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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.

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