|ADVANCING THE SPORT OF MMA
THROUGH REFINING THE SCORING SYSTEM
We’d like to express our whole-hearted support for the ABC’s revisiting of the
“Unified Rules.” Clearly, through time and experience, America’s commission
officials have gained greater insight into the complexities of regulating Mixed
Martial Arts. As the sport evolves, we as officials need to make every effort
to match this evolutionary process by rethinking and refining our regulations
and procedures. It is in this spirit that we offer recommendations for
revising the current scoring system.
It has become fairly obvious to those following the sport that there is
growing discontent with the way many matches – particularly closely
contested matches – are scored. In reality, this seed of discontent is rooted
not in the lack of expertise or diligence of our officials, but rather in the use
of a scoring system that does not provide them with the tools necessary to
guarantee that their final scores accurately reflect the true nature of the bout
A Brief History of MMA Scoring
Prior to the implementation of a scoring system, the outcome of MMA
competition could only be decided by knockout or submission. This was true
when the predecessor of MMA was an Olympic sport known as Pankration in
648 B.C. as well as when it transformed into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition
and Vale Tudo (literally, “Anything Goes”). There were no judges. If an
imposed time limit expired, the bout would be called a draw.
The Present Scoring System
The Ten-Point-Must System allows each judge to reward his or her selection
of the more effective MMA fighter with a score of 10-9. In the rare instance
when one fighter’s relative effectiveness is considered “damaging and
overwhelmingly dominant,” judges may reward him with a score of 10-8.
Conversely, when there is no way to even marginally distinguish between
either fighter’s effectiveness, the very rare “10-10” score may be used.
Our premise is that the Ten-Point-Must System, as used by the sport for
which it was created, boxing, has proven inadequate for use in a multidiscipline
sport like MMA, particularly when scoring very close rounds. The
nature, variety and diversity of what regularly occur in most MMA rounds
demands a scoring system with a finer gradient of options to ensure more
fair and accurate scoring.
The obvious failing of the current system is that it forces our judges to
reward fighters equally for clearly unequal efforts, actions and results. Any
round that falls between the vastly divergent circumstances of “marginal
advantage in cage control” to anything short of “overwhelming dominance”
are rewarded with the exact same score: 10-9. The result is a total-bout
scoring that does not accurately reflect the action, leads to criticism of the
officials, and even incurs accusations of corruption.
Ten-Point-Must System with the Use of Half-Points
Using half-points allows judges to score bouts in a way that accurately
reflects the qualitative difference between the combatants. By using this
finer gradient of judging, officials may take into consideration both the
“scoring criteria” and the “margin by which” each round is won. For instance,
a fighter who wins a round marginally based on “cage control” would not
receive the same credit as a fighter who wins a round based on the “greater
damage inflicted” on his opponent. The overall scoring of a bout should not
be just a reflection of who won the most rounds, but also a reflection of the
“nature of how” and the “margin by which” each round was won. This is
particularly true for MMA, considering that the majority of bouts are
scheduled for only three rounds.
What follows is an abbreviated description of what justifies each score. This
can easily be expanded and supported with video in order to help objectify
and insure its’ consistent application.
10-10 EVEN ROUND
Although seldom warranted because very close rounds may be scored 10-
9.5, it generally reflects one of three circumstances.
A round in which neither fighter distinguished himself via any of the
A round in which one fighter is more effective for half of the round and
then his opponent comes back and exhibits equal effectiveness in the
second half of the round.
A round in which both fighters take turns equally inflicting damage on
each other, scoring equally with clean strikes, effective grappling and
or equal cage control.
10-9.5 MARGINAL ADVANTAGE
This score reflects a round that is extremely close. Neither fighter inflicted
greater damage on the other. One fighter may have marginally scored a
greater number of strikes, or takedowns, marginally controlled the grappling,
or demonstrated superior cage control.
10-9 CLEAR ADVANTAGE
This score reflects a round in which it was fairly obvious who won, either
through the comparative extent of damage inflicted, the number or quality of
clean strikes, or the demonstration of superior grappling. 10-9 is the most
frequently used score.
10-8.5 DOMINANT ADVANTAGE
This score reflects a round in which the winner is quite obvious, exhibiting
dominance and clearly outclassing his opponent throughout the round, OR,
inflicting significant damage
10-8 OVERWHELMING ADVANTAGE
This score reflects a round in which one fighter clearly wins the round
through a combination of damage AND domination throughout the entire
round resulting from the obvious effects of superiority in striking and/or
Although scores of 10-7.5 and 10-7 are theoretically possible, they, they are
improbable. A fight so one-sided would ordinarily dictate a referee’s stoppage
Half-point scoring is not a new concept. It has been used
successfully around the world and is almost universally preferred by
the professional officials who have had experience with it.
The Scoring Criteria Revisited
Having addressed the use of a numerical system that will allow our judges to
provide scores that better reflect the action, and more appropriately reward
the fighters, it is time to re-evaluate the nature of the prioritized criteria that
we use as a context for our evaluation.
Although MMA competition is a sport, at its core it is also a fight. And,
generally speaking, the most obvious and objective indication as to which
fighter is winning is the extent of damage inflicted. Because the concept
of “damage” as defined below is a “result” of effectiveness rather than an
“action”, it should be valued highest on the prioritized judge’s scoring
PRIORTIZED SCORING CRITERIA
Damage may be defined as any visible sign of debilitation
A cut or a bruise
Appearing stunned from a blow to the head or body slam
Wincing from a body blow
Ceasing forward movement, becoming defensive or hastily retreating
after being struck
Staggering or favoring a leg that has been kicked.
Debilitation resulting from the efforts required to escape wrestling
holds or submission attempts.
2. Successful Striking * / Successful Grappling **
Successful Striking and Successful Grappling should appear parallel as
second on the list of prioritized criterion. It should be considered the “fallback
position” for evaluating effectiveness when neither fighter distinguishes
himself or herself in regard to damage inflicted. Placing “successful striking”
above “successful grappling,” as exists in the current criteria, is unnecessary
since the best measure of successful striking is “damage”. Keeping them
parallel at number-two allows judges to evaluate equally the impact that
either action(s) had with due consideration for how much of the round was
contested on the mat versus via ‘stand-up’.
3. Cage Control
When neither fighter distinguishes themselves through the amount of
damage inflicted (1), or the volume or quality of successful striking /
grappling (2), Cage (or ring) Control should be the point of evaluation for
determining the judges score.
Cage Control may be defined as dictating the pace, location and position of
the contest through any of the following:
Forcing the action through aggressiveness ***
Countering attempted takedowns to remain standing
Taking an opponent down to force a ground fight
Creating threatening submission attempts
Creating striking opportunities while on the ground
Using footwork and timing to dictate the stand up action
By reformatting the criteria in this way, we better prioritize the overlapping
concepts that are essential to the evaluation of each fighter’s relative
effectiveness. We clarify the criteria by establishing the most logical
1. RESULTS - damage
2. ACTIONS – striking / grappling
3. EFFORTS – cage control
Cage Control leads to Successful Striking / Grappling which leads to Damage
EFFORT leads to……………….. ACTION, which leads to………RESULTS
* Successful Striking: Considers the total number and quality of legal
** Effective Grappling:
a. The successful execution of a legal takedown.
b. Successfully executing a reversal/sweep.
c. Passing the guard to side control or mount position.
d. Bottom fighter demonstrates an active threatening
e. Applying a near-submission
When a submission is serious and threatening with the potential to end the
contest but is ultimately unsuccessful, it is a near-submission. A nearsubmission
is to grappling what a knockdown is to effective striking and
should carry the same weight in scoring. However, in the present judging
system it frequently goes unrecognized. This is unacceptable, and can be
rectified by having the referee make the determination that a nearsubmission
has occurred and then signaling this to the judges by raising one
arm straight overhead and holding it until the fighter taps-out or until the
submission is terminated.
Supporting criteria for the referee’s decision that a near-submission exists is
available for discussion upon consideration of this proposal.
*** Aggressiveness: Forcing the action through aggressiveness is listed
here under Cage Control rather than the separate and superior criteria point
in what has been the commonly accepted paradigm (i.e. Effective
Aggressiveness). The rational for doing this is that if the aggressiveness is
indeed “effective” then by definition it will be evaluated and credited under
the superior criteria points of Successful Striking/Grappling and/or Damage.
Aggressiveness demonstrates effort. When it yields successful action it is
held in higher regard. And when that action results in damage, the
aggressiveness is valued at its highest level.
Generally speaking, when a fight is declared a draw nobody is pleased. This
is particularly true when it occurs in a championship contest. With this in
mind, let’s explore the criteria and procedure for resolving draws.
In addition to three judges scoring each bout, there is a designated fourth
judge, the Table Judge. The responsibility of this judge is to record the
following techniques and scores.
To gain points for position, the competitor must show clear control
for three seconds.
Takedown or Throw into opponents guard = 2 points
Sweep from bottom position = 2 points
Passing opponent’s guard = 3 points
Takedown or Throw into side control = 3 points
Application of a Body Triangle = 4 points
Gaining Full Mount position = 4 points
Gaining Back Mount position with Hooks in = 4 points
Gaining Back Mount knees on ground, opponent flat on stomach = 4
The total score recorded by the Table Judge will be used only to resolve
those bouts declared a draw after regulation time has expired. The fighter
scoring the most points will be declared the winner by Technical
Since we have the ability to resolve draws objectively, based on a fighter’s
performance, it is strongly advisable to officially eliminate draws from the
MMA Unified Rules.
Once again, we want to offer our congratulations and highest praise for the
ABC’s willingness to revisit the Unified Rules in an effort to continue their
outstanding contribution to the evolution of MMA. We hope that you see the
merit in this proposal and are available for discussion in regard to its
Cory Schafer, ISKA President
StrikeForce Rules Director
Nelson “Doc” Hamilton, Referee/Judge
Founder, Ring Experienced Fight Specialists - REFS