How Is UFC Scored? (The 10-Point Must System Explained)

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If you’re like me, then you’ve probably screamed at the television when that UFC fighter you thought was obviously winning gets undone by the judges’ scorecard at the decision.

It really makes you wonder how is UFC scored and do those judges even know what they are doing!?

In short, how is UFC scored?

UFC is scored with The 10 Point Must System. For each round, both fighters are given a number between 7-10 depending on their dominance. If the fight goes to decision, the judge’s scorecards will display who has scored the most points overall to be declared the winner.

There’s way more to understanding how UFC is scored and explaining why the judge’s scores might seem unusual from time to time. Let’s get stuck in.

UFC Scoring System Explained

Two fighters competing in the octagon

UFC scoring is formed of three criteria: Effective Striking & Grappling, Effective Aggressiveness, and Octagon Control in that order of priority. Judges should only move onto the next criteria if they are unable to identify one fighter above the other in the current criteria.

So, for example, if both fighters are both displaying the equal output of effective striking and/or grappling, only then can the judge move onto the next criteria; effective aggressiveness. And then on to cage/ring control as the final piece.

Effectively these can be considered as Plan A (Effective Striking & Grappling), Plan B (Effective Aggressiveness), and Plan C (Cage/Ring Control).

These “backup plans” should only be moved on to if the current plan isn’t allowing the judge to come out with a clear conclusion about who is winning.

Judges scoring is not a collection of considering all of the criteria at once, but instead starting with one criterion to score the fight and only moving on to the next criteria if the outcome is still unclear.

With that in mind, when you’re watching a UFC fight you could easily be led to think one fighter is displaying the overall best collection of effective striking, grappling, aggressiveness, and octagon control simultaneously.

When in fact, they are losing the fight simply because the opposition is doing a better job of Effective Striking & Grappling, which is the first set of criteria in the order of priority.

Alongside these judging criteria, is the 10-Point Must System which is the actual score that each judge gives to the fighters during each round.

This 10-Point Must System is the same across all UFC weight classes for men and for women.

Firstly, let’s look into exactly what elements build up these criteria. Then break down the point system later on in this article.

Effective Striking & Grappling

The first piece of criteria for judging a UFC fight is Effective Striking & Grappling, AKA “Plan A”.

UFC’s scoring system is aligned with The Unified Rules Of MMA, which detail how Effective Striking & Grappling should be observed:

Effective striking is judged by determining the impact/effect of legal strikes landed by a
contestant solely based on the results of such legal strikes. Effective grappling is assessed by the successful executions and impactful/effective result(s)coming from: takedown(s), submission attempt(s), achieving an advantageous position(s) and reversal(s).

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Unified Rules Of Mixed Martial Arts, 2019

Let’s break it down a bit because it’s a mouthful.

Effective striking is determined by the actual impact and effect of the landed (and legal) strike.

So in simple words, a fighter has to land legal strikes and their “effectiveness” is identified by how much impact they make.

For example, a jab to the face might be a connected strike but doesn’t necessarily make it incredibly effective or produce a significant impact. But a strike that connects well and makes the opponent dazed, stumble, or even possibly fall to the ground, is considered a very impactful and effective strike.

Now, effective grappling is also considered by the impact and effectiveness of grappling techniques including takedowns, finding attacking positions, or trying to submit the opponent.

In reality, an effective takedown might be one that successfully takes them down to the mat, first, and lands the fighter in an advantageous position such as on top of their opponent where they begin working to defeat them.

And effective attacking positions is displaying that they can move around the opponent and overcome their defenses to put themselves in a strong attacking position. This could be taking their back and then finding submissions, or it could be working to overtake the guard and land strikes with ground and pound or other possibilities.

In various ways, you can see how grappling (e.g. Wrestling and BJJ) can be highly effective for a UFC fighter to win points, because it opens up an additional set of scoring options.

While there are many ways to deliver strikes, it is just about landing strikes. If a fighter can’t land many effective strikes, then it puts striking-skilled fighters at a potential disadvantage.

With a grappling fighter, they can implement striking but also display a variety of effective grappling through takedowns, finding attacking positions, and trying to submit their opponent. All of these happen on the ground and a fighter can keep working all of these with grappling skills, then they can overcome an opponent who is simply unable to strike from the ground.

This is largely what opens up the debate about grappling in mixed martial arts in general. There is no doubt that it is highly effective in the UFC and other MMA promotions, and that may be simply because the Unified Rules Of MMA dictate that Effective Striking and Effective Grappling are the first priority of scoring. With that priority, Effective Grappling has more options and can even nullify Effective Striking altogether.

It’s weighted toward grapplers in my opinion, but that’s just the way it is always going to be! Anyway, moving on to the next scoring priority.

Effective Aggressiveness

If the “Plan A” of Effective Striking/Grappling cannot determine a more dominant fighter, then the judge moves on to consider “Plan B” which is Effective Aggressiveness.

Here’s how the Unified Rules Of MMA identify aggressiveness:

Effective aggressiveness means aggressively making attempts to finish the fight.

Unified Rules Of Mixed Martial Arts, 2019

This second criteria is a bit more simple to understand, but can clearly be highly subjective.

Aggressiveness in a fight could be identified by one judge as moving forward lots and throwing a lot of attacks. Whereas another judge could consider aggressiveness as something closer to dominating by control or positioning and using it effectively.

The specific important piece of this criteria, though, is “making attempts to finish the fight”.

Within this Plan B, a judge is looking to see fighters displaying attempts to finish their opponent and not just dance around with them and rack up the strikes count.

It does help to bring a bit more sense to some fights which seemed to be clearly in favor of one particular fighter, but the scoring shows something different.

While one fighter might have been very effective in striking or grappling (Plan A), they could not have displayed a similar aggressiveness to finish their opponent. We’re talking about getting a TKO or KO or submission.

With these criteria, UFC fighters are persuaded to try and not let the fight go to a decision. Which is certainly a good thing for fighters and for the fans. Most of the time we want to see an awesome knockout or we want to know that the scoring is also promoting it in its criteria.

Control Of The Fighting Area (Octagon)

If a judge has been unable to establish an outcome through both “Plan A” (Effective Striking/Grappling) and “Plan B” (Effective Aggressiveness), then the final criteria, “Plan C”, to consider is the control of the fighting area, otherwise known as Octagon Control.

Here’s how the Unified Rules Of MMA explain the Plan C criteria:

Fighting area control is assessed by determining who is dictating the pace, place and
position of the bout.

Unified Rules Of Mixed Martial Arts, 2019

Like Plan B, this criteria is simplistic in nature but even more subjective about decision-making from a judge.

Controlling the space in the octagon consists of pace, place, and position. Let’s break those down a bit further to understand what they actually mean.

The pace of a fight is often established by the more dominant fighter. One fighter is dictating when the fighting encounters begin, end, and the intensity or frequency of them.

The place of the fight is where the fighters are standing or fighting from in the ring. Sometimes this could be in the center of the ring, or against the cage. If one fighter is using aggressiveness and domination to push the other where they want to go, this would add up.

The position of the fight relates to the situations of fighting, such as striking on the feet or grappling against the cage or on the octagon floor.

These elements make up Plan C and the final judging criteria if the previous two criteria can’t present an outcome.

Now you should understand the main criteria and how they are considered by each judge, let’s move on to how a judge would actually use these criteria to give points and a final score.

How UFC Judges Score A Fight

Referee watching two MMA fighters compete

UFC judges score a fight using the 10 Point Must System by awarding 10 points to the winner of the round and 9 points or less for the loser of the round. Those points are evaluated with the scoring criteria of Effective Striking/Grappling, Effective Aggressiveness, and Octagon Control.

It is possible for a specific round to be declared a 10-10 draw, but it should be something that is extremely rare and would mean that both fighters have completely matched effectiveness across the criteria.

The 10 Point Must System is similar to Boxing, where one fighter should always have 10 points and the other 10 or less. This clearly defines who is the winner of the round and each round is judged individually to make up the total score at the end of a fight, should it go to a decision.

Let’s dive deeper into what each rounds’ score means.

10-10 Round Score

Here are the Unified Rules Of MMA’s definition of a 10-10 round score:

A round is to be scored as a 10-10 Round when both contestants have competed for
whatever duration of time in the round and there is no difference or advantage between either fighter

Unified Rules Of Mixed Martial Arts, 2019

This score basically defines the round as a draw with maximum points for each fighter.

Which either could mean they were equally matched over each criterion, or they were equally performing poorly just as easily.

10-10 Rounds are extremely rare and judges are even dissuaded from using them by commissions.

But they do exist, here are a few examples of 10-10 rounds in recent(-ish) UFC history:

  • UFC Fight Night 142 (2018): Judge Kon Papaioannou scored the third round between Christos Giagos vs. Mizuto Hirota as a 10-10 round
  • TUF 22 Finale: Team McGregor vs. Team Faber (2015): Judge Dave Hagen scored the second round between Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Konstantin Erokhin as a 10-10 round
  • UFC 159 (2013): In the fight between Ovince Saint Preux vs. Gian Villante, all three judges scored at least one of the rounds as a 10-10 round

In each of these situations, the fights must have been exceptionally close to call. There are more 10-10 rounds in the history of MMA, too.

10-9 Round Score

Here’s how the Unified Rules Of MMA define this score:

Around is to be scored as a 10-9 Round when a contestant wins by a close margin; where the winning fighter lands the better strikes or utilizes effective grappling during the round

Unified Rules Of Mixed Martial Arts, 2019

For a 10-9 round to be decided on by a judge, they will have used the criteria mentioned earlier for deciding who in fact came out on top even if it was a closely contested round.

By the Unified Rules specification, there is still a big reliance on the striking or grappling effectiveness.

10-8 Round Score

This is how the Unified Rules Of MMA specify this scoring:

A round is to be scored as a 10-8 Round when a contestant wins the round by a large
margin by impact, dominance, and duration of striking or grappling in a round

Unified Rules Of Mixed Martial Arts, 2019

For a fighter to be two points ahead of the other in a 10-8 round, they need to have shown a large difference in the effectiveness of their fighting.

10-7 Round Score

The last potential round scoring is a 10-7 round, which the Unified Rules Of MMA define as:

A round is to be scored as a 10-7 Round when a contestant is completely dominated by
impact, dominance, and duration of striking or grappling in a round.

Unified Rules Of Mixed Martial Arts, 2019

This makes it nice and clear, a fighter can essentially lose up to three points in a round if they are being significantly dominated by their opponent.

It isn’t possible to lose any more than this, so a round score lower than 10-7 isn’t possible. Scoring a round 10-7 is very clear about who was the better fighter in that round.

Declaring The Winner

Referee holding up the hand of a winning MMA fighter

If a fight has to go to the scorecards of the judges, because neither fighter finished the other during the fight, then the points on those cards will decide who wins.

The fight can be declared either a unanimous decision or a split decision.

A unanimous decision is when the judges’ scorecards show that they all chose the same fighter as having accumulated the most points of all rounds of the fight.

A split decision is when the judges’ scorecards show that the scorecard of one judge was different than the other two. But because of two judges scoring the same way overall, that majority is used to decide the winner of the fight.

Common Questions About UFC Scoring

Let me answer some of the most common questions about how the UFC scores their fights.

Are UFC Rounds Scored?

UFC rounds are scored individually. At the end of a fight, the point scores of those rounds are added together to see who has the most points by the end of the fight. These scores will only be used if a winner needs to be found by decision, instead of a KO or submission.

What Do UFC Judges Look For?

UFC judges are looking for primarily effective striking and grappling first to score a fight. Then they will take into account effective aggressiveness and finally octagon control if they need to use other criteria to grade who was the better fighter.

How Do They Decide Who Wins In UFC?

The fighter who wins a fight in UFC can be from a knockout, technical knockout, or submission inside one of the rounds. If all rounds of the fight (either three or five) are complete without a winner from a finish, the winner is decided from the scorecards of the judges.

Can A UFC Fight End In A Draw?

UFC fights can end in a draw. In fact, at UFC 256 Alberto Moreno vs. Deiveson Figueiredo ended in a draw in their first matchup. Moreno also had a draw with Askar Askarov in 2019. Draws are rare but many fighters have at least one on their record.

It can be pretty surprising to learn that the fight as a whole isn’t actually taken into account for judging as much as you think it might be. Instead, each round is scored individually in the 10-Point Must System.

What to read next

Now you know how scoring works in the UFC, you might want to learn more about how many viewers the UFC gets or how many rounds there are in each UFC fight. The beginner’s guide and articles below are perfect for further reading:

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