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How UFC scoring works: Everything you need to know

Jason Burgos
How does scoring work in UFC
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Wondering how to score in UFC fights and what helps decide a judge’s scorecard is a common question for new and veteran fans of mixed martial arts. It can be a bit confusing considering the myriad of options available to fighters in the hurt business that is an MMA fight.

In its simplest form, effectiveness and control are the biggest factors in influencing a fight’s decision. But don’t fear, we’ve got you covered in explaining how UFC fights are scored, as well as the illegal MMA moves that can lead to disqualifications.

Related: UFC tonight – Fight card, odds, and watch times for the UFC’s next event

How UFC scoring works?

Although MMA rules do vary among some US states, countries, and different organizations, the most commonly used ruleset is called the “unified rules of mixed martial arts.” Under these guidelines, scoring in each round is based on effective striking/grappling, effective aggressiveness, and — in the case of the UFC — Octagon control.

When it comes to effective striking, essentially, judges are looking for damage. Quality over quantity, so to speak. That doesn’t mean landing a bunch of blows on an opponent’s body is a bad thing but strikes that have the most fight-ending potential are higher up in the scoring pecking order.

Like the standup game, effective grappling is also about inflicting harm and not about just wrestling a competitor to the mat and holding on for dear life. As MMAReferee.com best explains, “a successful takedown is not merely a changing of position, but the establishment of an attack from the use of the takedown.”

When it comes to aggressiveness, a fighter can’t rack up points simply by moving forward and getting picked apart by a man with better footwork and technique. A UFC fighter needs to make the most of that pressure. “Chasing after an opponent with no effective result or impact should not render in the judges’ assessments,” the unified rules state.

The least important criterion — although viable nonetheless — is Octagon control. For someone like current UFC middleweight king Israel Adesanya, who has the striking acumen to use range to effectively control the center of the cage, and the grappling to keep the fight on the feet, he is a good example of Octagon control. As he dictates how and where the fight takes place in many of his scraps.

The 10-point must system is a must

Another key element of how UFC and MMA rounds are scored is the 10-point must-scoring system. Where, no matter what happens in a round, judges must decide on a round winner and award them 10 points after those five minutes.

Most rounds result in a 10-9 score, however, there are instances of 10-8 and 10-7 scores. Although rarer, mattering on the dominance level — think Gray Maynard’s multiple knockdowns on Frankie Edger in their 2011 rematch — a fighter can be awarded scores better than a run-of-the-mill 10-9 after five minutes of action.

What moves are illegal in the UFC?

If a fighter effectively uses those guidelines in an Octagon battle, they have a strong chance of getting their hand raised after Bruce Buffer reads the scorecards. However, there are a few things that rage-filled competitors may do that could lead to a fight-ending disqualification.

Head butts, eye-gouging, biting, spitting, fish hooking, hair pulling, slamming an opponent on their head, and strikes to the back of the cranium, spine, or throat are absolute no-nos. UFC fighters can’t grab a guy by the throat, attack to the groin, use an elbow strike in 12 to 6 downward direction or hit an opponent that is “grounded” with a knee, kick, or stomp.

You also can’t claw, pinch, or twist the skin, use small joint manipulation, and attack an opponent after the round or fight has ended. So, suffice it to say, all the really wild and fun stuff in a fight will have to be saved for the streets or your favorite professional wrestling league.