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How Does UFC Scoring Work A Full And Clear Breakdown

The UFC championship belt on display during press event.

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To those who are not aware, the Ultimate Fighting Championship or UFC. Is the premier mixed martial arts promotion on the planet? Recognised as the birthplace of MMA and the home to the world’s greatest mixed martial artists. Some fans still wonder how does the UFC scoring work?

The UFC scoring system allocates and deducts points from fighters during their bout. Based on a pre-defined set of scoring criteria which includes effective striking, effective grappling, octagon control, aggressiveness and defence.

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And having been implemented on both a national and almost entirely international level, it is also a system that has been widely accepted. While there are alternative promotions with some differences in how points can be allocated, mainly due to techniques not used across all promotions.

As a general rule of thumb, the format used by the UFC has laid the groundwork for the other MMA promotions that have since followed. To establish a coherent and cohesive set of rules for all the fighters concerned.

What Is The UFC

Existing since 1993, the UFC was first conceived as a tournament to discover which amongst all the major martial arts was the best. Pitting some of the most talented fighters in the world against one another. For only one to be crowned the Ultimate Fighting Champion.

Featuring athletes whose disciplines ranged from Wrestling, Muay Thai, Karate, and Taekwondo to Boxing, Kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Sambo and Judo.

Donald Cerrone standing inside the UFC octagon.
Donald Cerrone inside the UFC octagon.

Initially, the vast majority of the competitors were experts in their specific discipline. And it wouldn’t be until subsequent events that fighters would begin to cross-train different styles. Eventually led to the creation of the hybrid sport we know today as mixed martial arts.

The UFC Scoring Rules

Outside of some regional differences, the ruleset under which the UFC operates has become the general blueprint for other MMA promotions worldwide.

There are several reasons for this including the fact that mixed martial arts becomes a global sport. It is important that there are standardised rules and scoring which cross International borders.

Allowing fighters to sign with different promotions, as well as harmonise the criteria under which fights are sanctioned. In very much the same way as boxing, where the original Marquez of Queensbury rules were introduced. Bring boxing nations in line and thereby help the propagation of the sport on a global level.

Aside from that, the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combat sports rules unified MMA rules were the first of their kind. And so it made sense for other countries to adopt where the sport was just beginning to take off.

The UFC Scoring Criteria

Some have argued that the scoring in MMA is unsuitable and they may be right. But until an alternative is found which will best suit the complexities of the sport. For now, we will continue to see the use of boxing’s traditional 10 points must system.

With the different attacks ranging from punches and kicks to takedowns. All are scored with a single point depending on their overall effectiveness and influence on the outcome of a fight.

A 10 – 10 Round

A 10 – 10 score occurs when at the end of the round, no obvious advantage can be given to either fighter. While pretty rare, with most rounds having at least some discernable difference between performances, they still do occur.

There are fights in which both fighter’s output is almost identical, leaving it all but impossible to correctly score the round. And it is for this purpose to allow for such occurrences that the 10 – 10 score exists.

A 10 – 9 Round

The 10 – 9 points score is the most commonly seen result in UFC fights. This result tells us that there was a close result in the round. Following the criteria for UFC scoring which includes striking, octagon control and grappling.

Where in some cases it may come down to a single additional takedown or an exchange on the feet. This score is not a clear determination of how the losing fighter did in the round. As depending on their willingness or a sheer lack of results, it can be scored even lower.

A 10 – 8 Round

For a round to end in a 10 – 8 score, there has to be a clear-cut win by one of the fighters. While not all that common, the score is given when one fighter completely dominates the round.

As MMA is an offensive sport, a 10 – 8 can also be given when one fighter chooses not to engage. Thereby forfeiting the round to their opponent, as no attempt was made to win the fight.

Using a smart defence to stay in the fight is a valid tactic. However, it will not score points and if not coupled with offensive manoeuvres, can lead to a definitive loss of the round.

How To Score The Fight

When scoring the fight there are several pre-determined criteria that will factor into who is the eventual winner of the contest. In a sport that is all about the aggressor and person controlling the fight. There’s a lot to consider when the exchanges are split between both striking and grappling, so let’s take a closer look.

A filled out UFC scorecard post fight.
A completed UFC scorecard after a fight.

Effective Striking

During the match, effective striking is considered the priority scoring requirement for the fight. Effectiveness is determined only through the use of legal blows, in both immediate and cumulative impact. Which may contribute toward the ending of the fight.

The immediate impact is given precedence over cumulative. But regardless of which is utilised the end goal of winning the fight is paramount. And so striking should always be plan A for those with this skill set.

Effective Grappling

Effective grappling is considered in terms of successful takedown and submission attempts. Including any reversals and gaining of a dominant position on the ground over an opponent.

And like striking should have an immediate or cumulative effect with the potential to bring an end to the fight. Again immediate is more heavily weighted than cumulative.

With a consideration that a takedown is not simply any changing of position. But an attack by one fighter leads to the takedown of their opponent to the canvas.

Effective Aggressiveness

In terms of the UFC scoring hierarchy, effective aggressiveness comes in third place. And it should only be considered if one of the competitors is not winning in the striking or grappling battle.

With an analysis that a fighter is making an active attempt to finish the fight. It must be effective and not simply the chasing of the opponent without any definitive action.

What About Octagon Control

Control of the octagon or the fighting area refers to which of the combatants is determining the pace, location and position of the fight. Meaning if one fighter is deciding how the flow of the fight is progressing, they are controlling its tempo.

Control of the fighting area should only be considered if the preceding criteria of effective striking and grappling. Along with that of effective aggression is all equal on the scorecards.

A Fighters Defense

Mixed martial arts is an offensive discipline that requires fighters to attack in order to score points. And it is for this reason that defence is not awarded in the scoring criteria.

So each time you see a beautiful submission escape or some slick head movement to avoid strikes. Just be mindful that it may look great, but unfortunately for the fighter, it’s not earning any points on the judge’s scorecard.

Fouling In The Fight

In terms of fouls, competitors can also have points taken from their tally during the fight. In instances of fighters not engaging or illegal strikes. Points are routinely removed and can lead to the outcome of the fight swinging from one outcome to another.

How A Fighter Can Win

The beauty of MMA is that there are a host of ways in which a fight can be won. When compared to almost all other combat sports, it offers finishing moves both on the feet and on the ground. Via a wide range of strikes or submission victories.

Conor McGregor faces Donald Cerrone at UFC 246.
Two-division champion Conor McGregor in the octagon.

Knockout The Opponent

The fan favourite and perhaps the most definitive way in which to finish the match is via knockout. Leaving no questions to be answered, the KO stoppage effectively means the separation of the opponent from their consciousness.

Brutal in its execution, whether via kicks, knees, elbows or punches, the result is still the same. An incapacitated fighter is unable to continue leading to the referee waving off the fight.

TKO Of The Opponent

One step down from the knockout is a technical knockout, it’s little brother. A TKO will usually mean that a fighter has received so much damage due to impacts, they are effectively unable to defend themselves.

The referee made a determination that they can no longer sustain and further damage. And as a result, stepping in to call a stop to the fight.

A Submission Victory

Submissions come in all shapes and sizes. Occurring both on the feet and ground, they can include manipulation of the body’s limbs, neck and extremities, like an armbar or foot lock.

Not only painful but potentially damaging if not released in time. They can lead to dislocations as well as broken bones and or a loss of consciousness.

A Fighter Quits

Yes, it does happen. And while not all that common, there have been fights where a referee has had to call a stop to the action. Due to a lack of engagement by one of the opponents.

If there is no effective action and a combatant refuses to compete. The official can step in and the fighter forfeits the match.

The New UFC Scoring System

So we all know about the reoccurring issues when it comes to 10 points must. A scoring system that was taken from boxing and then simply supplanted onto MMA. With what looks like little regard for the intricacies of the sport not seen in its pugilistic cousin.

The result? Well, time and time again we have had decisions that have left those involved both angry and confused. With rounds where often one fighter appeared to do more. Only to have it scored for their opponent in an almost sick twist of fate.

So one question being asked over and over again is, how do we fix it so that it better reflects mixed martial arts? And you might think, that should be a relatively easy task.

With some of the finest minds in the business losing sleep. We as yet, have to find a solution with which the commissions, promoters and fighters are happy. Or do we?

The Five Points Must Rule

Back in 2010, there was an initiative to test the five-point must-scoring system devised by Corey Schafer, which was used in the now-defunct World Combat League.

With five separate Athletic commissions being involved in trial runs, it looked to have the potential to change the game. However, after two years and some 350 matches, the project was brought to an end and the result was clear.

As the system added an additional layer of complexity. When used by some less experienced judges, it wasn’t working as desired. Fine if you have officials who have been around the sport for many years.

But with newer judges, without the required amount of hours cage side. The results were not quite what they were hoping for. As head of the committee to evaluate the five points system Jeff Mullen commented;

“If you’ve got folks that have trouble driving a Volkswagen Bug, you’re not going to put them in a Porsche.”

Jeff Mullen – Executive director of the Tennessee Athletic Commission

And officials stateside were also looking at other options further afield. Like One Championship open scoring system, which looks at the totality of the fight. As opposed to the round-by-round system seen in the US.

A system that found favour in PRIDE fighting championships. But those who make the decisions in the US are seemingly uninterested in rocking the boat. It looked like the 10 points must system currently in play would not be going anywhere anytime soon.

What About The Open Scoring System

But all is not lost? As of March 2020, a decision was made by the Kansas Athletic Commission to try a new format known as open scoring. Where the bouts will still take place under the traditional 10 points must system. But the scores will be made public knowledge between rounds.

The idea behind the system is that the fighters and coaches will know in real time how they are doing. As opposed to the current system which only reveals the final score at the end of the contest.

And the belief, at least for some, is that this open officiating will allow the camps to make adjustments during the fight. So that there are no surprise scores at the end leaving the fighters bemused and upset.

But some say that knowledge of the real-time score could lead to fighters who are winning, coasting for the remainder of the match. Or if there is a foul they may decide not to continue knowing they are ahead on the scorecards.

So there is a lot to think about and work out before the system could be taken to the next level and potentially rolled out nationwide. However, with the arrival of COVID-19, all progress on the matter has ground to a halt.

As the world is turned upside down and most sports closed indefinitely. At least for now, we can live in hope that there is a positive outcome future down the line.

Is no doubt, there are those who feel the sport needs to move forward. And a way to do this is from the ground up. As we look to improve how MMA is officiated, giving the most important people involved, the fighters. A fair crack of the whip in the sport both we all love.

Some Final Words

The unified rules used in UFC scoring have been with the promotion since November 2000. And while for the most part, the format which was taken from boxing has had some issues. Generally speaking, its use has been a success.

But in a complex sport like MMA, there were always going to be some issues. However, it doesn’t take away from how well the sport has progressed under the current format. And while we should always be looking for things to move forward and progress in a positive way.

For now, as it stands we will be using the current system for the foreseeable future. Not perfect by any means, but in a world of imperfections. Better than many others and still part and parcel of the world’s premier MMA promotion.