Muay Thai Judging Methodology

The Combat Sports Talk Muay Thai judging methodology is designed to provide fighters a clear, consistent framework for understanding how fights will be scored.  This document will present clear points of focus that judges will be looking for and examples of how certain scenarios would be scored to help fighters better represent their skillset in the ring.

Effective Striking

Judges will focus on effective striking as the primary factor for scoring action in a fight.  While a fighter may throw and land numerous strikes in a fight, only a fraction of those strikes will be considered effective. 

Effective Striking will be measured by the following criteria:

  1. Did the strike land cleanly?

A strike that lands cleanly will be one that lands to the head, body (torso) or legs that is not blocked, partially blocked, or a glancing blow.

  1. Did the strike produce an immediate and visible reaction from the opponent?

A strike must produce a reaction to be considered an effective strike.  The reaction should be immediate and clear.  

Judges will determine a strike effective if an opponent reacts in the following ways:

  • The opponent’s balance is disrupted
  • The opponent falls to the ground
  • The opponent expresses pain as a result of a strike
  • The opponent wears visible damage (swelling, bruising, bleeding)

Striking Priority

Traditional Muay Thai prioritizes kicking over punching.  As the martial art utilizes a variety of strikes in its arsenal, judges will prioritize strikes by giving greater weight to strikes that land using kicks, elbows and knees over standard punches.

Judges will score strikes using the following priority:

  1. Teep Kicks/Push Kicks
  2. Head Kicks and Body (Torso) Kicks
  3. Elbows and Knees
  4. Punches

Fighters who rely heavily on punches may find themselves at a disadvantage.  High volumes of punches will not be weighted as heavily as an opponent effectively using a wider variety of higher priority strikes, even if the opponent landed fewer strikes overall.

Clinch Work

The clinch is important to traditional Muay Thai Kickboxing.  Fighters who engage opponents in the clinch can assert dominance over their opponent and receive points from judges throughout the fight.  

Judges will be looking for the following when fighters are engaged in a clinch:

  1. Who is showing dominance in the clinch and are any effective strikes landing?

  2. Has the fighter in the dominant position used the clinch to break the posture of their opponent?

  3. Has the fighter in the dominant position used the clinch to sweep or take their opponent to the ground?

Depending on how active the fighters are, both fighters can score points while engaged in the clinch.

Ring Generalship/Showmanship

Traditional Muay Thai values ring generalship.  Fighters who are initiating the action, pressing forward and demonstrating their dominance will benefit on judges’ score cards.  In general, a fighter who looks like they are winning the fight, is winning the fight.  Fighters should seek ways to prove the ease at which they are defeating their opponent while also concealing the impact of damage taken as a result of effective opponent strikes.  Winning fighters look fresh, healthy, and spirited.

Scoring a Fight

As previously stated, judges will look for effective striking and the impact of a strike when scoring a round.  Not every strike thrown will land cleanly, and not every strike that lands will produce a reaction.

Strikes

As a result, judges will use the following marks to differentiate strikes in the ring:

  • A strike that is blocked, checked or glances off the opponent will receive no credit.

  • A strike that lands cleanly but does not produce an instant and visible reaction will receive credit for the strike as a LANDED STRIKE.  Judges will notate a LANDED KICK with a SLASH (/) mark on their score sheet if the strike was a KICK, ELBOW or KNEE.  Judges will notate a LANDED PUNCH with an open circle (O) if the strike was a PUNCH.

  • A strike that lands cleanly and produces an instant and visible reaction will receive credit for the strike as a SCORED STRIKE.  Judges will notate a SCORED KICK with an “X” on their score sheet if the strike was a KICK, ELBOW or KNEE.  Judges will notate a SCORED PUNCH with a closed circle (●) if the strike was a PUNCH.

  • A strike that lands cleanly, produces an instant and visible reaction in the form of a knock down or other acute visible damage (swelling or bleeding) will receive bonus credit for the SCORED STRIKE.  Judges will notate striking bonuses by CIRCLING the “X” on their score sheet for a KICK, ELBOW, or a KNEE. Judges will notate striking bonuses by circling the closed circle  (◉) if the strike was a PUNCH.

Example 1: The fighter throws an inside leg kick.  The opponent lifts their leg to check the kick but it lands before the opponent can place it into proper position.  As a result, the strike lands cleanly, knocking the opponent out of their normal stance.  While the strike did little damage to the opponent, judges score this strike as a SCORED STRIKE ( “X” )  because it landed cleanly, and the result of the action was that the opponent’s balance was disrupted.

Example 2: The opponent cleanly lands a body punch that produces an audible thud.  The fighter immediately responds with a teep kick that sends the opponent stumbling backwards and the opponent falls to the mat.  Judges note a LANDED PUNCH ( “O” ) for the opponent and a BONUS SCORED KICK for the fighter by circling the “X” since the result of the teep kick was a knock down.  Despite the opponent’s body shot landing cleanly, it did not produce an immediate, visible reaction warranting notation as a SCORED STRIKE.

Clinches

Judges will score activity in the clinch using the following marks:

  • Fighters who win DOMINANCE in the clinch over their opponent will receive credit for their control.  Judges will notate DOMINANCE in the clinch with a MINUS (-) sign on their score sheet.

  • Fighters who, while in a dominant position in the clinch, break the posture of their opponent and use this position to land effective strikes (defined above) will receive credit for their SUPERIOR POSITION.  Judge will notate SUPERIOR POSITION in the clinch with a PLUS (+) sign on their score sheet.

  • Fighters who, while controlling their opponent from a SUPERIOR POSITION, use that position to sweep or take their opponent to the ground will receive bonus credit for the SUPERIOR POSITION.  Judges will notate clinch bonuses by CIRCLING the PLUS (+) on their score sheet.

Example:  In a flurry of action, the opponent engages in a clinch with the fighter, establishing dominance, holding the fighter against the ropes.  Judges note this with a MINUS (-) on the opponent’s score sheet.  While still in the clinch, the fighter reverses the position, establishing dominance (-), breaks the opponents posture (+) and then uses that position to take the opponent to the ground. As a result, the judges circle the PLUS (+) sign to note the takedown came as a result of a SUPERIOR POSITION while in the clinch.

Optional Modifiers

Ring generalship is important to a lively Muay Thai match, but should be measured appropriately.  This framework allows for judges to denote clear acts of aggression that go beyond standard action within the ring.  These notations are clearly optional and should be used to declare the winner of the round when the action is close and both fighters have demonstrated effective striking and dominant clinch work.

For demonstration of AGGRESSION, judges may choose to notate moments in the fight that are memorable.  If a fighter’s actions contribute to their overall showmanship or dominance beyond strikes, Judges may choose to notate that on the score sheet using a CARET MARK ( “/\” ) or a capital “A”.

Example 1: At the start of the round, the fighter rushes to the center of the ring.  As the opponent leaves the opposing corner, the fighter throws a flying knee and unleashes 10 consecutive punches, kicks, knees and elbows before disengaging with spinning backfist.  While most of the strikes were blocked or were glancing blows, judges elected to notate aggression and showmanship in lieu of points on their score sheet.

For outstanding demonstrations of DEFENSE, judges may choose to document performances of showmanship using a capital “V” on the score sheet.   If the showmanship is noteworthy, judges are encouraged to capture it.

Example 2: Near the end of the fight, the exhausted opponent throws a barrage of punches at the fighter.  Still fresh, the fighter avoids them all, rolls out of the way and does an Ali shuffle in the center of the ring with arms raised in victory.  Judges may note great defense and showmanship on behalf of the fighter on their score sheets with a capital “V”.

As a reminder, AGGRESSION and DEFENSE notes are only used to better clarify which fighter is demonstrating ring generalship more effectively.  No points are given for an accumulation of these marks.

Point Values

At the conclusion of the round, Judges should tally their marks on their score sheets and assign the following point values:

ACTIONNOTATIONPOINT VALUE
Landed Strike (Punch)Open Circle ( O )1 Point
Landed Strike (Kick, Knee, Elbow)Slash mark ( / )1 Point
Scored Strike (Punch)Closed Circle (●)3 Points
Scored Strike (Kick, Knee, Elbow)Capital “X”5 Points
Bones Scored Strike (Punch)Circled Closed Circle (◉)5 Points
Bonus Scored Strike (Kick, Knee, Elbow)Circled Capital “X”7 Points
Clinch DominanceMinus sign ( – )1 Point
Superior PositionPlus sign ( + )3 Points
Bonus Superior PositionCircled Plus sign ( + )5 Points

The fighter with the higher point total at the conclusion of the round should be declared the winner of the round.  However, if fighter totals are close (within 3 points) or equal, judges may use markings captured for ring generalship to declare a round winner. This means even though an opponent’s point total may be greater than a fighter’s, exceptional ring generalship and dominance may justify that fighter winning the round.

Example: At the end of round 2, the round totals for a fighter and their opponent was 35-38.  While the judge could score the round 9-10 in favor of the opponent, the judge reviewed the markings for AGGRESSION and DEFENSE and saw that the fighter had pressed forward the entire fight, slipped a three punch combo and attempted a flying knee after the referee separated the clinch.  Because of these noteworthy actions, the judge elected to award the round to the fighter who was more active and believable as the round winner.

Judges are discouraged from overriding the point totals for rounds that are 4 points or greater. While extenuating circumstances may justify doing so, this undermines the transparency of the methodology.  This should be exceedingly rare or not done at all.

Special Note

This methodology is a framework to help participants understand how their performance will be measured.  While the guidelines make it clear regarding what judges will be looking for, it is important to be aware that judges can only score what they see. 

This means that a strike might land, but based on the judge’s vantage point from the action, it might be impossible for the judge to see it.  Judges must score action in real time with no replay or slow motion, nor can they assume they know the fighter’s intent.

As a result, the detailed notations and round totals  may vary from judge to judge, but it is the objective of this methodology to ensure that all judges, regardless of the above caveats, reach a consistent, unified conclusion that fighters, coaches, and spectators can more easily  understand.

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