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Scouring the scoring: There should’ve been 10-8 scores at UFC Vegas 66

Judges should feel free to follow the scoring criteria and score 10-8 rounds

Rinat Fakhretdinov dominated Bryan Battle at UFC Vegas 66
Rinat Fakhretdinov dominated Bryan Battle at UFC Vegas 66
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

No one who saw Rinat Fakhretdinov accumulate 14:11 of control time and limit Bryan Battle to three landed significant strikes at UFC Vegas 66 thinks he didn’t deserve the win. However, there was some disagreement on the scoring of the fight. Specifically, two judges saw two of the rounds 10-8 in favor of Fakhretdinov, while the third judge gave all three rounds a score of 10-9.

For background on the “Scouring the Scoring” series and details on the review process, GO HERE.

Before I dig into the scoring of this fight, it’s important to look at the prioritized scoring in MMA, especially the first priority, “effective striking/grappling.”

Effective Striking/Grappling

“Legal blows that have immediate or cumulative impact with the potential to contribute towards the end of the match with the IMMEDIATE weighing in more heavily than the cumulative impact. Successful execution of takedowns, submission attempts, reversals and the achievement of advantageous positions that produce immediate or cumulative impact with the potential to contribute to the end of the match, with the IMMEDIATE weighing more heavily than the cumulative impact.”

It shall be noted that a successful takedown is not merely a changing of position, but the establishment of an attack from the use of the takedown.

Further, in this bout, it’s important to look at the breakdown of what makes a 10-9 round vs. a 10-8 round in MMA.

10-9 round:

A 10 – 9 round in MMA is the most common score a judge assesses during the night. If, during the round, the judge sees a fighter land the better strikes, or utilize effective grappling during the competition, even if by just one technique over their opponent, the judge shall give the winning fighter a score of 10 while assessing the losing fighter a score of 9 or less. It is imperative that judges understand that a score of 9 is not an automatic numerical score given to the losing fighter of the round. The judge must consider: Was the fighter engaged in offensive actions during the round? Did the losing fighter compete with an attitude of attempting to win the fight, or just to survive the offensive actions of their opponent? A score of 10 – 9 can reflect an extremely close round or a round of marginal domination and/or impact.

10-8 round:

A 10 – 8 round in MMA is not the most common score a judge will render, but it is absolutely essential to the evolution of the sport and the fairness to the fighters that judges understand and effectively utilize the score of 10 – 8. A score of 10 – 8 does not require a fighter to dominate their opponent for 5 minutes of a round. The score of 10 – 8 is utilized by the judge when the judge sees verifiable actions on the part of either fighter. Judges shall ALWAYS give a score of 10 – 8 when the judge has established that one fighter has dominated the action of the round, had duration of the domination and also impacted their opponent with either effective strikes or effective grappling maneuvers that have diminished the abilities of their opponent. Judges must CONSIDER giving the score of 10 – 8 when a fighter shows dominance in the round even though no impactful scoring against the opponent was achieved. MMA is an offensive based sport. No scoring is given for defensive maneuvers. Using smart, tactically sound defensive maneuvers allows the fighter to stay in the fight and to be competitive. Dominance of a round can be seen in striking when the losing fighter continually attempts to defend, with no counters or reaction taken when openings present themselves. Dominance in the grappling phase can be seen by fighters taking DOMINANT POSITIONS in the fight and utilizing those positions to attempt fight ending submissions or attacks. If a fighter has little to no offensive output during a 5 minute round, it should be normal for the judge to consider awarding the losing fighter 8 points instead of 9.

Judges must CONSIDER giving the score of 10 – 8 when a fighter IMPACTS their opponent significantly in a round even though they do not dominate the action. Effectiveness in striking or grappling which leads to a diminishing of a fighter’s energy, confidence, abilities and spirit. All of these come as a direct result of negative impact. When a fighter is hurt with strikes, showing a lack of control or ability, these can be defining moments in the fight. If a judge sees that a fighter has been significantly damaged in the round the judge should CONSIDER the score of 10 – 8.

Finally, here are the three items to consider in scoring a 10-8 round.

Impact:

A judge shall assess if a fighter impacts their opponent significantly in the round, even though they may not have dominated the action. Impact includes visible evidence such as swelling and lacerations. Impact shall also be assessed when a fighter’s actions, using striking and/or grappling, lead to a diminishing of their opponents’ energy, confidence, abilities and spirit. All of these come as a direct result of impact. When a fighter is impacted with strikes, by lack of control and/or ability, this can create defining moments in the round and shall be assessed with great value.

Dominance:

As MMA is an offensive based sport, dominance of a round can be seen in striking when the losing fighter is forced to continually defend, with no counters or reaction taken when openings present themselves. Dominance in the grappling phase can be seen by fighters taking dominant positions in the fight and utilizing those positions to attempt fight ending submissions or attacks. Merely holding a dominant position(s) shall not be a primary factor in assessing dominance. What the fighter does with those positions is what must be assessed.

Duration:

Duration is defined by the time spent by one fighter effectively attacking, controlling and impacting their opponent; while the opponent offers little to no offensive output. A judge shall assess duration by recognizing the relative time in a round when one fighter takes and maintains full control of the effective offense. This can be assessed both standing and grounded.

Now, onto the scoring of the Rinat Fakhretdinov vs. Bryan Battle fight at UFC Vegas 66, which took place at UFC Apex in Las Vegas on December 17, 2022.

Round 1

Battle opened the first round of this welterweight bout by landing a head strike. That would be the only significant strike he connected with during the entire five-minute round. Not long after he landed that blow, Fakhretdinov took Battle to the mat — he never gave up control. Fakhretdinov did a remarkable job in keeping Battle grounded and on the defensive. Not only did he control the fight on the mat, but he did damage with his ground strikes and prevented Battle from generating any meaningful offense.

I scored the round 10-8 in favor of Fakhretdinov because the offense he generated had impact (damage). Not only did he cut Battle, but his control and ground strikes diminished his “opponents’ energy, confidence, abilities and spirit.”

Fakhretdinov dominated the round. As is written in the scoring criteria — “dominance of a round can be seen in striking when the losing fighter is forced to continually defend, with no counters or reaction taken when openings present themselves.”

As for duration, Fakhretdinov spent almost the entire round “effectively attacking, controlling and impacting” Battle.

Round 2

Fakhretdinov wasted no time getting the takedown in the opening seconds of the second round, putting Battle on the mat 11 seconds into the stanza. Fakhretdinov had some moments of impact in the first 90 seconds of the round, but he spent most of the round in a controlling mode. Plus, Battle had a couple of brief moments where he established some offensive grappling and he at least made an effort toward striking off his back, including landing an elbow late in the round.

I scored the second round 10-9 in favor of Fakhretdinov. What saved Battle from going down 20-18 were his attempts to land strikes and establish submission techniques and Fakhretdinov’s limited striking offense in the second half of the round.

Round 3

Like the first two rounds, Fakhretdinov got his opponent to the mat quickly. However, it was not a takedown that put Battle on the ground in the final round of this bout, but a right hand. Fakhretdinov then entered Battle’s guard after landing ground strikes.

Battle did not have any offense during this round. The middle three minutes of this round saw Fakhretdinov use his grappling to control his opponent, but he did little damage during that time. However, he finished the round strong, landing a slam takedown and posturing up for ground strikes.

While the third round wasn’t as defined of a 10-8 as the first round, my score was 10-8 in favor of Fakhretdinov.

Fakhretdinov had dominance and duration. He might not have had as much damage as he did in the first round, but the knockdown, slam and strong finish tipped things to a 10-8. As the scoring criteria says, “A score of 10 – 8 does not require a fighter to dominate their opponent for 5 minutes of a round.”

My score was 30-25 in favor of Fakhretdinov. I don’t see a reason for hand-wringing over a 30-26 here. However, the first round fits the standards, as they are written, of a 10-8 score.

This leads me to one of the reasons I believe judges, especially those working UFC fights and even more when those fights are in Nevada, aren’t handing out 10-8 rounds as they should. That reason is UFC president Dana White.

In 2021, White stepped into his old man pines for the days of yore personae and castigated two judges after UFC 259.

“These guys are giving out 10-8 rounds like f—ing… there were two rounds in that fight that they gave a 10-8. When I came up in the fight business, a 10-8 was an ass-whupping. You got your ass whupped. You didn’t do s— in that round and got beat down if it was a 10-8.

“This 10-8 s—’s is out of control right now. So hopefully, we can get this fixed. They’re going to screw up a lot of fights, they’re handing out 10-8s like that. There was no 10-8 in that fight.”

“I just think that for some reason, all of a sudden these guys are scoring 10-8s for rounds that are clearly not 10-8s,” White added. “I mean, how do you address this? It’s the criteria they’re giving them right now. I think they’re getting some bad advice.”

The thing is, the scoring criteria has changed — I would say it has progressed — from when White “came up in the fight business.” If White had taken the time to update his thinking and absorb the changes in the scoring criteria, he would have known about that change. Instead, White used his bully pulpit to influence the judging of UFC fights.

The scoring criteria in MMA supports the use of 10-8 rounds, whether White likes it or not and if a judge sees a reason to score a round 10-8, that judge should have the ability to do so without fear of the UFC president denouncing them in a public forum.