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How Are MMA Fights Scored? The Final Score Card

Robert Green
Published: September 17, 2021
Updated: September 17, 2021

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As you watch an MMA fight, you may be expecting to see a particular fighter win the match until the judges award the win to the opponent. Now you are asking yourself "how are MMA fights scored and was that win justified?" Since the results of a fight can be a bit confusing for those who don’t know the system, here is all you need to know about the rules of scoring in MMA.

Not every MMA fight ends in a knockout, so there needs to be a set of rules to score each opponent and declare a winner. While watching a fight, it is easy to subjectively disagree with the decision at the end of the match, as you may have thought the loser was dominating the match.

The system of scoring in MMA has been created and designed to minimize subjective decisions and to give the judges fairly objective criteria to award points. This helps create a fair match for fighters, regardless of their current ranking in MMA. 

The Basics Of An MMA Fight

If you are an avid MMA fan, you may already know the basics of the sport. However, if you are fairly new to it, you will benefit from understanding how a fight is structured. MMA fights consist of three or five rounds with each round being five minutes long with a one-minute interval between each round.

In the event of a knockout or an opponent losing the ability to defend themselves, the referee may end the match early. The aim of MMA is to stimulate a “to the death scenario”, so a knockout is the best way to win. 

If the fight continues until the final round, then the winner needs to be determined by the scores of the judges. Fighters ultimately need to practice effective striking to be a contender in an MMA match.

The Judges Of An MMA Fight

During an MMA fight, three judges sit on the sideline and evaluate each round based on pre-set criteria. These three judges are helped by a referee who stands in the cage, which is known as The Octagon in UFC.

The referee is in charge of ensuring that each opponent fights fairly and doesn’t break any of the competition’s rules. If a fighter is in violation of any rules, the referee has the power to give a fighter a one-point penalty for a foul.

At the end of each round, the three judges score the fighters separately. They use a 10-point scoring system which results in one fighter, who is deemed the winner of the round, receiving 10 points for the round, and the other fighter receiving a nine or eight, while they may very rarely receive a seven. The second fighter is judged on the extent to which he was dominated by the opponent. 

This results in each round of the fight receiving a score from each judge which may look something like the below, between fighter A and fighter B:

RoundJudge 1Judge 2Judge 3

In this case, fighter A (denoted by the first score from each judge) will win the fight. As the scores from each round are added up, it results in 30-27 from the first judge, 30-26 from the second, and 30-27 from the third. 

However, not all matches end in such a unanimous decision where all judges declare the same winner, and it still doesn’t explain how the judges arrive at these scores.

The Unified Rules Of MMA

Providing the judges with set criteria to base their scores on is essential to ensure a fair fight. While the judges will still need to make a subjective decision on which fighter was more successful in meeting the criteria, it eliminates a lot of room for error. The Unified Rules of MMA were created to set these standards.

The most important element to decide points is Effective Striking/Grappling. Judges will need to base their scores on which opponent was more successful with their striking and grappling techniques. Strikes that result in immediate damage should be considered more effective than cumulative damage strikes.

Judges should base their scores on the above factor unless they decide that the striking and grappling effectiveness was equal for both opponents. Only then can the backup criteria be used.

The next step is to consider Effective Aggressiveness, which is based on how aggressive an opponent is in attempting to end the fight. However, their techniques have to be effective in this regard as well.

Lastly, if those two criteria are deemed equal, the judge should consider the Fighting Area Control. This is based on who controls the space and pace of the fight more effectively.

Possible Match Outcomes

Since every fight does not end in a knockout and there are three judges with varying opinions on the results, there are several different possible outcomes of a match, which are:

Unanimous Decision: All three of the judges agree on the same winner.

Majority Decision: Two out of three judges declare the same winner, with the third deciding on a draw.

Split Decision: Two out of three judges choose the same winner, while the third declares the other fighter the winner.

Unanimous Draw: All three of the judges declared the fight a draw.

Majority Draw: Two out of three judges declare a draw, while the third judge declares one of the fighters as the winner.

Split Draw: One judge declares the match a draw, while the other two each declare a different winner.

The Final Round

MMA fights are fairly complicated to judge and while it is easy to watch a match and have a strong opinion on who should have won, the judges are in the best position to decide this. As they follow set criteria, they know how to balance the various strikes and moves in the match.

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