Split Decision Vs Unanimous Decision

You may have seen a lot of official televised boxing matches where the referee scores a single fight as a “split decision” and others as a “unanimous decision” What exactly does that mean? Here’s an explanation for split decision vs unanimous decision.

In boxing, an official split decision means that two of the three judges voted in favor of one fighter, while the other judge sided with a different fighter. If there is one split decision, the other boxer has to win by KO or technical knockout. A unanimous decision is when all three judges agree on the correctness of the decision they chose.

While the above is just a brief description, there is more to it. This article will further break down the difference between the two decisions and what it means for boxing as a sport.

Split Decision Vs Unanimous Decision

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What is A Split Decision, and How Does it occur?

A split decision occurs when two judges vote for one fighter while the third judge votes for the other fighter. The split decision is not necessarily equal. A split decision can occur either in favor of one boxer or severely against one boxer.

However, the only way to win a split decision is to outscore your opponent by KO or technical knockout.

 In a boxing match, three judges score each round of a fight. In a split decision, the fighter who gains more points from the judges in that particular round wins.

For example, in Round 1, one judge may score 10-9 in favor of one fighter while another judge scores it 10-8 favoring another fighter. Round 1 goes to fighter A while Round 2 goes to fighter B because they each scored higher in Round 1.

Sometimes, one round can go to one fighter yet still be scored in favor of the other. For example, say one judge scores it 9-9 while another scores it 10-9. Or, say it’s scored 10-9 by two judges while the other judge scores it 9-10. In such cases, there must be a clear winner.

Therefore, each judge’s score is added up and whichever fighter had more points wins the round. For example, there is a 10-8 round scored by two judges.

If both fighters score the same amount of points in Round 1, which they did, then fighter B wins Round 1 by winning on all three judges’ cards.

Another instance where a round could be awarded to one fighter and still count as a split decision is when one judge awards the round to one fighter while the other two judges award it to the other.

For example, Fighter 1 wins Round 1 on two of three cards, and Fighter 2 wins Round 1 on three cards. Fighter 1 receives more points than Fighter 2. Therefore, the round is scored in Fighter 1’s favor (10-8 for Fighter 1; 9-9 for Fighter 2).

There are some rare instances where one fighter ends up with the most cards of the three judges. It occurs more frequently in higher levels of competition. For example, say all three judges score it 10-8 favor one fighter (Fighter A) while one judge scores it 9-7 for another fighter (Fighter B).

Fighter A wins the round on two of the three judges’ cards, while Fighter B wins on one of three. If this occurs, it doesn’t matter how many points each fighter scores, the majority rules. In this case, Fighter A would win the round despite getting only 10 points out of a possible 30 points.

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What is An Unanimous Decision, and How Does it occur?

A unanimous decision occurs when all three judges vote for one fighter. The win by unanimous decision is the only way to ensure that you will not lose the fight. It means that if a boxer wins by unanimous decision, they have at least won 2 of the 3 rounds to win the fight. 

If the judges only score 1 or 2 rounds for one fighter, then that boxer has lost by majority decision or split decision instead of winning by unanimous decision. It is correct to say that the fighter with the most points in total wins.

The majority wins as long as one fighter has two or more points than the other. For example, if one fighter scores 40 points while the other scores 37, Fighter 1 wins by 3 points.

If one fighter scores 44 and another only 41, then Fighter 1 wins by 3. If one fighter scores 47 and another only 41, then Fighter 1 wins by six and so on.

In practice, unanimous decisions are rare. They don’t even happen that often at the elite level. It requires that three fighters score over 90% in the three rounds to win by unanimous decision.

Such instances are infrequent because it is virtually impossible to do in even the most elite level of competition.

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Comparing a Split Decision and a Unanimous Decision

A boxer would receive a split decision if they scored the same points in rounds 1, 2, and 3. They would also receive this if their opponent scored the round 10-9 or 10-10, but not necessarily that.

The boxer would receive a unanimous decision if they won most of the rounds, round after round. If it’s considered a “majority decision,” then they must win more than half of Rounds 1 and 2 to win.

If it’s considered a “unanimous decision,” then they must win more than half of the rounds to win.

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How do you Score a Round?

When the bell sounds to end each round, the three judges must agree on scoring that round. When all three judges agree on the winner, then that fighter is awarded 10 points. If they agree on who won but disagree by 1 point, it is scored as 9 points.

There are situations where one of the judges disagrees with both the other two judges and scores it 10-9 in favor of one fighter. If this happens, then the round is scored a 10-10.

The boxer who wins a unanimous decision would win if they won 3 of four rounds. The boxer who wins a split decision would win if they won 2, 3, or 4 of the 5 rounds.

Since judges have always scored boxing, the scoring system is relatively simplistic. Each judge evaluates each round independently and gives each fighter one of three points: 10 points for a knockout, 8 points for a knockdown, and 6 points for a technical knockout.

The judges are not supposed to have any bias toward either fighter but are allowed to call fights in their favor if they feel so inclined.

There have been many great fights throughout boxing history that came down to a split or unanimous decision. Many other great fights ended in a majority decision or majority draw.

One of the main reasons judges have historically scored boxing is that many of the best players never could agree on who won. It would be impractical to judge every single fight by rounds because not all fights last long enough for each fighter to score all three rounds by themselves.

Scoring the fight as a judge ensures that everyone will be considered fairly and equally, which is what boxing is supposed to be about, after all.

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Daniel D. Kelly
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