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Have you ever wondered how professional boxing’s scoring system works?

Friday, 01 May 2015 By Matt Rogers

The subjective nature of judging professional boxing bouts has resulted in many disputed decisions1 leading to accusations of judging incompetence and corruption.2

This article will explain how professional boxing’s most popular scoring system works, before analysing the perceived benefits and weakness of the system with reference to some “bad” decisions. Finally, consideration will be given as to how the system could be improved to ensure greater accuracy and efficiency in outcomes.


The structure of professional boxing

There are a number of professional sanctioning bodies in the world, but the four major non-profit ones generally accepted as recognising professional boxing world champions are: World Boxing Council (WBC), World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Organisation (WBO) and International Boxing Federation (IBF).3

The rules of boxing are governed by the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC), a North American not-for-profit organisation that provides the framework for the undertaking of boxing and MMA matches. In terms of scoring professional bouts, the ABC`s Uniform Rules of Boxing prescribes that the “Ten (10) Point Must System” will be the standard system used (see Rule 4).4 Other systems have been used at various places and times, but the Ten Point Must System ­has been and is the most widely recognised and used scoring system since the middle of the twentieth century.


How the Ten (10) Point Must System (the “System”) Works

There is no universal standard as to precisely how the System should be applied, but the ABC provides overarching guidance on the concept in its Official Certification Program for Judges and Referees (Certification Program),5 which states:

the winner of each round will [i.e. “must”] receive 10 points, (minus any points deductions for fouls) with the lesser score awarded to the loser of the round (minus any points deductions for fouls).6 There are to be no fraction of points awarded, and in the event of an even round, the score will be 10/10. Even rounds should rarely, if ever happen.

The Certification Program continues to state:

Mentally, a judge MUST know which contestant is winning the round at any given point. [They] should know the score of the round, and the score should immediately be written on the scorecard at the end of the round.”7 (Professional Boxing Judges, Chapter V – Scoring The Bout).

When scoring each round, judges are to refer to the Scoring Criteria outlined in the ABC’s Regulatory Guidelines:8

“…. Judges are to score each round using the following scoring criteria:

    1. Clean punching (power versus quantity).
    2. Effective aggressiveness.
    3. Ring generalship.
    4. Defense.

The ABC expands upon this in its Certification Program, stating:

The test to measure the awarding of points for offensive boxing” should be the number of direct, clean punches delivered with the knuckle part of the closed glove on any part of the scoring zone of the opponent’s body above the belt line. The judges should also consider the effect of blows received versus the number of punches delivered. Punches that are blocked or deflected should not be considered in tabulating your score. Blocked or deflected punches that land foul are not to be considered fouls in the awarding of points at the end of the round.9 (Professional Boxing Judges, Chapter III – Scoring Zone).

It also states:

Determination should not be mistaken for aggressiveness when one boxer continuously moves forward boring in on the opponent regardless of the number of punches being received. If an attack is not effective, the boxer cannot receive credit for it. In order for the boxer to be effective in their aggressiveness, he or she must force the action and set the tempo of the bout through forward movement. The boxer must score punches while blocking and avoiding the opponents counter punching. An aggressive boxer who continues boring in and getting hit from every angle should not be awarded points based on aggressiveness.10 (Professional Boxing Judges, Chapter V – Scoring The Bout).

Finally, the Certification Program provides guidelines as to how a round should be scored numerically:

  • 10/9 From a “close” to “moderate” margin
  • 10/8 EXTREMELY DECISIVE (without a knockdown)
  • 10/8 One knockdown
  • 10/7 Two knockdowns
  • 10/6 More than (2) two knockdowns
  • 10/10 Cannot pick a winner (very rare).”11 (Professional Boxing Judges, Chapter VIII – Scoring Criteria).


“A judge should not only know what a 10/9 round is, but know the degree a boxer is winning the 10/9 round. Either a boxer won a close 10/9 round, a moderate 10/9 round, or a decisive 10/9 round. Extreme decisive may push the score to a 10/8 score depending on the judgment of the judge.” (Professional Boxing Judges, Chapter VIII – Scoring The Bout).

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Written by

Matt Rogers

Matt Rogers


Matt is a law graduate who has aspirations to become an international lawyer. His legal work experience includes that of City and regional law firms in addition to pro bono experience and extensive research into Japanese sports betting law. He has recently spent two years living in Japan to broaden his knowledge of a different culture and legal system. His sporting interests lie predominantly in football, tennis, boxing and cycling.

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Comments (1)

  • Danny Elliott

    • 07 May 2015 at 20:20
    • #

    Before I read this article, I watched a replay of the Lucas Matthysse vs. Ruslan Provodnikov boxing match. I didn't know the outcome before viewing it, so I kept my personal scoring on a round-by-round basis. My scoring differed with the judges, although not by a great margin. But it got me thinking about what judges are supposed to do to decide who won the fight.

    I learned to love boxing by watching with my father and now, at 53-years old, I still love it in spite of the numerous, egregious scoring results that have occurred over the years. Hence, by using the Google search engine for "the rules of scoring a boxing match", I've now read this article.

    I must say that, of all the information provided by the article, the "hit chip" seems to be the most promising addition to the judging of boxing matches since "Compubox" was introduced. IMO, "hit chip" has a far more compelling potential due to its measurement of all of the Compubox data as well as measuring the angles and power of each punch. While the quantity of punches by a boxer is certainly important, the quality of the power of punches can either enhance the performance of that boxer or provide an overriding factor for said boxer's opponent. I am of the belief that one effective power punch is, at least, equal to, for example, several jabs that land with minimal force. Such jabs, landed with precision and relative force, should be factored into the scoring of a round, without a doubt. I just feel that an effective power punch should be given more value (when comparing 1 power punch to 2-3 solid jabs) in scoring a single round of a boxing match. I hardly feel that I'm alone in this regard.

    Boxing, while certainly not dead, has lost a great deal of its devotees due to 1) controversial, obviously poor decisions that appear, at least to viewers like myself, to benefit everybody from the boxer (whose next scheduled fight is greatly anticipated) to the promoters, to the PPV network... but NOT the ticket buyers or TV viewers
    and 2) MMA-type fighting where the matches are usually decided in the ring with knockouts or submissions. And when it does go the distance, the decision is rarely controversial. An immediate rematch always seems to follow any close, controversial decisions in order to satisfy the viewers.

    This is where boxing should be speedily embracing the integration ofttechnology! With the rapid development of technological advances, it's all but certain that "hit chip" effectiveness will be be enhanced enough, in a very short time, so that it can be used to insure correct decisions are made in every boxing match. In fact, I see a time where the human element is removed entirely. When the article points out that judges can have different viewpoints of a round of boxing due to an obscured view, because of where the judge is sitting in relation to where the boxers and the referees are located in the ring, it simply affirms the idea that "hit chips 2.0" (or 3.0, 4.0 or 5.0) can remove any and all such hindrances to accomplishing what everyone SHOULD want, which is a fair and just declaration of which boxer truly won the match.

    Thanks for the article describing the rules of judging boxing matches. I look forward to the day when the only thing discussed after a fight is the fight iitself, without any mention of who REALLY won the fight.


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