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What is the Boxing 10 Point Must System? Beginner’s Guide

Many boxing matches actually end up in the hands of the judges, who decide the winner. And in order to determine the winner, these judges use the famous 10-point must system to score the fighters’ performances. But what exactly is the 10-point must system, and how does it work in practice?

The 10-point must system is a boxing scoring system. The winner gets 10 points, and the loser gets 9, 8, 7, or 6 points in each round, depending on how dominant the winner is. If the match goes the distance, the officials will tally up all three judges’ scores to determine the winner.

This is just a brief explanation of how the boxing 10-point must system works. Thus, be sure to read this article to learn more about it, as well as about point deductions and possible outcomes.

What is the “Boxing 10-Point Must System”?

Boxing is one of the oldest sports in general and has officially been around since ancient times. But the modern form emerged with the birth of “Marquess of Queensberry Rules” in 1867. This rule set introduced rounds, referees, weight classes, and many other changes. But back then, the referee of the match was the one who would determine the winner once the time expired, as there were no judges or point scoring systems.

The concept of judges and a 10-point must system emerged in 1968. At the time, boxing was on the rise, and the concept in which the referee picks the winner based on their subjective opinion was no longer practical.

There were many controversial calls, fixed matches, and inadequacies overall. The sport was in search of a new concept to improve the reliability of scoring and outcomes. The final result was a 10-point must system created by the World Boxing Council.

A 10-point must system is a point-scoring concept used in boxing. Boxing judges use this scoring system to decide the winner of a match if neither of the fighters wins by KO or TKO. After each round, they give the winner 10 points, while the loser gets 9, 8, 7, or 6 points. At the end of the fight, the officials would tally up the scorecards from all three judges and declare the winner.

Since the creation of 10-point must system, many other combat sports have adopted the system, such as MMA, kickboxing, Muay Thai, and others. Let’s see how the system works in practice.

How do boxing judges score a fight?

Each boxing match, whether it is professional or amateur, includes three judges sitting on three different sides of the ring. They rely on strict criteria to evaluate the action inside the boxing ring. These judges use a 10-point must system to score the match round by round.

During the match, judges are not allowed to interact with one another or in any way influence each other’s decisions. At the end of each round, all three judges will take their own scorecards and write down one of the following scores, depending on how the round played out.

Once they write down the score, the referee will collect all the scorecards and then hand them to the officials sitting beside the ring. These officials will then tally up all the scores.

The winner gets 10 points, while the loser gets 9, 8, 7, or 6. Here is a detailed explanation of each score.

10–9 — the majority of boxing rounds are scored 10–9. This signifies that the round was close but was given to a boxer who gained a small advantage during the exchanges. Even when the round seems equal, it should be awarded to the boxer who had even the slightest edge.

10–8 — is given when one boxer has dominated the round by landing hard, significant blows to the opponent, who, on the other side, didn’t have to offer much in return. It is also automatically given if the loser of the round gets knocked down.

10–7 — in most cases, judges give 10–7 when a boxer scores two knockdowns within a single round. For each knockdown, the judges would deduct one point, and when a losing fighter hits the canvas two times in a round, they will get only 7 points.

10–6 — is given when a boxer suffers three knockdowns in a single round, and this specific score is quite rare. Most boxing bouts actually get stopped before they get to the point where one fighter is knocked down three times. The risk of severe injury would be too great in most cases to remotely even allow three knockdowns.

10–10 — is given when the round is even and there is no difference or advantage between the fighters. This score is usually awarded during those rounds where there is no action or significant strikes are landed by both sides.

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Criteria for Boxing Scoring

Boxing judges must follow strict and standardized criteria when evaluating the action inside the ring. Even though the following criteria are strict, they allow the judges a lot of room to be subjective when judging the boxer.

Here is what the boxing judges are looking for in a boxing match:

Effective aggression

Effective aggression is one of the most important criteria. However, the word “effective” makes a lot of difference here. A fighter might be aggressive, throwing barrages of punches and backing the opponent.

But suppose the opponent is blocking most of the shots and landing some in return. In that case, that is not considered effective aggression. In order to be effective, an aggressive fighter must land clean and hard shots and show the willingness to finish the match.


A lot of fans overlook and underappreciate the importance of defense. But in the judges’ eyes, this is a very important criterion, as defending yourself requires a level of skill. A boxer can win a round by blocking strikes, angling out, and creating openings to land counterpunches on their aggressive opponent.

They might be backed against the ropes or forced to move around the ring. But as long as they are in control and land more significant shots, they will win the round.

Who controls the center of the ring

Boxers who are in control of the center of the ring are usually the ones dictating the pace of the fight and initiating exchanges. Suppose the round is even, with both fighters being equal when it comes to significant strikes. In this scenario, the judges will give the round to a fighter who controls the center of the ring.

Power and damage

Boxers throw around 45 punches per round in the boxing match. However, punches are landed with an accuracy of approximately 10 percent to 30 percent, so most thrown punches are either missed or blocked. The judges always look to determine which fighter is landing cleaner and more damaging shots. Simply put, the judges look for a clear impact and damage from the punch.

What is the possible outcome of a boxing match?

Boxing matches can end either by decision when the time expires or a stoppage caused by a knockout or injury. Here are all the possible outcomes explained:

Unanimous decision — is declared when all three judges score the match for the same fighter. This outcome happens when a boxer dominates the majority of the fight and is better than their opponent in all aspects.

Split decision  is declared when two judges score the match for fighter-A while the third judge sees fighter-B as the winner, which results in fighter-A winning the fight. Split decisions are common in fights where the momentum shifts back and forth, with each fighter having their moments.

Majority decision — is declared when two judges score the match in favor of one fighter, while the third judge sees the match as a draw. Since two judges have outscored the third, one boxer would be declared the winner.

Split Draw — is a rare outcome when all three judges see the fight differently. One judge would score it in favor of fighter-A, the second judge for fighter-B, and the third judge would score it as a draw.

Majority draw — is declared when two judges see the match as a draw but the third judge scores it in favor of one of the boxers. Since the majority of two out of three judges saw the fight as even, the match would end in a draw.

Unanimous draw is an extremely rare outcome, as this means all three judges agreed the match was even.

Technical decision— happens when an accidental head clash results in an injury. If enough rounds have passed, the judges will add up the scores up to that point and declare a winner.

Technical draw happens when an accidental head clash results in an injury. If enough rounds have passed and all three judges see the match as even up to that point, the match would be declared a technical draw.

TKO (technical KO) — happens when the referee decides to step in and stop the match because the fighter is no longer intelligently defending and is taking huge damage.

Knockout (KO) — happens when a boxer receives a hard punch to the face and falls down to the canvas, unconscious in most cases. It can also happen if they can’t recover from a hard body shot.

Retirement – happens when a fighter can no longer continue after one of the pauses in between the rounds. If the fighter cannot stand off the stool to fight, the referee has no other option but to wave the match off. Boxers can also retire or “give up” during the match by verbally informing the referee or by dropping down to the canvas and tapping out.

Towel stoppage — is a type of retirement. But this time, it’s the boxers’ cornermen who decide to stop the fight by throwing in the towel. Sometimes, boxers are too tough for their own good to stop despite absorbing too many damaging blows. For this reason, when their coaches notice their fighters receiving too much damage, they will throw in the towel to protect them.

No contests — occur when a boxing match ends due to reasons not directly related to the fighters or fight and there is no winner.

What is the 10-count rule in boxing?

The 10-count rule comes into play when a boxer gets knocked down to the ground upon receiving a hard punch to the head or body. The referee would instantly step in, pause the match, and start counting to ten. Or, in other words, give a knocked-down fighter 10 seconds to recover and continue to fight.

Photo by Biser Todorov

If a boxer rises within 10 seconds, the referee will check if they are recovered enough to continue and reset the match in the center. However, if a downed boxer cannot get back to their feet or does so in visibly bad condition (on wobbly legs, for instance), the referee will wave both arms to stop the match, which will result in a TKO.

However, there is a phenomenon called a “long count.” Some referees would give fighters more time to recover by counting slowly. So instead of being allotted 10 seconds, fighters may get up to 15 seconds. One study of knockdowns showed that the majority of boxing 10-counts actually last longer, and throughout history, there have been many controversial counts.

For example, when Billy Conn got knocked down against Joe Louis, he was given 12.4 seconds to recover. The same happened when Buster Douglas got dropped by Mike Tyson during the match as he received at least 12 seconds to recover.

Why did MMA adopt the boxing 10-point system?

MMA adopted a 10-point must system with the creation of the Unified Rules of MMA in 2000 in the US. At the time, the Boxing Association took MMA under its regulation, so naturally, the sport adopted the same, already proven boxing scoring system. This was not unusual, as some other combat sports, such as kickboxing or Muay Thai, also rely on the same 10-point system.

Although the concept of scoring is the same, there are more than a few differences:

No 10–8 for knockdowns in MMA — in boxing, when a boxer gets knocked down, the judges will deduct an additional point from the boxer who got dropped. If the second one happens, they would take another point and score the match 10–7. However, there is no such thing in MMA, as a fighter who gets knocked down doesn’t necessarily lose an additional point.

Almost no 10–7 scores in MMA — in boxing, 10–7 scores are quite common and happen when a fighter gets knocked down twice in a round. MMA didn’t adopt this rule, and a fighter who gets dropped twice would likely lose that round 10–8.

MMA has less room for mistakes — in boxing, most professional matches have 10–12 rounds. If a judge makes a mistake in a round or two, their decision won’t significantly impact the outcome. In MMA, regular fights are three rounds, while championship fights are five rounds. In a three-round fight, a single mistake by the judge can directly impact the outcome of the match.

MMA is harder to score  boxing is simple as fighters use only their hands to strike the upper body area above the waist. MMA is different as it includes striking with all limbs, clinch fighting, wrestling, and fighting on the ground with submissions and strikes. More variables in MMA make it much harder to judge, despite the criteria.

How do boxers get their points deducted?

Boxers get their points deducted from their scorecards when they commit a foul or do anything against the rules. This usually occurs when they land illegal blows—usually unintentionally.

Depending on the referee, they would get away with a verbal warning the first or second time. But suppose a boxer continues to land repeated illegal blows. In that case, the referee will, at some point, pause the match and notify the judges to deduct one or maybe two points from a fighter who broke the rules.

The other way to lose a point in boxing is by getting knocked down. Every knockdown that happens in a match deducts one point from the scorecards.

Related Questions

Who scores in a boxing match? Judges or referees?

Modern boxing includes three judges sitting beside the ring, evaluating and scoring the match round by round. A referee is a third person inside the ring responsible for keeping the match fair, within the rules, and above all, for the fighters’ safety.

However, back in the early days, the referees were responsible for keeping the action fair and safe and deciding the winner when the time expired. Like in modern times, they would declare the winner by raising the boxer’s hand. However, they didn’t use strict criteria or a point system but relied on their subjective evaluation. This changed in 1968, when WBC introduced the concept of judges and the 10-point must system.

What other combat sports use the 10-point must system?

A 10-point must system was created for the sport of boxing. But over time, many other sports would adopt this practical system, such as Muay Thai, kickboxing, Savate, and mixed martial arts. Although the scoring criteria may vary between these sports, the concept of points remains the same.