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Boxing Decisions Explained (What Is a Split Decision FAQ)

If you’ve ever wondered what is a split decision in boxing as well as other outcomes – then this is the post for you.


  • Unanimous decision, majority decision, and split decision are three types of decisions that can be declared in boxing matches by the judges.
    • Split decision occurs when two judges favor one boxer and the third favors the other.
    • While in a majority decision, two judges favor one boxer and the third scores it as a draw.
    • In a unanimous decision, all judges favor one boxer.
  • A unanimous draw, majority draw, and split draw are possible outcomes if no clear winner emerges.
  • Anytime a fight goes into the judges hands (such as in the decisions mentioned above) there are always going to be controversies of who really won the match

See one of the most controversial split (draw) decisions below: Lennox Lewis vs Evander Holyfield 1 (1999)

What Is A Split Decision in Boxing?

A split decision is where two out of the three judges score in favor of one fighter, and the third judge scores in favor of the other fighter.


This usually occurs when the match is very close and it’s tougher for the judges to decide on a clear winner. The fighter who receives the majority backing of the panel is declared the triumphant.

Essentially, there’s a disagreement, or a “split,” among the judges but the majority rule is put into effect.

Famous Examples Of Split Decisions In Boxing

Some famous examples of Split Decisions in boxing are:

  • The 1947 face-off between Joe Louis and Jersey Joe Walcott resulted in one of the most memorable split decisions. Spectators favored Walcott, but the decision fell in favor of Louis. Given the wide disparity in scores, the match remains embroiled in debate till date.
  • The 2012 bout between Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao brought split decisions to the forefront once again. Despite a dominant performance by Pacquiao, Bradley emerged victorious, surprising even himself.
  • More recently in 2017 Canelo Alvarez vs Gennady Golovkin I results in a a split decision with a controversial 118-110 score in favor of Canelo. The match led to a rematch where Canelo clinched a close victory.

Where split decisions truly shine is in their ability to keep fans at the edge of their seats, adding an extra layer of suspense and thrill to the already adrenaline-pumping atmosphere of a boxing ring. While controversial, they undoubtedly contribute to the rich tapestry of boxing, pushing us to question, analyze, and celebrate the sport in all its complexity.

What Is a Majority Decision in Boxing?

In a boxing match, a majority decision happens when two of the three judges agree upon one fighter’s winning, while the third judge scores the fight as a draw.


These victories are commonly observed in bouts where the dominance of a winning fighter is challenged and noticeable determination is seen from the opponent. For instance, take Floyd Mayweather Jr’s match against Oscar De La Hoya in 2007 — where two judges favored Mayweather’s tactical approach, despite one judge calling it a draw.

Side note: Every punch doesn’t guarantee a point in a boxing match, but an effective aggressive approach and severe blows do shift the judges’ perspective! Intelligence within the ring is significant, as it can help to garner points to sway the match’s outcome.

Majority Decision vs Split Decision Explained

Though they seem quite similar, understanding the nuanced difference between these two isn’t too complex.

  • In a Majority Decision, two judges are favoring one boxer, and the other judge scores it as a draw.
  • A Split Decision is when the three judges are divided about the winner, with two judges scoring in favor of one fighter and the remaining judge choosing the other.

Imagine a boxing match where Judge 1 scores 115-113 for Fighter A, Judge 2 scores 116-112 for Fighter A, but Judge 3 scores 115-113 for Fighter B. This would be called a Split Decision in favor of Fighter A. Fighter A has the support of two judges, but the third judge favors Fighter B.

Remember, in a Majority Decision, the third judge’s scorecard would present a draw, whereas in a Split Decision, this judge leans decisively towards the other fighter.

This subtle, yet significant divergence is what sets apart a split decision from a majority one. This swings the baton to the fighters and their coaching staff to strategize around not just winning each round, but winning with a margin substantial enough to avoid any room for a draw on any scorecard.

What Is a Unanimous Decision?

A unanimous decision is when all three judges score in favor of one fighter.


Coined from the universally agreed definition, a unanimous decision in boxing is when all the judges are at one accord in favoring one fighter’s domination over the rounds. This implies that the scorecards read a 3:0 margin endorsing one boxer as the superior.

This usually happens when one fighter showcases unmistakable dominance, making it impossible for the judges to lean towards the other contender. Remember, boxing thrives on objectivity, and a unanimous decision signifies a clear cut win.

An example of a unanimous decision is the fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1974. A unanimous decision was made in favor of Ali, helping him clinch the NABF heavyweight title.

Side note: though a unanimous decision paves a linear path to victory, it is still subject to review and potential change. Similar to all boxing decisions, it can be contested, often resulting in appeal applications if there arise any contentions about the fairness or accuracy of the scoring.

Unanimous Decision vs Majority Decision

Again, for a unanimous decision, all three judges concur on the victory of one boxer, unanimously favoring one above the other. In other words, all scorecards read the same and there’s no disagreement among the judges.

On the flip side, a majority decision showcases a scenario where at least two out of the three judges agree that one boxer has exhibited superior skills and combat performance while the third scores it as a draw. Nevertheless, the majority decision still stands its ground indicating a 2:1 score favoring one fighter.

Other Ways a Boxing Match Can End (and MMA)

1. Knockout (K.O.)

Definition: This occurs when a boxer is incapacitated, either rendered unconscious by an opponent’s blow or unable to return to a standing position during the referee’s ten-count.

Visual Indication: A fighter is on the ground, either unresponsive or struggling to get up while the referee counts.


2. Technical Knockout (T.K.O.)

Definition: Initiated when a referee believes it’s perilous for a boxer to go on, even though he hasn’t been knocked out in the traditional sense.

Visual Indication: The referee steps in, signaling the end of the bout without a complete ten-count due to safety concerns.


3. Technical Decision

Definition: Arises when an accidental headbutt stops the fight. If enough rounds have transpired, judges can determine the victor based on prior rounds.

Visual Indication: An unexpected halt due to a headbutt, with judges consulted for their scorecards.


4. Technical Draw

Definition: Echoing the prior scenario, this occurs post-headbutt when judges are indecisive on a clear victor.

Visual Indication: A premature end because of a headbutt, with no decision reached despite consulting the judges.


5. No Contest

Definition: Declared when external elements halt a bout, neither labeling it a win nor a draw. Essentially, the fight is voided.

Visual Indication: Abrupt fight cessation not attributed to any in-ring action, leaving no victor.


6. Referee Technical Decision

Definition: If between rounds a fighter declines to progress or his team opts to withdraw him, the referee concludes the bout.

Visual Indication: A fighter remaining in his corner post-round or his corner indicating his inability to continue.


7. Disqualification

Definition: When a boxer (or both) deliberately and recurrently breaches the rules, the bout is terminated. One offender means victory for the other, but if both are guilty, it results in a no contest.

Visual Indication: Referee stopping the bout due to blatant rule violations, pointing or signaling the offender(s).


In Terms of MMA / UFC Events:

1. Submission

Definition: When a fighter voluntarily concedes, accepting defeat.

Visual Indication: A fighter taps out or verbally communicates his desire to stop.


2. Technical Submission

Definition: Mirroring a technical knockout, it is invoked when a referee or medic deems a fighter unfit to proceed after an attempted in-bout submission.

Visual Indication: The fight is halted post submission attempt, signaling the fighter’s inability to go on safely.

Knockout Decision

A knockout (K.O.) is decided when a boxer is unable to defend themselves after falling down in the ring from a punch and is unable to rise from the canvas within a specified period, generally quoted as the ’10 count’.


From Muhammad Ali’s legendary knockout of Sonny Liston in their 1965 rematch to Mike Tyson’s explosive first-round K.O. of Michael Spinks in 1988, knockout victories have provided some of boxing’s most indelible moments.

Bear in mind, a knockout doesn’t necessarily interpret the opponent’s incompetence. Sometimes, it’s just one lucky veering punch.

What’s a Technical Knockout (TKO) ?

Basically, a TKO or Technical Knockout means the stoppage of a fight. It does not mean that a fighter was knocked unconscious – it means that a fighter is deemed incapable of properly defending themselves.


Read More Here: What’s the Difference Between a Technical Knockout and a Knockout

A TKO revolves around a referee’s judgement or physician’s and not solely on the fighter’s physical state alone.

Again, a referee would usually announce a TKO when he feels a boxer to be incapable of shielding against determined and relentless onslaughts from the opponent.

In boxing, a TKO also refers to cases where the ringside physician pronounces a fighter unfit to continue due to a physical injury endured during the fight.

Draw

The term “Draw” in boxing indicates one of several possible outcomes.

Specifically, it denotes an evenly scored match where neither boxer holds a significant advantage leading to a victory.

The scoring system in boxing is anchored on three judges who individually assess each round. For a fight to end in a draw, it implies all three judges or at least the majority, couldn’t distinguish a dominant performer.

However, it’s important to note there are different types of draws based on the scoring, like a majority draw, or a split draw that we will go over briefly next.

Split Draw 

Essentially, a split draw happens when each of the three judges scores the match favorably towards differing fighters, while the third avows the fight as a tie.

A split draw is probably the most divided outcome in terms of the judges interpretation.

Remember, though, that such a verdict is not common in professional boxing, often reserved for closely fought matches where picking up one victor becomes challenging.

An example of a Split (Decision) Draw is Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury in 2018. Despite Fury’s comeback performance, the match concluded with a split decision draw, leaving both fighters undefeated. A rematch was later signed where Tyson Fury won via 7th round TKO.

Majority Draw 

A majority draw is when two out of three judges score the fight as a draw, while the remaining judge’s perception favors a clear winner.

This is another rare outcome, but when it does happen is usually comes with controversy of course.

An example of a Majority draw was in 1993 with Julio Cesar Chavez vs Pernell Whitaker. Even though Whitaker appeared dominant, the bout was deemed a majority draw, sparking wide backlash and cries of “ROBBERY”.

Technical Draw / Technical Decision Boxing

A technical decision relates to an unexpected halt of a boxing match owing to certain unforeseen circumstances. Fights can be stopped due to various reasons such as an accidental headbutt or an injury incurred by a fighter that doesn’t allow them to continue further.

For example, one happened during the 2009 fight between Vitali Klitschko and Kevin Johnson. An accidental headbutt in the third round caused a deep cut near Klitschko’s eye. The referee deemed the fight unsafe to proceed with the injury Klitschko sustained, and a technical decision was made based on the scores up till the third round.

While technical decisions are generally followed by criticism and controversies, they are there to ensure the safety and well-being of the fighters, which should take precedence over all else.

No Decision (No Contest)

The term “No Decision” or “No Contest” comes from such unforeseen incidences that doesn’t necessarily relate to the boxers themselves. This is associated with a match that cannot continue as scheduled. In such a scenario, neither of the boxers is declared a winner.

This kind of unexpected end to a bout is rare, but it’s part and parcel of the unpredictability of the sport. One famous example includes the infamous ‘Fan Man’ rematch between Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield in 1993. The match was suspended for 21 minutes following a bizarre intrusion by a paragliding fan, which resulted in a “No Contest” after Bowe was physically unable to continue fighting.

What’s the Difference Between a Draw and a No Contest in Boxing?

A draw happens when there is no defined winner after the bout has ended based on the judge’s scoring.

While a No Contest occurs when a fight is stopped due to circumstances out of the fighter’s hands. This happens when a fight is cut short and doesn’t go the distance.

Disqualification 

A disqualification, is often a consequence of a fighter continuously breaking the rules of the sport.

Some common examples from repeated intentional fouling are:

  • headbutting
  • low blows
  • biting
  • rabbit punches

Generally, the infringement must be severe or repeated to warrant such a severe sanction. Consider that while boxing is a combative sport, there are guidelines in place to ensure a fair fight and, most importantly, to protect the boxers’ health and well being. A flagrant violation of these regulations, such as a low blow, hitting the opponent while they’re down, or unsportsmanlike conduct, results in the referee disqualifying the offending party. Quite frequently, a disqualification occurs when a boxer continues to commit these outlawed moves, even after several warnings from the referee. A historic example of disqualification in boxing includes the match between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield in 1997, where Tyson was disqualified for biting Holyfield’s ear.

Side note: Disqualification is usually a last resort and tends to happen on rare occasions in professional matches. Fights tend to be too high-stakes, with fighters having undergone rigorous training, to end on such a note.

Boxing Scoring System Breakdown

When it comes to determining a winner in boxing matches (unless punctuated by a knockout, technical knockout or a disqualification – as we discussed above), the scoring system is employed—often referred to as the “10-point must system”.

  • At the end of each round, the boxer perceived to have prevailed by the judges is awarded 10 points,
    • while the opponent generally receives fewer, commonly as low as nine points depending on the decided loser’s performance. In cases of knockdowns or penalized fouls, these points might be shaved down further.

To expand a bit, if Fighter A outperforms Fighter B in a particular round without knocking them down, A would receive 10 points and B would be assigned 9.

However, if A knocks down B in that round, then A would still get the standard 10 points, but B would walk away with 8.

Keep in mind that the scoring often boils down to the judges’ subjective interpretation of the round, which can sometimes lead to controversy in close bouts when judges disagree.


While the boxing scoring system is pretty straight forward it does have its drawbacks – the main one being the subjectivity of the judges. The lack of specific criteria for scoring, and the potential for different interpretations by different judges.

Last Note: Points can be deducted for various reasons, such as foul or illegal moves, not following the referee’s instructions, or being knocked down (as we mentioned). For instance, if a boxer is knocked down during a round, they typically lose a point.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Scores a Boxing Match? (Judges or Referee)

Typically, three judges preside ringside to monitor the match and their primary role is to assign points to each boxer’s performance in each round. (Keep in mind, scoring is done independently, without significant interaction or influence, maintaining overall impartiality.)

The referee, on the other hand, is the authority in the ring managing the fight, ensuring the boxers adhere to the rules, safety protocols and intervening in case of violations or unsafe conditions. They contribute to point deductions and can indeed influence the judges indirectly, but they do not assign points to boxers or have any role in scoring the match.


Are Points Deducted for Breaking the Rules in Boxing Matches (low blows, headbutts, etc)

Violations of these rules, such as low blows, intentional headbutts, hitting an opponent after the bell has rung, or hitting an opponent who is down, can definitely result in points being deducted by the referee.

This decision is, however, at the discretion of the referee, who can also issue warnings before resorting to point deductions.


Can a Boxing Decision Ever Be Overturned?

You might ask, “Can a boxing decision ever be reversed?” The answer is yes, but it’s rare and involves a complex appeal process.

Regulatory commissions overseeing the match have the authority to review controversial decisions, particularly if there’s proof of unscrupulous activity. For instance, suspicions or clear evidence about corruption, proven incompetence of the judges, or scoring errors can lead to an appeal.

The appealing party has to provide conclusive evidence supporting their claim, though, for there to be any chance of a decision being overturned.

A prominent example of a boxing decision being reversed happened in 1983 when referee José Guerra errantly scored a match between Luis Resto and Billy Collins, Jr. In the fight, it was later discovered that Resto’s trainer had removed some padding from his gloves, leading to severe injuries for Collins and Resto initially being declared the winner.

However, upon investigation, Resto was disqualified and Collins declared the posthumous victor.


Are 10-10 rounds allowed in boxing?

Yes, 10-10 rounds are indeed allowed in boxing, but they are relatively infrequent.

As we discussed, the basic principle of the 10-point scoring system in boxing directs that in each round, the boxer who performs better is given 10 points while the other fighter receives fewer points. Most commonly, this is a score of 9, but in cases of knockdowns or severe dominance, could be as low as 8 or 7.

However, if a judge perceives both boxers to have performed equivalently well, exhibiting more or less equal expertise in the ring, he may award both a score of 10. So while 10-10 rounds are technically allowed, they are rare and often indicative of a round where no clear dominance was demonstrated by either boxer.

Lastly, it should be noted, however, that while a 10-10 scoring is permitted, it is generally discouraged. Judges are encouraged to identify a winner in every round. Even the slightest edge to one competitor over the other should be reflected in the score, thus giving a 10-9 round.