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Social interactions pivot on an animal's experiences, internal states, and feedback from others. This complexity drives the need for precise descriptions of behavior to dissect the fine detail of its genetic and neural circuit bases. In laboratory assays, male reliably exhibit aggression, and its extent is generally measured by scoring lunges, a feature of aggression in which one male quickly thrusts onto his opponent. Here, we introduce an explicit approach to identify both the onset and reversals in hierarchical status between opponents and observe that distinct aggressive acts reproducibly precede, concur, or follow the establishment of dominance. We find that lunges are insufficient for establishing dominance. Rather, lunges appear to reflect the dominant state of a male and help in maintaining his social status. Lastly, we characterize the recurring and escalating structure of aggression that emerges through subsequent reversals in dominance. Collectively, this work provides a framework for studying the complexity of agonistic interactions in male flies enabling its neurogenetic basis to be understood with precision.