REFS | Ring Experienced Fight Specialists





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 that occurred.

The Present Scoring System

The Ten-Point-Must System advocates that each judge 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 multi-discipline 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 compels judges to reward fighters equally for clearly unequal efforts, actions and results. Any round that falls between the vastly different results of “marginal advantage in cage control” to anything short of “overwhelming dominance” are rewarded with the exact same score: 10-9. This produces a total-bout score that does not accurately reflect the action, leads to criticism of the officials, and even incurs accusations of corruption.

Mixed Martial Arts Specific Scoring (MMAS)

I. Scoring

Half-points scoring permits judges to score bouts in a manner 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.

10 - 10 'EVEN ROUND'

Although seldom warranted because very close rounds may be scored 10-9.5, its usage is preferable to arbitrarily choosing a winner. Generally, an even round reflects one of three scenarios.
* A round in which neither fighter distinguished himself via any of the established criteria.
* 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.


This score reflects a round that is extremely close. Neither fighter inflicts 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. (Couture-Vera)


This score reflects a round in which it is 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.


This score reflects a round in which the winner is quite obvious, exhibiting dominance throughout the entire round, OR, by inflicting significant damage to the opponent.


This score reflects a round in which one fighter clearly wins the round via a meaningful knockdown - OR - meaningful damage inflicted - OR - total domination throughout the entire round as the result of superior striking and/or grappling.


This score reflects a totally one sided round! One fighter displays superior striking by scoring one or more meaningful knockdowns, inflicting significant and obvious damage, and/or repeatedly forcing his opponent to defend threatening submissions. It is quite likely that such a one-sided fight would dictate a referee’s stoppage.

Half-point scoring is not a new concept. It has been successfully around the world and is almost universally preferred by the professional officials who have had experience with it.


We have established that comparative damage is the most important variable when evaluating the relative success of each fighter, but that it is not “an absolute” in determining the winner of each round. The following statements should be accepted as valid:
* When one fighter demonstrates a SLIGHT ADVANTAGE (or less) in damage inflicted he will win the round unless his opponent demonstrated a CLEAR ADVANTAGE (or greater) in successful technique
* When one fighter demonstrates a CLEAR ADVANTAGE in damage inflicted, that fighter will win that round unless his opponent demonstrated a DOMINANT ADVANTAGE in successful technique. (Generally speaking this occurs when one fighter is more effective striking, the other fighter is more effective grappling and the majority of the significant action of the round occurred while grappling)
* When one fighter demonstrates a SIGNIFICANT ADVANTAGE (or greater) in damage inflicted, that fighter will win that round regardless of the other fighter’s successful technique.

Essentially what we are considering here, is when one fighter has an advantage in damage inflicted and the other fighter demonstrated more successful technique (usually by way of superior grappling), exactly how much damage is needed to trump the opponent’s successful technique and/or exactly how much successful technique is needed to trump the opponent’s damage? The terms used above are a way to help objectify this decision.

By way of review: When evaluating “damage inflicted” it is important to remember that credit must be also be given for damage resulting from successful grappling. One aspect of the definition of “damage” is debilitation or fatigue resulting from the efforts required to defend takedown attempts and escape wrestling holds or submission attempts.

II. Scoring Criteria Revisited

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 criteria.


1. Damage

Damage may be defined as any visible sign of debilitation...
* A cut or bruise.
* Wincing from a body blow.
* Appearing stunned from a blow to the head or body slam.
* Ceasing forward movement, becoming defensive or 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. Effective Striking / Effective Grappling

Effective Striking and Effective Grappling should appear parallel as second on the list of prioritized criterion. It should be considered the “fall-back position” for evaluating effectiveness when neither fighter distinguishes himself or herself in regard to damage inflicted. Placing “effective striking” above “effective grappling,” as exists in the current criteria, is not warranted 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 himself through the amount of damage inflicted (1), or the volume or quality of effective 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.

*** 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.

By reformatting the criteria in this way, we are better able to 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 conceptual priority.

1. RESULTS - damage
2. ACTIONS – striking / grappling
3. EFFORTS – cage control

III. Near Submissions

When a submission is serious and threatening, with the potential to end the contest, it is a near-submission. A near-submission is to grappling what a knockdown is to effective striking and should carry comparable weight in scoring. However, in the present scoring system it frequently goes unrecognized. This is unacceptable, and should be rectified! Once the referee makes the determination that a hold has been locked-in and a near-submission has occurred, he then signals this to the judges by raising one arm straight overhead and holding it there until the fighter taps-out or until the submission is terminated.

IV. Resolving Draws

Generally speaking, sports fans dislike draws. All major sports recognize this fact and have implemented a system for resolving them. This is particularly true in martial arts competition and 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 sole 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.
* Flash knockdown = 1 point
* Takedown or Throw into opponents guard = 1 point
* Sweeps and/or escapes = 1 points
* Gaining side-control from guard or half-guard = 2 points
* Takedown or Throw into side control = 2 points
* Gaining Full Mount, rear-mount or body-triangle with hooks = 3 points
* Damaging knockdown from any type of strike = 4 points

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 Superiority.

Since we have the ability to resolve draws objectively, based on a fighter’s performance, It only makes sense to do so.