Is it time for change in MMA scoring?


Recently everyone from fans to fighters to UFC President Dana White has expressed issues with the current MMA scoring system in place. While it’s true that many bouts have been controversial at decision time, not all have been scored on an extremely consistent basis. That seems to show each fight is subject to the preferences of the judges in place.

One instance that comes to mind recently is the Johny Hendricks vs. Carlos Condit bout at UFC 158. While many think it was the best fight of 2013 so far, many others disagreed upon the outcome, which had Johny Hendricks winning by unanimous decision.

Hendricks may have won the fight on the strength of his wrestling, taking Condit down an alarming 12 times. But there’s a different side of the tale, as Condit was effectively getting back to his feet after many of them. He was also, as Joe Rogan noted during the fight, seeming to do more damage from the bottom than Hendricks was inflicting from the top.

Which brings us to the debate at hand. Is wrestling being scored altogether too highly in MMA? Sure, Octagon control and aggressiveness are two of the main criteria used to judge fights, but are takedowns being used just to score points rather than finish a fight? It could be argued in some cases they are. When a fighter gets a takedown but does next to nothing with it, some judges may give this a bit too much importance.

I’m not saying Johny Hendricks was doing that, because he was fighting all-out the whole time. He won and absolutely deserves the next title shot. Condit is just simply that good to be able to get up quickly and also not get knocked out on the feet. If damage is heavily weighed, which I think it should be, takedowns could take a backseat.

Take the controversial lightweight title fight between Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar last year. While Henderson landed a good amount of leg kicks, I thought it was Edgar who was more active with his boxing. He also won out in the wrestling area. Although Edgar lost again, I think this is an instance where wrestling, in a close fight, could have actually been justified as a deciding factor like it was for Johny Hendricks last Saturday.

That brings us to UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre, who although ultimately well-rounded in wrestling, submissions, and striking, has largely used his wrestling in his recent string of dominant decision victories. While he is no doubt one of the world’s finest martial artists, perhaps taking second only to Anderson Silva, fans and media have begun to grow tired of his predictable gameplans.

GSP is one of the best, that’s not on trial. But his mindset seemed to changed that night he was knocked out by Matt Serra in one of the sport’s biggest upsets ever. He went from an unpredictable finisher to a wrestler who used top control to grind you out. At this point, I think opponents know what’s coming. They just can’t stop it. I understand the point of view that believes GSP’s fights to be so hyped that another decision is simply not enough. But it is called ‘Mixed’ Martial Arts, so the debate is a back-and-forth one.

Perhaps the UFC is noticing this too, as GSP actually fell a spot in the rankings after thoroughly defeating Nick Diaz at UFC 158. Jon Jones, an avid finisher of bouts, took his place. And Jon Fitch got cut due to his largely unentertaining style (although not officially). It’s no secret that Dana White wants fighters who ‘bring it’ every time out, not boring lay-and-prayers.

Overall it’s up to the athletic commission’s judges to decide what is and is not valued in terms of MMA scoring. However, in a sport where you could lose your job at any time, more fighters may utilize that safety blanket of wrestling rather than risking a finish only to lose. That could be a double-edged sword that gets you cut faster than a loss as well.

So is there a huge need for scoring changes in MMA? I would say there is a need for more specific, situational-based judging. Take into account the actual bearing that the takedowns have on the fight, not just the takedowns themselves. Focus on damage done and intent to finish a fight. Striking may be more exciting, but it can be used to keep opponents at bay as well. There are so many fighters in the UFC now that there’s such a small margin of error for young prospects.

Ultimately, you still can’t play it safe and win the favor of the fans and Dana White. There is definitely a need for more overall consistency in judging. Either way, scoring in MMA has gotten a bit confusing. Do you think there is a need for overarching change? And if so, how would you implement it?

  • I don't mind scoring a takedown as aggression but it seems that judges think that as long as you are on top you are being aggressive. To me that is such a joke, I believe without a doubt that the person on the bottom should be able to score more points then the guy on top if he is doing sub attempts, fighting to get up, hitting from the bottom etc. I don't mind them scoring takedowns just score them as a 3 sec aggression, nothing else.

    • As much as I admire guys that are active from their backs sub attempts are the same as a punch that nearly landed. Takedowns are a significant technique or equivalent to one good strike for me no more no less, but from that point it's about damage done or control or the balance between both. Anthony Pettis has some of the best wrist control I've seen from the bottom but the Judges don't have the knowledge to asses these things imo. We have to remember that the Athletic Commission WILL NEVER!!! change, they have never reprimanded judges for getting it wrong and they won't start now.

      • personally i would score a takedown the same way as a jab in the sense that it doesnt count for much if you dont follow up on it through the fight. but at the same time you can win the fight from it if the opponent doesnt do anything significant.
        if a guy lands a takedown and stays in guard the whole round while the other fighter lands strikes and attempts submissions he should clearly be winning the fight because of aggression, damage and the fact that hes trying to finish

    • They need to allow fighters to grab the fence, whether it's in order to get up. Or any reason really. It's just more like real life, and more fair. Then guys can more easily escape those boring LnP take downs. Plus we would be able to see all kinds of cool flips and reversals using the fence. That'd be awesome. There's no way elbows should be made illegal. Diaz is only referring to those really short and usually fairly weak elbows that people throw from the top. When they don't want to raise up and give any space, because as Diaz has stated, that creates at least some opportunity for the guy on bottom to get up. I'm not a big Diaz fan but he has a good point. If the guy on top is not advancing position, or working towards a sub. He should be stood up if throwing b s elbows. Especially if he did it all of the first round. So it's now clear to everyone that even on the ground for 5 minutes the top fighter isn't even thinking about working for a submission. And the strikes are doing no damage, just staying busy. Maybe they should even take a point when it really gets outta hand. Think about Guida vs Maynard. Guida was faster so as long as he could land a few strikes early in the round, he had the ability to at least keep Maynard from landing on him. And would have stayed ahead on points, every single round. However they took a point from Guida late in the fight, and the judges must have given Maynard a lot of points just for coming forward and getting mad, and throwing hay makers that missed. On strikes landed, there's no way Guida should have lost. But if he loses because they say he's avoiding the fight, when he's at least landing some shots before using speed to avoid shots the rest of the round. Then any wrestler should be penalized the same way. Both fights are examples of a fighter being better at one thing. And finding a way to keep the fight in that realm. So even if they don't accomplish much, they still did more than the other guy.

    • I think the best example of the failure of the scoring system was the Torres vs Johnson fight

  • yhn

    Great article, very hard to think of a solution that is not too convoluted. Nick Diaz's comments about elbows on the ground seem smart but I doubt they will ever outlaw them. What I hate to see the most is the guy on top throwing fake punches(chael sonnen vs silva 1) just to keep from getting stood up. If you doubt me go back and watch the fight, Looks like Sonnen is swimming on top of silva, not punching.

  • Dana could simply say he will no longer be putting on shows in America or anywhere else where he cannot control judges selection and judging criteria. Money talks and he'd soon get his way.

  • Great article, Mike. You, sir, have written one of the best articles I've read on this site in the past 3+ years.

    I will be back shortly to comment on the subject.

    • I really appreciate that UG.

    • Since you're giving out props & all, how about you giving me mine for that fight I picked.

  • Hey Mike, props for the good article and following the recent discussion. I wanted to answer Evan in the latest Hendricks-Interview discussion, but it'll take it on from here.

    The Condit/Hendricks fight was close and seeing Condit actually doing more damage from the back and getting up every time, made the takedowns IMO an overrated technique, which in such cases simply favours the wrestler in his point game.

    There is this notion, that Takedowns do damage, maybe to the condition for the one who has to get up, but TD don't do any KO damage by themselfs to the one being taken down. Again, they are [ in the best case] just exhausting like being pushed aginst the cage. I know how to break someones hip, neck, arm or leg with a powerful judo/sambo throw, or a brutal lift/slam and I know that this damage can be severe compared to a single or double takedown. With an eager TD attempt I will probably knock myself out, just like Mark Kerr once did in the pride days.

    So what if, for example, pulling guard would get the same amount of points and attention? It's not an active move like the TD, but it's in my book 'just' a transistion.
    Or what if submission attempts would get the same amount of points on the scoring cards, which I mentioned before? The grapplers would crank their ankles in joy for such a change in the scoring system. Would they adjust their skillset to attempt half assed flying arm and kneebars from every possible way? Maybe.

    The truth lies between all those different opions. I'm not against a wrestling based fighting style, I'm simply against this detail in the scoring system, which determins fights lately quite often. And this will play a major role the better the allround skills become.

    The commision has to reevaluate its scoring system contrary to the favour of safe playing. Also they need to hire more former fighters, who take those new rules into action.
    And fighters have to rethink, if they wanna go that way, follow that regime and play the safe card. We have seen the transformation from exciting fighters like Clay Guida, Diego Sanchez, Kos, or Rashad to boring LnP fighters, who call their gameplan suddenly 'smart.

    • Agreed. I wish AC's would hire more former fighters and/or coaches who actually know more about what is truly happening in the Octagon.

    • I understand where your coming from, I really do. Honestly, I think the rules/scoring criteria can be effective the way it is now. For instance, a fight like King Mo-Mousasi back in the day saw Gegard basically kick the crap out of Mo for a few rounds from his back before he gassed (and it was scored wrong). There's also correct moments of it being implemented like Sanchez-Guida where Guida's effective work from his back was definitely more noteworthy.

      Again, however I have to completely disagree with the notion that Condit-Hendricks was anywhere close to fights like these or any other in history (example Guida-Hioki or even Guida-Pettis in a lesser sense). Condit did more damage over the course of the fight to Hendricks, but he did not do more damage to Johny over the course of the first two rounds. Johny's shots had more power, and clearly got Carlos's attention multiple times. Carlos also didn't do that much work from his back in those rounds as his elbows landed well only a few times. This is the only questionable part of the scoring, the first two rounds. Stats, and just watching the fight, shows that it was extremely close standing (literally could be scored either way), but the takedowns that again weren't throws or slams (but were not just transitional maneuvers either) make up the difference. One thing I will say could be discussed is the implementation of 10-8 rounds more often. However, that could very well lead to more draws.

      Getting takedowns against a fighter much more effective shouldn't count for a lot. However, giving more credence to a fighter who does get up routinely than the guy taking him down makes absolutely no sense. It is a defensive move.

      • In a lot of the slow-mo replays during Condit vs. Hendricks, a lot of the big power shots that appeared to strike Condit, either barely missed because Condit slipped them. Or they grazed him. Only one or 2 well placed shots really got Condit during that fight. The rest was just throwing bombs for show and when it looks like some are landing it appears Hendricks did a lot more than he really did. Also in Guida vs. Sanchez, it was Sanchez who was winning from the bottom with nasty elbows. Not Guida. Great fight, but split decision was ridiculous.

        I still really believe Condit won the fight. But like the article mentions, too much credit is given to takedowns. Even if they call that octagon control, it should be negated when the fighter on the bottom is the only one accomplishing anything. Judges should pretend they can just turn their heads sideways when a fight hits the ground. So both fighters appear upright. No top, no bottom. And whichever fighter is accomplishing the most, is winning during that period of time. If neither fighter accomplishes anything while on the ground. Then sure, give that period of time to the guy on top.

        Condit sure did seem to want that win more, as far as having a sense of urgency right down to the end. Hendricks pretty much admitted after the fight he was playing it safe. I just believe Condit won in reality. That being said, I'm kind of glad he isn't fighting GSP again already. I don't think Condit will beat GSP just yet, but with a few more fights his finishing skills certainly could sharpen a little more.

        • "Also in Guida vs. Sanchez, it was Sanchez who was winning from the bottom with nasty elbows. Not Guida. Great fight, but split decision was ridiculous."

          I was mentioning it as a case for takedowns, and the defense on the ground being scored effectively.

          "In a lot of the slow-mo replays during Condit vs. Hendricks, a lot of the big power shots that appeared to strike Condit, either barely missed because Condit slipped them. Or they grazed him. Only one or 2 well placed shots really got Condit during that fight."

          Literally, the exact same thing can be said about Condit's strikes. He landed one shot the entire fight that visibly rocked Hendricks. The rest were hard shots that didn't do as much damage, as the ones Hendricks landed (in the first two rounds). His knees especially have been getting a lot of press, and most were either thrown with very little steam or led directly to a take down.

          I understand your opinion, and you are more than welcome to it. However, you have to realize that opinion does not jive with the majority.

          Also, you make a good point (whether you were looking to or not) about Condit. A win here in a close fight with Hendricks would have gotten him a good win bonus, but it would have done little for his standing in the WW division. After a close fight like that he's still 2-3 wins (over good competition away from another title shot. And that's exactly what he would have been with a win.

    • Also, every official I have ever worked with has a background in mixed martial arts. Whether its BJJ, kickboxing, competing, or actually being a trainer. I would guess most commissions are this way, but Nevada has always been a center for nepotism. And that is the commission that the UFC loves to go through for most things.

    • @ Holy

      Defending the take-down ( no-pun intended)…It's not that the TD does damage or possibly even threatens a fighter, regardless of whether or not the top can do damage or the bottom can defend, counter-damage, submit or even get back up.

      The point of the TD is to demonstrate one thing, that it can be done and more particularly that it can be done and the opponent cannot or failed, to stop it. It's the old…I can do this to you, but you can't or haven't done it to me. Should it win a fight? No. However, it shouldn't be discounted or blown off and to be honest, at this level (The UFC or Bellator) a fighter should be able to do several things….prevent take-downs, get back up, sweep, reverse and execute take-downs him / her self.

      I truly do believe that these issues will organically work themselves out, as the sport grows and matures.

      Also, if I had any complaints about the Hendricks / Condit fight it wouldn't be the amount of times Hendricks took Condit down or the amount of work that the did or didn't do, but rather, the fact that a fight of that magnitude, with fighters of that quality, were matched-up in a 3 round bout.

      Hendricks / Condit, had it been scheduled for 5 rounds, could very well have been finished by one of the two and it would have tested both combatants, particularly the un-tested Hendricks, as to their (Championship Rounds) cardio. Personally, I think Condit was looking stronger than Hendricks by fights end. Big Rig looked a little gassed, to be honest.

      For me, the problem with that fight was that it was a 5 rounder. A fight determining the next challenger to the belt, should always be a 5 round fight. All co-mains, should be 5 round fights, period.

  • A take down should be scored the same as a punch. Land it, get a point. Once on the ground dominants positions should only be counted if they are used for control. If a guy is on top but he is taking all of the real damage then that position shouldn't count as dominant. Also, just being on top isn't always a dominant position. If you are in someones guard then you are in a neutral position. You can throw punches but you have no submissions. The guy on the bottom in this situation has both strikes and submissions to work with but his strikes generally lack power with the exception of 6-12 elbows. That said some guys can F\/(k you up from their guard. If you take someone down and lay in their guard while they beat on you, you should lose.

  • Diaz does have a point because Gsp did not demolish him in the ground and you cant get your striking game in tack because You know the other guy wants to throw maybe 2 jabs and sprint for a take down…''Shits gear towards the strongest wrestler'' Nick was not being a slouch on his back, gsp was just too strong. First round re watch it, nick catches gsp with two good punches and BAM goes the take down…Its Mma I guess..

  • I would say scoring of actual rounds could be looked into. IMO, and let me also emphasize the consensus opinion throughout the internet, Hendricks was the clear winner of two very close rounds against Condit. However, Condit's third round was by far the best round for either in the match. However, even though it was a much better round than the first two it was scored the exact same way. Should 10-8 rounds should be given out more frequently, and in turn bring more 10-7 and 10-6 rounds in to the occasion? Or should there be half point rounds put in place to give out also?

    I will also say takedowns these days are not weighed as heavily as they have been in the past. If they weren't than the example of Frankie losing to Ben twice would have never happened. The second fight was the worst as he actually outstruck Ben while taking him down multiple times. The judges scored it for Ben because they "thought" his strikes were harder (even though the only knockdown of the fight was scored by Frankie). If takedowns were added in so highly as has been the prevailing sentiment on Lowkick in the last few days, than that decision would have never happened. Frankie would have won the first fight.

    I think we also need to make sure the scoring criteria discussion doesn't get thrown around so much that the only answer is "well just don't leave it to the judges". Condit-Hendricks was scored 29-28 on virtually every single PBP site on the net. These are guys who have scored fights for years, and mostly train a good amount. It was a close fight, but it wasn't a display of a wrestler getting beaten up and stealing the fight on the score cards. It was an extremely close fight on the feet, and Hendricks takedowns (off of mistakes by Condit mostly) won him the first two.

    Hell, if takedowns get too much credit than the guys who scored Voelker-Cote earlier in the night obviously didn't get the memo.

  • The best way I can think to eliminate these boring fights is take out the round you just keep fighting until someone finishes. Its still 5 min rounds or maybe even change it too three but either way someone will have to finish. Before you shoot down my idea listen to my explaination. Fighters like gsp jon fitch etc. know there is a set number of rounds so they train for either those three or five rounds to impement their boring gameplan. If there is no set number of rounds and they know they either have to finish or get finished it give them more urgency to train for the finish. just imagine this shogun vs hbomb one of the greatest fights to date, there is only one thing that could have made that fight better it finishing with a TKO KO or Sub.

  • What happened to the un-written rule of "learn-to-deal-with-it"?

    Learn to deal with the TDs'. Learn to deal with the top-control. Learn how to sweep and reverse. Learn how to get-back up. Repeat process as required.

    If a fighter is not doing enough while on top, what does that say about the fighter on the bottom that can't do something about it?

    Ironically enough, one of the most iconic fights of recent memory was Silva / Sonnen 1. For (nearly) 25 minutes we saw a whole lot of wrestling and control from Sonnen, with precious little payout in the way of damage done, then only to watch him lose the fight via triangle arm-bar @ (virtually) the end of the bout.

    I know at the end of that fight I heard no complaints from the fans about the bout being boring, nor did we hear any complaints from The Champ, about being held down for 5 rounds. No, he simply dealt with it. Why? Because somewhere along the line The Champ learned he "had" to deal with it. So, he did.

    Wrestlers, take-downs and control are a "big" part of MMA and fighters need to learn to deal with it.

    • yhn

      Sounds like an Ultimate Take Down Championship fan to me

      • @yhn

        I don't know how you could read my post and come to the conclusion, that I'm simply a fan of take-downs.

        Are you simply a fan of stand-up? Fighters shouldn't be taken down and if so, they should immediately put back on their feet and all that non-sense.

        • yhn

          The article is all about questioning the high significance given to take downs, boring decisions and clock wasting. You didn't address the article's questions. All you said was "deal with it"

          • @yhn

            Yes, the fighters must deal with it.

            I did address the article's question…with deal with it. Nothing needs to be addressed. Personally, I don't think there's so many boring fights, that it becomes or has become, an issue.

            My view of it, at any rate.

    • yhn

      What I hate to see the most is the guy on top throwing fake punches(chael sonnen vs silva 1) just to keep from getting stood up. If you doubt me go back and watch the fight, Looks like Sonnen is swimming on top of silva, not punching.

      • I noted the lack of (real) damage done by Sonnen in their first match, as being "precious little". With that said, I watched that fight in a bar with a couple of hundred people and the place was rocking for the whole fight and cheering Sonnen on and then it erupted in disbelief, when Silva submitted and did so, off of his back.

        Let us not have any revisionist histories of how exciting that fight was, regardless of it being on the ground for 25 minutes or regardless that Sonnen did little, if any, damage. To not appreciate that fight, is to not be a fan of MMA.

        • yhn

          Sonnen was faking punches to eat up the clock. that is not fighting to me.

          • yhn

            But I can't deny that fight was exciting, I am not blind.

          • @yhn

            It was, exciting. One of the best fights I've ever seen.

          • The Sonnen Silva fight is a different situation from what we are talking about here. Sonnen was fighting. He was controlling position and landing punches. Lots of punches. The power of a punch shouldn't be taken into consideration at all by people (the judges) who aren't experiencing them. How many times have we seen a fighter KOd by a punch that looked like nothing? Too many to count. Every successful technique should be valued equally. Position should only be counted if it is advantageous. Being on top is not advantageous if it isn't used to land strikes or go for submissions. At best it is stalling and at worst it is sitting in someone's guard eating shots and fighting off subs.

          • @ ICP

            Well, Sonnen was controlling position and it "looked" like he was landing lots of punches, but they either weren't landing or weren't that hard. As I see it, at any rate.

            Without re-judging or debating that fight, to me, regarding the larger issue, I see no legitimate solution to this problem, other than the law of the jungle, evolution, survival of the fittest and all the other cliches.

            I do not believe that it's in the best interests of the sport to try and micro-manage, what really isn't, a significant problem. Fighters will adapt and get better, while the scoring and judging will never please everyone.

          • @yhn

            I don't think he was faking, he just wasn't be effective, but even in that he was trying. It was certainly more than enough to allow him to continue and not be stood up.

      • Fake punches? Do you think this is the WWE or something?

    • I agree that every fighter should know how to wrestle. That said the way things are done rewards guys for training 90% wrestling and dabbling in the rest of the sport while truly well rounded fighters are at a disadvantage because they can't possibly reach the level of these wrestlers without neglecting the rest of their game. GSP is a perfect example of this. With how good his striking is he should be able to KO guys all day. He used to be a pretty dangerous striker. Since he started to really focus on wrestling above all else, he has maintained most of his ability to land shots but it isn't what it used to be. I am all for rewarding take downs but not more so than every other aspect of the game. The point of MMA is to get as close to real combat as can be done while still being a sport. If you lay in someone's guard absorbing damage in a street fight while they beat on you, you lose the fight. You took the guy down but he still beat you up, you lost. It should be the same in MMA.

  • every year theres articles, debates, and finally arguments about this topic. and yet nothing has change, nothing, 0,nada, same rules same refs same judges. So im with MMA Truth on this one….just deal with it

  • where do they get these judges anyways? maybe from ping pong tournaments?

  • joe rogan should judge the fight, a lot of fans seem to listen to him anyway.

  • Kn

  • Knockout or submission gets a win. 3 rounds gets a draw.

  • I think it has to do with the culture. If winning wasn't touted as the best possible outcome and losing wasn't so punishable, there would be a lot of guys who would put on exciting fights. But because fighters and media are obsessed with the best in the world, and winning is the only promise of being the best, guys care more about winning than putting on a good show. Case in point, GSP.

  • I appreciate wrestling, when used with other skillsets. Wrestling should be used not just to control–but to set up for submissions or GnP.

    But the Hendricks vs. Condit fight really stumped me. While Hendricks did take Condit down–showing agression and control–albeit briefly–once on the ground–Biggus Riggus did no damage. In fact, he was taking so much damage while on top–he was ovbiously uncomfortable while in top position.

    I had the stand up close to a tie–with an edge to Condit–as he came on gangbusters in the last two rounds. It seemed to me that Hendricks was taking Condit down to avoid getting hit, and to hold Condit down–not as an attempt to finish Condit or do real damage.

    So honestly, by the current rules of MMA, Hendricks won the match because of the takedowns–but I personally thought Condit won the fight–barely. I am pretty sure if that fight was 5 rounds, Hendricks would have been in trouble.

    However you score that fight–it was an excellent fight.

    Funny thing though–no one seemed to criticize Condit or Biggus Riggus for not finishing the fight.

  • why did i have to watch a video just to read the article ? c'mon lowkick