Examining MMA Statistics


Wikipedia tells us that “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” is a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments. It is also sometimes colloquially used to doubt statistics used to prove an opponent’s point.  The term was popularized in the United States by Mark Twain (among others), who attributed it to the 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881): “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” 

The advent of fight statistics services such as Fight Metric has changed the way we view fights.  Statistics however can be helpful, twisted or even misunderstood.  Lets say for example that Jon Jones tries to take down Alexander Gustafsson eight times and succeeds twice.  Lets say Gus tries to take down Jones twice and succeeds once.  Jones’s TD’s were 25% successful and Gus’s were 50%.  Is Gus twice as good in TD’s that night (50% vs. 25%) or was Jones twice as good as Gus (twice vs. once)?  Fans of course will argue it both ways.  If you are a fan and just want to scream your allegiance then it doesn’t matter but if you are a student of the game and you want to have a reasoned discussion of the topic it is difficult because both fans would be correct.  That’s what makes stats so tricky. You can bend them and use them to illustrate many things.  

The UFC provides a number of interesting statistics on their website.  These include statistics on takedowns, submissions, strikes and of course average fight times.

UFC Shortest Average Fight Time:

1 Drew McFedries       2:20

2 James Irvin            2:53

3 Frank Trigg             3:55

4 Houston Alexander   4:13

5 Ryan Jensen           4:15

6 Yoshiyuki Yoshida     4:15

7 John Albert             4:24

8 Ken Shamrock         4:34

9 Shane Carwin          4:55

9 Brian Foster            4:55

It’s tempting to think that the fighters with the shortest average fight time must be very good.  Of course the question that renders this stat questionable would be: if you lost your five UFC fights in an average of 3:00 does that make you a good fighter? 

UFC Longest Average Fight Time:  

1 Demetrious Johnson   19:50

2 Jose Aldo                19:24

3 Benson Henderson     18:43

4 Frankie Edgar           18:05

5 Jake Shields            15:50

6 Urijah Faber             15:37

7 Sean Sherk             15:35

8 Georges St-Pierre     15:10

9 Riki Fukuda             15:00

9 Heath Herring          15:00

Although many fans perceive GSP as the poster boy for “lay and pray” and an inability to finish a fight it is interesting that there are a number of well respected fighters with average fight times that are longer than his.  This is particularly interesting since GSP has fought a lot of five round fights.  It appears that there are two types of fighters that produce long fights: wrestlers and those fighters that use a “hit and move” strategy such as Johnson, Edgar and even GSP in the Koscheck fight.

Ironically, fans often feel they got their money’s worth when someone like Shane Carwin finishes his first 12 fights in the first round.  The same fan may feel ripped off because GSP’s last six fights have gone the distance.  At $200.00 per ticket who has the best value.  Carwin finished his last 12 wins in an average 1:21.  GSP finished his last six fights in an average of 15:00.  Carwin’s value was $2.47 / second or $148.19 per minute.  GSP’s value on the other hand was $0.22 per second or $13.33 per minute.  An argument could be made that GSP is the better entertainment value but I don’t think any fan would argue if GSP knocked his next opponent out in the first round.  Conclusion: Do MMA fans have more money than brains?

Another interesting point that can be gleaned from the UFC‘s shortest and longest average fight times is that many of the fighters with the shortest average fight times seem unlikely to make the UFC Hall of Fame while many with the longest average fight times may well make that hallowed hall. 

One more random fight statistics for your entertainment courtesy of The Bloody Elbow:

Finishes in the fourth and fifth rounds are quite rare.  There are only three in UFC history.  By mid 2012 the only fighter to have a finish in the fourth or fifth round in 2012 was the Korean Zombie beating Dustin Pourier in round 4 with a D’arce Choke and winning both FOTN and SOTN.

  • Having a fight last longer like in Urijah Fabers case is value for money compared to GSP because he is way more exciting when he decisions someone. GSP has the highest strike rate in the UFC and most elusive on paper too and it makes him seem like he has no equal standing but in reality there are many that do a far better job and are more elusive and have better real output in strikes that are truly effective. Many of the guys who are more elusive than GSP are also far more aggressive and press into the action and risk themselves because of their confidence in their avoidance technique. So all in all, yes the stats aren't everything and I hear your point. Honestly a good article though and a creative way to bring about discussion.

    • Thanks Falcon, that was my goal: To stimulate some interesting discussion.

  • MMA needs a more complete database of stats and the ability to filter the overall numbers by various categories ie win/loss, years fighting, w class,5 vs 3 rnd, arm reach, leg reach, even by type of strike and type of submission attempted, or injuries per year/overall, time lost to injuries etc. you get the idea. Then we could get a true look at deeper and far reaching comparisons then what is currently available. It would all depend of the architecture of the DB being deep but flexible to pull out virtually any cross comparison or straight stat. Low kick get on it! lol

  • This sport is far too complex to rely on statistics alone but it serves as a good tool anyway. Some of the statistics can be applied favourably but as you pointed out Michael they can be misinterpreted.

    A common pitfall of statistics arrives in the case of point scoring, volume of punches vs intensity, power and damage. There are so many intangibles that statistics don't take into consideration…

    Great article BTW.