April 27, 2020

Newbies guide to how UFC fights are determined

If you are new to MMA, or you are just looking to learn the fine details about how fights are won in the UFC, then you’ve come to the right place!

Speak MMA, an MMA blog, have written this detailed guide on how UFC fights are determined.

For those of you who don’t know, the UFC is the world’s biggest and most popular MMA promotion. Every professional mixed martial artist who fights in a major organization will only fight within the promotion they are employed by. 

Due to its large audience, the UFC generally attracts the best fighters in the world, as they can offer their fighters more money and bigger contracts than the other competitors.

Fighters in the UFC will be pitted against each other. Winners will go up the rankings, and inch closer to the title, while losers will go down the ladder, and if you lose enough fights, you will be cut from the UFC.

So, how do you win a fight in the UFC?

Fighters can win a fight in multiple ways. The 3 most common routes to victory are knockout, via submission, or decision.


Knocking an opponent out can take 3 different forms in a professional MMA/UFC fight.

  • KO (knockout).
  • TKO (technical knockout).
  • Doctor’s stoppage (which is classed as a TKO).

KO’s are what you would consider a classic knockout. Fights are classed specifically as a KO when a fighter is knocked fully unconscious by a strike from their opponent. A KO strike can occur from a punch, kick, knee, elbow, or shoulder to the head.

Winning by TKO or a technical knockout is when your striking has left your opponent unable to intelligently defend themselves. The fighter who lost does not need to be unconscious for the result to end in a TKO. The referee will step in and stop the fight if he thinks a fighter is unable to continue and even if they are not officially “knocked out cold”, it will be classed as a TKO.

Doctor's stoppage in the UFC - MAx Holloway vs Brian Ortega fight
Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The doctor’s stoppage is the third and final knockout victory method. Doctors are hired by MMA promotions to attend their fight events. If during a fight one of the fighters gets a bad cut on their face, or their eye swells up so much that they can’t see through it, then the doctor will be called to step in into the cage. 

When the doctor is called into the cage, they will be asked to examine the condition of the injured fighter. If the doctor decides that the fighter’s injury is too severe and it is unsafe for him to continue, then he will call the fight off. In this case, his opponent will be announced as a winner via TKO (technical knockout).


Submission victories usually take the form of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) finishing moves. Submission victories count as a “finish” because securing a submission on your opponent renders them unable to continue fighting. The fighter caught in a submission loss will usually “tap out”.

 Tap out in UFC after a submission

This involves literally tapping their hand against the canvas, or on the body of the opponent. In extreme cases, a fighter will not be able to move their hands at all and they will have to tap out using another part of their body like their feet. It is then the job of the referee to jump in and stop the fight.

Alternatively, a fighter caught in a submission will pass out due to having their blood flow cut off to their head. It is again the job of the referee to spot if a fighter is unconscious and stop the fight. 

It is not always easy to tell if a fighter is still fighting a submission or if they have already passed out, as was the case when Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones choked out Lyoto Machida at UFC 140 event in 2011. 

Submission victories can come in many forms. Generally speaking, they can be broken down into the following:

  • choking out an opponent;
  • bending bones/joints;
  • over-extending a muscle.

Choking out an opponent means securing the neck of your opponent and applying enough pressure to stop them from breathing or from getting oxygen to their head. Some of the most popular chokes in the UFC are rear-naked choke, guillotine choke, and D’arce choke.

Bending bones/joints means moving your opponent’s body in a way it is not designed to move, and applying pressure until your opponent cannot take the pain anymore, or until the bone breaks. A few examples of such submissions are armbar, kimura, and omoplata.

Finally, over-extending a muscle is another way to earn a submission victory. This means pulling the muscle further than it is comfortable moving. Although these submissions are very rare, common techniques include the Banana split where the legs of the opponent are stretched out in opposite directions.


A decision victory means that neither fighter had given up or been made to forfeit the match by the time the clock ran out. The decision then rests with the judges sitting cageside, who have been scoring the fight, to decide who won.

Decision victories in the UFC are scored based on the 10-point must system. Which means that each fighter can get up to 10 points in each round. If the round was a draw, then each fighter will get 10 points and the round will be scored as 10-10. If one fighter won the round, the score will be 10-9 to the winner. If a round was clearly and dominantly won by a fighter, then that round can be scored as 10-8.

In extremely rare cases, when one fighter has an overwhelmingly dominant round against their opponent where their opponent did absolutely nothing, the winner will have the round scored as 10-7 in their favor.

At the end of the fight, all judges scorecards will be collected and Bruce Buffer, the UFC announcer, will read out the results of the fight. 

Fighters can then win by a unanimous decision (meaning every judge scored the same fighter as a winner), a majority decision (meaning at least one judge scored the fight for the loser, but the majority of the judge votes went to the winner), or finally, by split decision (meaning it was a very close fight but the winner got one more judge to vote for them than the loser).

As a newbie to the world of MMA, we hope that this article gave you some clarity on how UFC fights are determined and how they are scored. If you have any other questions regarding the sport and its rules, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below this post.

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