Last Updated on September 27, 2022
For beginners with surface-level knowledge of UFC fights, it's pretty common to think that a knockout or submission solely determines a victory.
What if neither of these happens? The victory would then be determined by the judge's scorecards, which are based on the Unified Rules of MMA criteria.
Then, they would add up their scores for both fighters, which leads to a certain outcome. If you're looking for an in-depth look at how this works, we encourage you to read below!
The Basics Of UFC
Before we explain the UFC scoring system, let's discuss a brief UFC history and how it works. It was founded in 1993 and is now considered the biggest MMA organization as it hosts the world's best female and male fighters.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is a mixed martial arts (MMA) promotional company based in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The organization holds one major UFC event approximately every month. In a title match or main event, two fighters have a five-round fight in a caged octagon. For non-main event matches, they only have a three-round fight.
UFC has 12 weight classes (8 men's and 4 women's), and fighters almost exclusively face someone from the same division. Fighters are free to move up and down each weight class.
Each division has a ranking of the top 15 MMA fighters and the champion who holds the UFC title. The fighters would compete with each other to climb the rankings, as the No.1 fighter would usually face the title-holder in their weight class.
That said, there are many ways a match can end:
1. Submission - A fighter taps the mat or their opponent, submits with their mouth, or communicates that they're in pain (such as screaming).
2. Technical Submission - A referee stops the match because a fighter loses consciousness or is at risk of serious injury from a hold.
3. Knockout - A fighter becomes unconscious due to a legal strike.
4. Technical Knockout (TKO) - A fighter is deemed unable to defend themselves due to excessive damage. The match can be stopped by a referee, a ringside doctor, or the fighter's staff.
5. Decision - After all rounds end, the match is decided by the UFC judges' scorecards using the 10-point must system.
6. Forfeit - A fighter withdraws from the match for a reason that isn't major.
7. Disqualification - A fighter intentionally does an illegal move that endangers their opponent, resulting in the latter's victory. This also applies if the fighter continues to break rules after being warned.
8. Technical Decision - A fighter unintentionally does an illegal move, making their opponent unable to continue fighting. However, there are sufficient finished rounds for the judges to make a technical decision. It's still possible for the injured fighter to win if they score higher.
9. No Contest - This has the same circumstances as a technical decision, except there aren't enough finished rounds to be judged. A fight may also be ruled as no contest due to illegal or unsatisfactory circumstances, such as a fighter testing positive for doping.
The Scoring System
Now, in the event of a decision, let's discuss how the UFC scoring works. Every UFC fight is scored by three judges using the 10-point must system. This means the winning fighter of a particular round must receive 10 points, whereas the losing fighter receives less than 10.
There are instances where both fighters are tied, which we'll discuss later.
This scoring system is based on the Unified Rules of MMA, which specify the criteria judges would use to decide who wins the round. These criteria include:
1. Effective Striking - Effective striking refers to how many legal strikes are dealt to the opponent's body. Strikes resulting in greater impact, such as knockdowns and power shots, are usually scored higher than strikes dealing cumulative damage.
2. Effective Grappling - Effective grappling refers to the effective use of wrestling and grappling skills, such as takedowns and reversals. Other factors, such as threatening submission attempts and achieving an advantageous attacking position, are also taken into consideration.
3. Effective Aggressiveness -Aggressiveness refers to how a fighter chases the opponent or actively moves forward to perform an attack. The judges would observe the fighter's attempts to end the match instead of stalling to get more strike points.
4. Fighting Area Control/Octagon Control - This criteria refers to the fighter's ability to dictate the pace of the match and their location in the ring.
Out of these four criteria, effective striking/grappling is taken into priority. The latter two are often only considered when both UFC fighters are scored completely equally in those aspects.
For example, when you're watching a match, you may think that one fighter is winning because they use a combination of these four criteria. In reality, they're losing because their opponent does better strikes and grappling techniques.
That said, the scoring is entirely based on the judges' opinions on how well a fighter performed during a round. There are no hard and fast rules that successfully executing a technique will earn you a set number of points.
At the end of the match, the judges' score for each round is combined to decide a winner. It may look something like this:
Let's see what these scores mean in greater detail:
A 10-10 round score means that both fighters are equal in all criteria. After five minutes passed, no one has an advantage over the other.
This scoring is pretty rare, as judges are usually discouraged from giving a 10-10. Even if there's a tiny difference between two competitors, the score shouldn't be 10-10. Despite this, they've happened a handful of times before.
A 10-9 is the most common type of scoring, which is given to the more dominant fighter who won by a close margin. Even if it was a closely-contested round, one fighter came out on top after considering the criteria.
A 10-8 is given to a fighter who asserts significant dominance over their opponent. Whether the fighter uses striking or grappling moves, they clearly demonstrate aggression and supremacy.
Meanwhile, the opponent is constantly on the defense with little to no counterattacks, reactions, or aggression.
A 10-8 can also be awarded based on impact, where a fighter's attacks overwhelm and exhaust the opponent. This shows that there's a substantial difference between the skill level of the two fighters.
A 10-7 only happens when one fighter completely overwhelms the other in all criteria - dominant positions, effective strikes, knockdowns, you name it. In this situation, the match is close to being stopped for a knockout or submission.
This scoring is extremely rare, but it happened once in a match between Sammy Morgan and Forrest Petz at Ultimate Fight Night 6. Petz won via a three-round decision, where one judge scored 30-23. This implies that one of the rounds was scored 10-7.
It's impossible to lose more than three points. In that case, you're probably already knocked out, and the match is over.
Possible Decision Outcomes
Now, let's look at the ways a UFC fight can end based on the judges' decision:
1. Unanimous Decision - All three judges scored in favor of the same fighter. This decision is very common, as approximately 49% of all UFC fights in 2020 ended in a unanimous decision.
2. Majority Decision - Two judges scored in favor of the same fighter, whereas one judge scored a draw.
3. Split Decision - Two judges scored in favor of Fighter A, whereas the other judge scored in favor of Fighter B.
4. Unanimous Draw - All judges scored the match as a draw.
5. Majority Draw - Two judges scored a draw, whereas the other judge scored it a win for one fighter.
6. Split Draw - The first judge scored in favor of Fighter A, the second scored in favor of Fighter B, and the third judge scored it a draw.
7. Technical Draw - This has the same circumstances as a unanimous draw, but it happens during a technical decision.
It's worth mentioning that if a title match results in a draw, the defending champion retains their title.
Effects Of Violations On Scores
Apart from the judges' scoring, violations can also affect a fighter's victory. For example, the winner of the round can receive less than 10 if they committed a foul. However, violations can only be called by the referee. Judges cannot assess that on their own and let it affect a fighter's score.
The deductions, if any, will be factored in after combining the judges' scores, where the final score then decides the winner.
However, if the foul ends up disabling the opponent, the match will end in disqualification (intentional), no contest (unintentional + insufficient finished rounds), or technical decision (unintentional + sufficient finished rounds).
Some violations are physically harmful, such as groin attacks, throat strikes, or a downward elbow strike (12' - 6').
Meanwhile, others are concerned with negative demeanor, such as spitting at the opponent, using abusive language, or faking an injury. You can check the full list of illegal moves on the official UFC website.
Knock-Out Point: From UFC scoring to UFC numbers, we'll keep you informed regarding MMA athletes and other fun stuff! Proceed here -- UFC Number Meaning.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do the three numbers mean in UFC?
These are basically the score the three judges give to the fighters every round.
How is the scoring done in UFC?
The three judges individually score each fighter every round. If the match doesn't end in a knockout or submission, then the scores are added up to decide the winner.
The criteria the judges use to assess performance are effective striking/grappling, effective aggressiveness, and octagon control.
Can takedowns score you points?
As we said, the scoring system is subjective. One judge may give you two points, whereas another may only give one.
There are also times when a successful takedown won't give you any points. For example, Fighter A executes one takedown, but Fighter B does more, so the latter gains the point.
The UFC has helped promote mixed martial arts globally. That said, learning about the scoring system is one crucial step toward understanding how UFC fights work.
As we mentioned, fighters are scored based on the subjective view of the judges. They are professionals who are trained to see which fighter is dominating the match. Rest assured that they will be efficient and impartial in assessing each fighter.
Whether you're an aspiring UFC fighter or an avid fan watching from home, we hope this article helped you better understand the scoring system!