UFC judges and the way they score fights have always been one of the hottest topics in MMA circles. Their job might look simple and you may think that can do a better job than UFC judges. But in reality, scoring UFC fights is actually a really, really tough job. Let’s start with the fundamental question: how is the UFC fight scored?
There are three judges in the UFC who score each round of the fight individually using a 10-point scale. The fighter who wins each round gets 10 points, and the other fighter gets 9, 8, or even 7 points that judges will rarely give.
To determine the winner of the round, they use the following three criteria (in this order):
- Effective striking/grappling
- Effective Aggression
- Ring/Cage control
Sounds simple, right? Well, why do we have so many controversial decisions then? Keep reading this article to find out more about how UFC scores work, different types of decisions, and much more.
How Do UFC Judges Score Fights?
Each UFC event involves 3 judges who sit at different places besides the cage, and their main job is to score the fight round by round using a 10-point must system adopted from boxing. After each round is over, they would pick the winner of the round, write the scores/points on the cards, and hand it to the official responsible for collecting scorecards. Once the fight is over, the officials would sum up all the scores from all judges and determine the winner. What criteria do UFC judges use to pick the winner?
Here are the three main criteria UFC judges are using in this order:
- Effective striking/grappling — is the first criteria judges are looking at when deciding the winner. They would look at who won more striking and grappling exchanges, and who did more damage in a round. Bear in mind that immediate damage is more important than cumulative damage. Or in other words, they would rather give the round to a fighter who scored a knockdown with a single power shot and nearly finished the fight, than to the fighter who did cumulative damage throughout the entire round.
- Effective aggression — judges use this criterion only in case both fighters were equal in the first criteria. In that case, the winner of the round would be a fighter who was more successful in attempting to finish the fight. But, chasing the opponent around the cage while absorbing damage and missing with your own strikes is not considered “effective”.
- Fighting area control — is the last criteria that come into play only in case fighters are equal in the first and second criteria. This one is simple, the winner of the round is a fighter who controlled the center of the cage/ring, forcing their opponent to the outside position.
Though these three criteria look simple and easy to use, it is not. Keep reading this article as we are going to explain the flaws of the scoring system in more detail.
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How Do UFC Scorecards Work?
The UFC judges use a 10-point must system taken from boxing scoring system to score the fight round by round. The winner of the round gets 10 points while the loser gets 9, 8, or even 7 depending on how dominant the winner was.
- 10–9 is the most common outcome of the round in MMA. This score indicates that one fighter landed more strikes, did more damage, or had won more grappling exchanges.
- 10–8 is scored when one fighter had dominated the entire round. They might win the round 10–8 by dominating the opponent on the feet with strikes, doing huge damage and knocking the opponent down. Or by securing a strong top position early in the round and keeping the opponent on the bottom throughout the rest of the round while threatening with submissions and ground and pound.
- 10–7 is an outcome you won’t see that often in MMA. In fact, it happened only one time in the history of UFC when Forrest Petz faced Sammy Morgan at “UFC Fight Night 6”. This fight was one of the most one-sided bouts in UFC history. Petz won a 30-23 unanimous decision and one judge scored one of the rounds 10-7 for Petz. In theory, a fighter who had absolute control in the round and was close to finishing the fight on multiple occasions should be awarded 10-7.
After each round ends, the judges would take the official scorecards, write down the points, and give the paper to the official responsible for collecting the scorecards. Judges are not allowed to keep the scorecards or make changes after they submit the scorecards to the official. If a match ends in a decision, the official would sum up the scorecards from all three judges, and determine the winner of the match. Depending on how each judge scored the fight, here are the possible decision outcomes:
- Unanimous Decision
- Split Decision
- Majority Decision
- Majority Draw
- Split Draw
UFC Decisions Explained
Here is a detailed explanation of all types of UFC decisions:
|Unanimous Decision||when all three judges agree on which fighter won the match. Example: Chimaev vs Burns (29-28 Chimaev; 29-28 Chimaev; 29-28 Chimaev)|
|Split Decision||when 2 judges see fighter A as a winner, while the third judge has it for fighter B. Example: Volkanovski vs Holloway (48–47 Volkanovski; 48–47 Volkanoviski; 48–47 Holloway)|
|Majority Decision||when two judges agree on which fighter won the match, while the third judge saw the fight as a draw. Example: Hughes vs Nunes (28–28 Draw; 29–27 Hughes; 29–27 Hughes)|
|Split Draw||when one judge scores the match for one fighter, the second judge scores for the other fighter, while the third judge scores the match as a draw. Example: Jourdain vs Culibao (30–27 Jourdain; 29–28 Culibao; 28–28 Draw)|
|Majority Draw||when two judges agree that neither fighter won the match, while the third judge scores it for one of the fighters. Example: Woodley vs Thompson (48–47 Woodley; 47–47 Draw; 47–47 Draw)|
|Unanimous Draw||when all three judges agree that neither fighter won the fight. Example: Gutierrez vs Durden (28–28 Draw; 28–28 Draw; 28–28 Draw)|
Why Do MMA Referees Deduct A Point?
UFC fighters can lose 1 or 2 points in a match for committing fouls. In most cases, a fighter who lands an illegal blow or commits a foul during grappling would receive a verbal warning from the referee. But bear in mind that they can get away with a warning only in case the foul didn’t result in a serious injury. The most common fouls in modern MMA are eye pokes, groin strikes, grabbing the fence, or hitting the grounded opponent with a knee to the head.
If they repeat the foul, the referee will, in most cases, stop the action, and deduct a point. Once that round is over, the judges would determine the winner first, and then take one point away from the fighter who broke the rules. For example, if a fighter who committed fouls won the round 10–9, the final score would be 9–9 due to point deduction.
On paper, referees have the right to take 2 points in a round, but that rarely happens. At UFC on ESPN 5, for example, Darko Stosic got two points taken away for landing repeated kicks to the groin.
Why Are UFC Judges’ Scores so Unreliable and Inconsistent?
UFC judges and their decisions have always been one of the hottest topics in the world of MMA. But before you put the blame on the judges, bear in mind that the MMA scoring system adopted from boxing and criteria are not perfect by any means too. Let’s take a look at how the judges and the scoring system together contribute to controversial and unreliable decisions:
- No room for error — most boxing matches include 12 rounds of action which allows the judges to get away with mistakes. If they made a bad call in one round, they have 11 left to get right and minimize the damage. In MMA, matches have just 3–5 rounds meaning that one bad call can destroy fighters’ chances of winning. There is not much room for bad calls or any errors if you are an MMA judge. Each mistake they make has a much bigger impact on the final result than in boxing, but yet, judges from both sports use the same scoring system.
- MMA is more versatile and tougher to judge — boxing is much easier to score using a 10-point system. A boxer who lands more punches, do more damage, or scores more knockdowns wins the round. But in MMA, fighters strike with kicks, punches, elbows, and knees. They fight in the standup, clinch, and on the ground where they can also strike as well as attack with chokes and joint locks. Despite the “strict” criteria, it is much harder for an MMA judge to determine which fighter won the round, especially when the fight is chaotic and all over the place.
- Subjective opinions — the three main criteria judges rely upon are not ideal by any means. There is a clear lack of standard, and a lot of room left for the judges to make subjective calls. For instance, a lot of judges value takedowns, hard blows, or submission attempts differently. One judge might think that a takedown is more important than five punches to the head, while the other one might have it vice versa. This is a perfect recipe for controversial calls.
- More fights ending in a decision — last but not least, it’s worth pointing up that more fights are ending in a decision. UFC holds around 40 events per year with each event includes around 12–13 fights, and almost half of those end in a decision. This combined with the flaws within the scoring system and judges’ subjective opinions contributes to the increase of bad calls.
How Much Do UFC/MMA Judges Make?
UFC judges are appointed by the Athletic Commissions and they do not have a monthly salary like regular employees. Instead, UFC judges are paid per event, and the exact amount depends on how reliable they are and consistent, and how big the event is. On average, they earn between $300 and $550 per event, while the most famous judges earn up to $900 per event, or even a couple of thousands when they judges highest PPV events. Although this doesn’t sound like a lot of money (and it isn’t), they are also allowed to judge other MMA events.
What Moves Are Illegal in UFC?
Here is a list of all the moves that are illegal in the UFC. Breaking the following rules and committing fouls may result in a point deduction, disqualification, or no contest:
Illegal strikes– fighters are not allowed to strikes the throat, spine, groin area, back of the head (rabbit punches), kidneys, or spine. Strikes like stomps and soccer kicks are also illegal, as well as hitting the opponent with the “12 to 6” elbow.
Grounded opponent rules — MMA fighters are allowed to fight on the ground. But, they are not allowed to blast the grounded opponent with a knee or kick to the head. They can throw kicks and knees to the body, but not to the head.
Dirty tactics — fighters are not allowed to poke or gouge eyes, use their fingers to pull the cheek (fish hooking), bite or head butt the opponent, or do any type of dirty moves.
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Different Types of Stoppages in MMA Explained
Knockout (KO) is awarded when a fighter lands a legal strike to the head or body and their opponent falls down to the canvas either unconscious, heavily concussed, or in severe pain and are not able to continue. It’s worth pointing up that in MMA, fighters can also score knockouts while fighting on the ground too.
Technical knockout (TKO)
A technical knockout (TKO) win is awarded when the referee decides to stop the fight and prevent a fighter from absorbing unncessary damage. In most cases, they do this because the fighter is no longer capable of intelligently defending. Although still conscious, a hurt fighter might be heavily concussed and not capable of making rational decisions and this would trigger the referee to stop the fight to protect the fighter.
Fighters’ corner is allowed to stop the fight by throwing in the towel. The coaches can do this in the middle of the action when they decide that it is too dangerous for their fighter to continue. They can also stop the fight during the rest period between the rounds. Fighters also can decide to quit during a fight.
Each MMA event includes a ringside physician sitting beside the cage. If a fighter suffers a deep cut that causes severe bleeding or any other serious injury, the referee might decide to pause the fight and bring in the doctor to check whether the fighter is safe to continue or not. If a doctor determines that the injury is too severe and that it is dangerous for a fighter to continue, they would tell the referee to stop the fight. In that case, the outcome would be “Doctor’s Stoppage”, or “Medical Stoppage”.
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What is the difference between the MMA judge and the MMA referee?
MMA referees are a third person inside the cage whose main job is to keep fighters safe, and enforce rules. They are operating inside the octagon and have the right to stop the fight at any given moment during the fight.
MMA judges, on the other side, sit beside the cage/ring and are responsible for scoring the fight round by round using a 10-point must system. They never have to enter the cage. But they have to cooperate with the referees during the fight, notably when it comes to point deductions.
Why would a fighter’s corner, instead of the referee, stop a fight?
The answer is very simple, sometimes, fighters are too tough for their own good. Most MMA fighters, notably the ones who compete in the UFC, are mentally very tough and have strong mental resistance. If you combine that with the adrenaline, aggression, and their inability to feel pain in the heat of the moment, you get a fighter who always want to continue fighting regardless of their physical condition.
Despite this is irrational, dangerous, and bad for their careers, most of them would rather get knocked out cold before quitting in the fight. That’s why the rules allow their coaches, who are in most cases their closest friends, to throw in the towel and stop the fight.