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How UFC scoring works: Everything you need to know about how to win fights in the Octagon

ufc scoring
Credit: USA Today Network

Did you just watch a close fight that makes you curious about how UFC scoring is done? Well, look no further as we cover every angle of how a fight inside the Octagon is won.

While the judges may not get it right as often as fans want, these are the guidelines they should be following when deciding the victors in a UFC fight.

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How UFC scoring works?

ufc scoring
Credit: USA Today Network

Although MMA rules do vary among some US states, countries, and different organizations, the ruleset used for UFC scoring 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 the stand-up game damage is the biggest influencer on swaying a judge’s scorecard. While quantity is good, more times than not fight judges are looking for definitive blows that deliver clear damage and are getting a competitor closer to victory

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 UFC middleweight great 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

ufc scoring
Credit: USA Today Network

Another key element of how UFC and MMA rounds is the infamous 10-point must system. No matter how close a round is and how worthy it might be of getting a 9-9 score, most athletic commissions require a winner for each round. This means one of the fighters must receive a score of 10 for a given round.

Also Read: UFC Deaths: Has a fighter ever died inside the Octagon?

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?

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Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

If a skilled competitor is using the above rules inside the cage they are likely going to get their hand raised and named mentioned by UC announcer Bruce Buffer. But, there are also times when focus goes off the rails and a fighter may partake in a technique 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 directions 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.

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