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Time to Settle the Scoring

Fans – even promoters – are fed up with controversial scoring. Five Ounces of Pain‘s newest addition, Nick Halili, examines the issues with the “ten-point must” system and offers a few solutions on what can be done to fix it while using a recent example of a decision that even left the winner with a surprised look on his face…


“Machida was robbed!”

That is the cry of many fans who watched Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s controversial split decision victory over Lyoto Machida at UFC 123. After two rounds of Jackson stalking and mostly missing strikes while Machida evaded and inflicted little damage in return, round three was the only sequence where any definitive action took place. And by all accounts, the fighter who gained the clear advantage in this round of the fight was Machida.

Machida gained the upper hand in the third round by stunning Jackson with punches and knees and then taking him down. He also forced Rampage to defend armbar and heel hook submission attempts in this round. But ultimately, it was the closely contested first two rounds of the fight that decided the winner in the eyes of two of the judges. Some fans question whether these judges knew what they were looking at, saying that Machida should have clearly gotten the decision victory. Others question the 10-point must scoring system, bringing up how fights are scored holistically in Japan and not round by round as they are under the unified rules in North America.

The primary problem that caused this dilemma in the “Rampage” vs. Machida fight, and in many other close decisions prior, is indeed ten-point scoring system. Derived from boxing, the system as it is currently implemented is simply not an adequate measure of judging an MMA fight for two reasons: 1.) The criteria judges currently use to score a round 10-9 are very broad, and 2.) Losing a closely contested 10-9 round is much harder to come back from than in boxing because of the much fewer number of rounds in MMA.

MMA judges often use the 10-9 score to describe both razor-close rounds where it is neither fighter gains a significant advantage over the other (i.e. the first two rounds of Machida vs. “Rampage”) and frames where there one fighter clearly wins but does not absolutely dominate (i.e. round three of that fight). This is also true for scores in boxing. However, in boxing, a couple of extremely close rounds being scored 10-9 is not as much of a problem because boxers have up to 12 rounds in which to turn the tide and impose their will on opponents even though they may fall behind early. That is not the case in MMA, where losing two razor-close rounds 10-9 makes it essentially impossible (in non-title fights) to come back from unless you finish your opponent. After barely losing the first two rounds, even having an overwhelmingly dominant 10-8 round where a fighter is close to stopping his/her opponent would only yield a draw because of those 10-9 scores.

Because of these issues, MMA needs a superior method to differentiate between razor-close rounds and rounds with a clear, but not absolutely dominating winner. Holistically scoring fights like they used to do in PRIDE, and still do in other Japanese organizations. might be too big of a departure for American athletic commissions who are used to the overall structure of boxing’s 10-point scoring system. Tweaking the existing system to better suit shorter MMA fights is a more realistic alternative.

One solution is to use half-points. Championed by officials such as Nelson “Doc” Hamilton (who ironically was one of the judges of the Machida/Rampage fight), the use of half-points in scoring would reflect a more precise description of each round. Half-points would differentiate razor-close rounds from rounds with a clear victor while still leaving the 10-8 score to describe one fighter clearly dominating the other almost to the point of ending the fight. For instance, even if Rampage narrowly won the first two rounds, each one would be scored 10-9.5 instead of 10-9. The third round, which had a far more obvious victor than the first two rounds, would be scored 10-9 or even 10-8.5 in Machida’s favor. A 10-8 score would only be used for a round where one fighter is very close to ending the fight via KO or sub (as it is already used in the current system) and would not apply to any of the rounds of this particular fight. This would have resulted in a 29-29 draw or a very narrow 29-28.5 victory for Machida, both more accurate descriptions of the fight than what the scores were under the current 10-point must system.

There are other possible solutions to the scoring dilemma in MMA. Some advocate the more liberal use of 10-10 scores for rounds that are extremely close. Others want judges to use a wider range of scores under the 10-point system where clearly dominant rounds are scored 10-7, leaving 10-9 and 10-8 scores to describe closer rounds. Whatever the case is, the current scoring system in MMA is too often simply not up to the task of discerning the legitimate winner in many of these fights. If it is not revised, fans and fighters should be prepared for many more controversial decisions such as the one in the Machida/Rampage fight for years to come.

  • An outstanding read!
    Im actually not overly opposed to the 10-9 system, but more on what the judges score as a fighter having control of a round. The best example i can currently think of is the recent Sean Sherk vs. Dumnham fight. In the second and third rounds the only takedowns Sean was able to score were the times that Dunham decided to attempt submissions. After deciding he could no longer hold them he would release, absorb zero damage and then return to his feet to attempt chokes again. By the judges scoring they seemed to see those as takedowns which i think is garbage. Also if a man pulls guard and spends the round on his back working for submissions I believe he should be given the control aspect of the fight due to him deciding to go there, whereas most judges seem to favor the man in top position.

    On a happier note, today is my birthday and anyone in the norcal, central valley area feel free to hit me up on facebook if you wanna come out and party. Im kickin off the night with BBQ and splittin a pony keg with the fellas while watchin a few of my favorite fights on dvd!!/profile.php?id=100000804286052

  • Niv says:

    Happy birthday superdave, wish I was in Northern California I’d drop by, enjoy your party. By the way I agree with your assessment above as well.

  • MCM says:

    Happy birthday superdave! If it was socal, I’d be there.

    The term “simpler is better” applies to most things but in the case of judging MMA, I think we actually need to make it a little more complex. I’m OK with the final scoring for each round being in the 10 point must system but it’s the getting to the 10 points that needs some refining.

    – Making Compustrike or FightMetric results available to the judges either during or at the end of each round would (although not be the final word) be an invaluable resource to use in judging the number and effectiveness of each fighters strikes.
    – Also, using the NAGA’s point scoring system for No-Gi grappling should greatly reduce the number of “controversial” decisions. (see Serra/Hughes rnd 3 as example). I don’t know if all or any MMA judges are versed in the NAGA’s system, but if not, they should be.
    – I would also like each judge to score every minute of each round. I know that sounds tough but if a fighter controls/wins the first three minutes of a round and then gets dominated the last two, the round normally goes to the fighter that controlled at the end. It is for this reason that I don’t think we should judge the fight as a whole. Final impressions seem to have more weight.

    If each judge takes into account all these aspects and then determines the round based upon points given during the round, then there is at the very least, a paper trail that we can follow and that should ensure a more accurate outcome. As opposed to the somewhat arbitrary 10-9, cause he was the aggressor, system.

  • Rece Rock says:

    I agree with the sentiments that we as fans should be able to back in to the result the judges came to… as suggsted above a “paper trail” or these days an electronic trail but never the less the fans should be able to breakdown the scoring and understand why the judge awarded points. I also agree with the idea of having a live compustrike result readily available for officials to reference…

    My feeling is that very minimal changes will take place…it will take a few years to implement amendments and new regulations it’s not happening over night.

  • crane_style says:

    Excellent article, with not only good insight but also positive ideas for change.

    It’s painfully obvious that the current “10 point must” system is fatally flawed and I’d go so far as to say is dragging the sport down, by favoring conservative strategy.

    Personally, I would have scored Rampage vs. the Dragon as a draw, 10-9, 10-9, 8-10, but how often do you see a 10-8 round given?

    If 90-95% of the rounds are scored 10-9, then there is nothing close to enough scoring latitude. Half points, wider scoring range, or even a 20 point must system, all I have to say is “make it so!”

  • fanoftna33 says:

    Still it wasnt that bad of a fight.

  • mulefloyd says:

    Ok fine but why stop there. I agree the problem is the need to be able to have different scores for close rounds as opposed to clear and dominant ones. So why not get away from the boxing model altogether?
    I propose a 5 point system:

    1 – fighter was dominated
    2 – fighter clearly lost the round
    3 – base score
    4 – fighter won the round
    5 – dominant round winner

    4-3 should be the score for most rounds but 3-3 scores would not be discouraged. This leaves judges more leeway to count one round as more important in the fight which is the basic problem.

  • MMA-LOGIC says:

    Fights should be scored as a whole and it should be by way of points accumulation mainly.
    Successful (clean) strikes on the feet get 1 point, near subs or a fighter getting rocked gets 3 points and a clean slam or throw gets 2 points or something. After each rd you give 5 points to the fighter you think won that rd. Warnings get 1 point removed and penalties result in a 5 point deduction and a % of the fighters purse being taken from them.
    Problem solved. Fighters would have to fight the whole time and not become complacent.

    I think they should change the length of the rds too. From 4mins and 53 secs to 5 mins regardless of who has the choke at the time.

  • redwire says:

    Another hold-out from boxing that needs to be eliminated is waiting to the end of the fight before announcing the scores. Close fights always remind me of a beauty contest with the winner being crowned. If there’s not enough drama and suspense in the fight itself, getting excited about the winner being announced is a poor substitute. Use the time saved to interview both the winner -and- the loser. This will help build understanding of the sport and the fighters.

    From the article and the comments, I think it’s getting quite plain to see that MMA is ready to make a clean break from any association with boxing’s rules and regulations, and stand on it’s own.

  • […] do just that. But MMA is different. Just like the often problematic 10-point must scoring system (Settle the Scoring), the procedures for selecting judges in MMA as well as many of the judges themselves are derived […]


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