Forrest Griffin

With all of the recent controversy in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) over the last few years surrounding questionable judge's decisions, one might ask themselves what exactly these judges look at while making their decisions.

Controversial decisions are nothing new to combat sports, but it seems lately the decisions have been getting worse. Even UFC president Dana White acknowledges the fact that the judges in the UFC - who are hired by the state athletic commissions, not the UFC - seem to sometimes be watching a totally different fight than everyone else. Whether it was the infamous head scratching decision of Michael Bisping vs. Matt Hamill at UFC 75 in London, which found the hometown hero Bisping edging out a 3-round split decision win even after seemingly getting the beating of his life for the final 2 rounds, or the more recent Light Heavyweight title fight debacle between Lyoto Machida and Shogun Rua at UFC 104 in which the champion retained his belt via a 5-round unanimous decision win despite the majority of the viewers scoring it for the challenger. Decisions like these might leave one wondering what goes into judging a fight.

This article was created to help the average UFC fan gain a better understanding of all the aspects that go into scoring and judging a UFC fight, and it may also help even the more avid fans that have forgotten or never understood a few aspects.

Understanding the Rules of the UFC

In order to get started, it's important to first know the rules of the UFC. Restrictions on where certain strikes can be used, illegal strikes, illegal submissions or maneuvers, as well as what consequences these infractions result in, are a must-know before learning how to judge the fight.

The UFC started out in the mid-1990s with virtually no rules at all. The only way a winner could be determined was by finishing the fight. After years of public and political backlash towards the UFC's violent nature and lack of rules, they began the process of reform by adding more rules and making it more of a sport rather than a spectacle. Since Zuffa, LLC bought out the UFC in 2001, 31 rules have been added.

Take a moment to read over the rules of the UFC before moving on by clicking the link below:

Judging Criteria

After reading over the rules it's time to find out the actual criteria UFC judges use to render their decision. There has been controversy for some time now about how much value each aspect should be awarded. While some of the UFC judges tend to favor wrestlers, this does not necessarily reflect the correct way of judging. Judging a fight relies a lot on the eye of the beholder, which is the main cause for disagreements in regards to close fights. However, knowing the exact criteria used for judging fights in the UFC is essential to rendering an acceptable, favorable decision.

Below is a general list of the UFC's judging criteria for scoring fights.

UFC judging criteria:

  • Effective striking
  • Effective grappling
  • Octagon Control
  • Effective aggressiveness

The UFC judges score fights round by round using a 10-point must scoring system. This means that the winner of the round will be awarded 10 points, and the loser of the round receives 9 or less. Using the criteria listed above, you must determine who had the upper hand for each individual round. Normally, the round loser will receive 9 points. However, in some cases, the round loser can receive a score of 8 or less (extremely rare) if he was completely outclassed and put up no offense whatsoever. One must also remember to take into account any point deductions in the event of a rule being broken in that round. Sometimes, an infraction like a knee to the head of a grounded opponent, or repeatedly grabbing the fence, can result in a point deduction for the offender. However, a point deduction can only be determined by the referee.

In the event of an even round, which does happen from time to time, a score of 10-10 would be in order. This only happens when it's simply too difficult to determine who won the round.

Scoring the Striking Aspect

Striking is judged two ways, but on a few different levels. The two main categories for judging striking are:

  1. Effectiveness - The total number of heavy strikes landed
  2. Efficiency - The total number of clean strikes landed

While watching the fight, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is landing the harder strikes?
  • Who is landing the most strikes?
  • Who seems to have the better hit/miss ratio?
  • Which fighter has taken more damage from strikes in the round?
  • While on the ground, is the fighter in top position landing all the strikes he is throwing?

After answering these questions you should be able to determine who won the striking aspect of that round.

For a more detailed description on how to judge striking in the UFC, check my other InfoBarrel listed below:

How to Score and Judge the Striking Aspect of a UFC Fight

Scoring the Grappling Aspect

This is the part of the judging criteria that comes under fire the most. Unless you are familiar with both Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and wrestling, this aspect can be a little tricky to score. In order to judge the round correctly, you must understand that the person who is on top while grappling on the ground is not always the one who is winning. The fighter on the bottom could very well be the one in control of the fight. One needs to pay close attention to which fighter is presenting danger to the other. If the fighter on top is passing guard, landing clean strikes, or is attempting a submission, then he is probably the one winning. If the fighter is on the bottom attempting submissions, neutralizing or reversing his opponent, or getting back to his feet, it's probably safe to say he had the upper hand. If it looks even, it probably is. It's not uncommon for a grappling battle to be dead even nowadays.

More controversy for judging the grappling aspect lies in the scoring of takedowns. Officially, takedowns don't have any value if the other fighter gets back to his feet without taking damage, or if the other fighter ends up controlling the fight from his back. A takedown that has been denied by the other fighter holds no bearing either. A clean reversal is equal to a clean takedown in effective grappling.

For a more in depth analysis on how to judge grappling in the UFC, check out my other InfoBarrel listed below:

How to Score and Judge the Grappling Aspect of a UFC Fight

Scoring Octagon Control

This aspect is much easier to judge than the previous two. Octagon control refers to the fighter that dictates the pace, position, and place of the fight. A striker who takes the center of the Octagon and moves forward is exhibiting Octagon control. Another example of this, is a ground fighter who has successful takedowns that lead to scoring points. On the other side of the spectrum, a striker who consistently fends off takedown attempts, or gets back to his feet, is also using Octagon control.

Scoring Effective Aggressiveness

Effective aggressiveness is simply moving forward and finding success. If a fighter throws strikes while moving backwards, it is not as effective as a fighter who moves forward while throwing strikes. A fighter who keeps going for takedowns but gets denied is not using effective aggressiveness. A fighter who moves forward but gets outstruck, or a fighter who throws many strikes but only a few land are also not using effective aggressiveness.

Now that the round is over it's time to figure out which fighter was most effective, using the striking and grappling aspects as top priorities. Review who you had winning in each aspect and mark it down.

When the fight is done, you need to tally up who won each round. Remember that the round winner gets 10 points, and the loser will get 9 or less. Add up the scores for each round to determine who won the fight as a whole. Whichever fighter has the higher score at the end of the fight, shall be declared the winner.

Tips & Warnings

* Try not to let your bias for a fighter get in the way of scoring the fight. It's not hard to find yourself rooting for one fighter more than the other and end up paying more attention to what he does and less attention to the other fighter.

* Remember that not everyone is always going to agree on who won the fight, even with all the criteria. Sometimes decisions are wrong because it's hard to score fights correctly when you only watch them once.

* With the ability to judge, comes the consequence of judgement from others. Humans make mistakes, whether they are a professional UFC judge, or an armchair UFC judge. You will find that it is not always easy to judge a fight, and not everyone is going to agree with your analysis. In the end, all that's going to matter is who you think truly won the fight.