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If the UFC fight doesn’t end up in one fighter knocking out or submitting another, the decision on who is victorious goes up to the judge’s scorecards. How UFC fights are scored can be a mystery to some. So, I decided to explain how the UFC scoring system works.
UFC fights are scored based on a ten-point must system. Three judges score each round separately, giving 10 points to the winner of the round and 9 or less (8 or very rarely 7) based on how dominant one fighter was in a particular round. The round can also go 10-10, but it is very uncommon.
So, how is the winner decided when the fight goes down to the judge’s table? Each of the three judges adds together their scores from each round and gets the final score. There are three different scorecards, one for every judge. Based on the three scorecards we have, how is the winner decided? Let’s see all the possible outcomes based on the judge’s decisions.
UFC Fight Outcomes Based on the Judge’s Decision
- Unanimous decision: all three judges scored a win for fighter A. Let’s take a three-round fight as an example. The first judge scored the fight 30-27 (10-9, 10-9, 10-9), the second judge scored it 30-26 (10-9, 10-8, 10-9), and the third judge scored it 29-28 (10-9, 10-9, 9-10).
- Majority decision: two judges scored a win for fighter A and the third one scored it a draw. For example, the first judge scored it 30-27, the second one also scored it 30-27, but the third one scored it 28-28 (e.g., 10-9, 8-10, 10-9).
- Split decision: two judges scored it a win for fighter A and one judge scored it a win for fighter B. As an example, let’s take a five-round fight. Scores might be something like: 48-47 (10-9, 10-9, 9-10, 9-10, 10-9), 49-46 (10-9, 10-9, 9-10, 10-9, 10-9) and 47-48 (10-9, 10-9, 9-10, 9-10, 9-10).
- Technical decision: a very rare case when one fighter is unable to continue because of an unintentional illegal shot. The fight is stopped and goes to the judges. This scenario was present when Donald Cerrone landed an illegal knee to Jamie Varner’s head while he was on the ground. That happened in the fifth round. Varner was unable to continue, so the fight went to the scorecard decision giving Varner a split decision win (49-46, 47-48, 49-46).
- Unanimous draw: all three judges scored the bout as a draw. P.e., all three cards were 28-28 (10-9, 10-9, 8-10).
- Majority draw: two judges scored it a draw, but the third judge scored it a win for one of the fighters. P.e., the fight is scored 28-28, 28-28, and the last judge scored it a win for either of the fighters.
- Split draw: one judge scored it a win for fighter A, one judge scored it a win for fighter B, and the third judge scored it a draw.
- Technical draw: the fight ends in the same manner as in the above-mentioned technical decision scenario, prematurely, but the judges scored it as a draw.
If the fight ended in a draw, it is worth pointing out that the total amount of a fighter’s points shouldn’t necessarily be equal. For example, when it comes to the majority draw, the total amount of points will never be equal; let’s say it is 28-28, 28-28, and the last one is 29-28 for either of the fighters.
Also, one more thing worth mentioning is that when a title fight goes to the distance, and it is a draw, the defending champion retains his title.
What Is Considered When Scoring a UFC Round?
I have explained how the decision on the winner is made if the fight goes to distance. Now, let’s explain how each round is scored individually! When scoring a round, a few things are considered; effective striking and grappling, effective aggressiveness, and control of the fighting area.
Not all of the mentioned above are equally important. The first thing that is considered is the effectiveness of one’s striking or/and grappling. If there is zero proactivity to be seen on both of the fighters striking (grappling), the next thing to look at is the level of one’s aggressiveness.
Judges should only consider aggressiveness if there is literally zero advantage on striking and grappling. If both fighters also show no signs of aggressiveness, the judges can look at which fighter is controling the UFC Octagon area.
Let’s explain these in more detail:
- Effective striking and grappling. Determined by how many legal strikes had been landed, how many takedowns and reversals are executed; submission attempts and position advancements are also taken into consideration.
- Effective aggressiveness. Chasing down the opponent with the intention of attacking (p.e., throw a shot, shot for a take-down, …). Moving forward actively (wanting to finish a fight), not passively.
- Control of the fighting area. The fighter that is controlling the center of the cage and pushing the opponent outwards (against the cage). The fighter that is dictating the pace and rhythm of the fight and choosing where the fight takes place.
Now that I have explained what is taken into consideration when scoring a round let’s see what makes a round go 10-9, 10-8, or something else entirely.
Explaining UFC Round Scores
I have already said that UFC Round on judge’s scorecards can go either 10-10, 10-9, 10-8 or 10-7. Let’s see what makes a round go each of the ways:
- 10-10 round. Worth noticing is that a 10-10 round is an extremely rare event. It exists for the purpose of scoring a round that is stopped prematurely (like the Cerrone vs. Varner fight mentioned earlier, which is unusual in itself), or when, after 5 minutes, there is a completely identical output from both fighters. Judges shouldn’t give 10-10 rounds as an excuse that they cannot assign a round to a winner. That being said, if there is even the slightest difference in a fighter’s output, a round shouldn’t be scored 10-10.
- 10-9 round. Most common round score. It is given to a fighter that has landed more strikes, used grappling more efficiently, scored take-downs, attempted submissions, controlled the fight pace and area. Even if there is a slight difference between the two fighters, where one shows more efficiency, activity, and offensiveness, a round should be scored a 10-9 for the more dominant fighter.
- 10-8 round. A 10-8 round is given when one of the fighters had dominated the round, meaning he delivered significant blows, used grappling efficiently, and dominated the tempo of the fight. Dominance in striking the round can be explained when throwing shots while the opponent isn’t trying to counter or react. Dominance in grappling can be seen when the fighter is getting in dominating positions and constantly throwing shots or attempting submissions. If a fighter is significantly hurt from the opponent’s pressure, a round should also be considered to be 10-8.
- 10-7 round. It is extremely rare for a round to be scored as 10-7. It is explained as a round where one fighter completely overwhelms another. With the tempo, dominant positions, take-downs, knockdowns, and strikes that clearly impact another fighter’s ability to continue fighting.
Has There Ever Been a 10-7 Round in the UFC?
The 10-7 round happened only once in the UFC. It was in a fight between Forrest Petz and Sammy Morgan at Ultimate Fight Night 6. Petz won via unanimous decision with one of the judges scoring the fight 30-23 including the only 10-7 round in UFC history.
How Illegal Blows Affect UFC Scoring?
One more thing worth mentioning is fouls in a UFC fight. When one fighter throws an illegal blow, a referee can discretely deduce one or more points.
Some of the following moves are explicitly addressed as fouls: head-butting, eye-gouging, biting, hair pulling, fish-hooking, groin attacks, small joint manipulation, rabbit punches, elbowing in a 12-6 direction, throat strikes, soccer kicks, kneeing the head of the grounded opponent, etc.
Check out the complete list of illegal moves in the UFC fight.
If a foul disables a fighter, then the match can end in a disqualification (if the foul was intentional) or in a no contest (if the foul wasn’t intentional). If a foul prevents a fighter from being able to fight later in the bout, a fight ends in a technical decision win for the injured fighter if that fighter is ahead on the scorecards. Otherwise, it is a technical draw.
For more information and some updates on the rules, take a look at the video from on the best referees in MMA, “Big” John McCarthy:
If you have more questions about the UFC, check out our beginner’s guide to the UFC where you will probably find the answer!