the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, and Reyes appeared to be winning the 5-round bout throughout by outstriking the Champion and stopping any attempts by ‘Bones’ for the takedown.
Jones would finally get some success late on in the contest as Reyes started to lose energy and some of his earlier swagger and confidence, but fans watching live didn’t believe that it would be enough to stop Reyes from getting the win and the 205-pound gold. However, the judges not only gave Jones the unanimous decision win, but one judge actually gave him four out of the five rounds, prompting some fans to ask what fight that judge was even watching.
With the point system the way it currently is in MMA and the UFC scoring system following that pretty much to the letter, it is going to be difficult to stop some of these types of controversial decisions from occurring. At the end of the day, it is a judgment call from those in charge of determining the winner, so unless something is able to be brought in, such as video replay referees, there might not be a way to conveniently ‘fix’ judging in MMA without potential outside manipulation or attempts to cause a further margin of error.
A split decision occurs when not all three judges agree on who has won a bout, so two may have decided that Fighter A has won the contest, and one has decided that Fighter B has won the contest.
If that is the case, then Fighter A is deemed the winner of the contest via split decision, which can sometimes throw up more questions than answers for fans who were hoping to see a definitive outcome.
The reason that you might see a split decision is due to an extremely close fight, where one of the judges may have seen a different element of the contest as a priority, and based on the information they have from the contest itself, they determined that winner was contrary to their colleagues.
A draw in a UFC contest is determined when there is no clear winner. There are a couple of different types of drawing, including a split draw, where one of the three judges scores the contest in favour of one fighter, another judge scores it in favour of the other fighter, and the third judge scores the contest as a draw, leading to a split draw being given.
A majority draw means that at least two judges have determined the bout to be a draw.
Scoring for Title Fights
The scoring for Title fights in the UFC is exactly the same as those for non-title fights. However, every Championship bout in the Ultimate Fighting Championship takes place over five rounds, something that the establishment put into place a number of years ago.
This means that the job of the judge scoring the contest could actually be easier (or harder, depending on your viewpoint), as there will be a larger amount of moments to consider when determining the winner.
Scoring for Non-Title Fights
As noted, non-title fights are judged with exactly the same criteria as Title fights, except the majority of non-title fights take place over 3 rounds rather than 5. However, this may not be the case if the contest is a main event or showcase contest, as these are often changed to 5 rounds for the spectacle they can provide for fight fans.
Other Scoring Systems
There have been a number of different scoring systems outside of the UFC, and we’ll take a look at some of those now:
The Japanese-based promotion PRIDE FC was notorious for being a more brutal form of mixed martial arts. Many techniques that were considered fouls in the Ultimate Fighting Championship were deemed legitimate blows in the PRIDE ring.
When it came to scoring fights, PRIDE used an ‘Eastern’ style of rules that are typically employed in sports like Thai boxing. This meant that judges would score the bout as a whole rather than determining the winner based on a round-by-round 10-Point Must system. In practical terms, this scoring system meant that a fighter’s performance over the entire fight was considered rather than their success in individual rounds.
ONE FC is a different type of martial arts organization from the UFC, as there are bouts within other disciplines other than MMA taking place on their fight cards, such as Submission Wrestling and Muay Thai Kickboxing.
In terms of the actual MMA scoring system, this is very close to the UFC’s and is judged on the following:
- Damage (internal, accumulated, superficial)
- Striking combinations and cage/ring generalship (ground control and superior positioning)
- Earned takedowns or takedown defence
Expert's Conclusion on How UFC Scoring Works
UFC Betting Expert
As you can see, understanding how UFC scoring works is crucial for anyone diving into the world of MMA, especially if you’re considering betting on fighters. While the UFC’s scoring system has led to some controversial decisions and split draws via the judges’ decision, it remains the standard in MMA. This is why it’s so essential to know how UFC scoring works.
However, by grasping the nuances of this unique scoring system, you’ll gain an edge in predicting outcomes and becoming a more profitable UFC bettor.
The UFC has the 10-Point Must system in place for bouts.
There are a number of different ways in which you can win a mixed martial arts contest, including Knockout/TKO, Submission, Referee Stoppage or a unanimous or split decision win.
A takedown doesn’t have a specific number of ‘points’ assigned, but successful attempts can certainly aid a fighter in getting ahead of the scorecards.
If a fighter is disqualified or injured, then the bout is called off, and a winner is determined, or the fight is ruled a no contest.
A fighter can win a round without dealing any significant damage, as there are a number of different options when it comes to trying to win a bout. Being able to score a takedown and get some solid submission attempts means that a fighter could essentially win the round without even technically even throwing an effective strike.
Judges will usually have a huge amount of experience when it comes to judging contests, and the differences between what a judge sees and what a fan sees can be numerous. For example, there may be small shots that a fighter attempts that a judge could pick up on, but at the end of the day, it is all based on opinion rather than fact.
Choosing judges to not be biased is a very important aspect of the sport, so as to keep the spirit of competition alive. Having said that, it is not always easy to stop it from happening, and judges just have to be trusted to call a fight right down the middle.
Although the referee does not actually determine the scoring of a bout, that’s down to the judges; they can deduct points from a fighter if the competitor commits too many fouls or throws illegal blows that may cause injury (such as throat strikes, groin attacks, pulling hair etc.).
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Jake is an SEO-minded Combat Sports, Gaming and Pro Wrestling writer and successful Editor in Chief. He has more than ten years of experience covering mixed martial arts, pro wrestling and gaming across a number of publications.
Facts checked by Anthony Odiase