Fighting by Numbers: Expected vs. Actual Finishes in the UFC

MONTREAL- MAY 8: Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (L) punches Lyoto Machida in their light heavyweight bout at UFC 113 at Bell Centre on May 8, 2010 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

In the last Fighting by Numbers, I showed rudimentary data breaking down UFC fights by weight class. By itself, the data isn't very interesting, but that changes when we combine that data with the knowledge that weight classes have wildly different finishing rates

Using the finishing rate data, we can set up the following formula:

(HW * 0.762) + (LHW * 0.598) + (MW * 0.693) + (WW * 0.591) + (LW * 0.542) = eFIN

The formula tells us how many finishes we should expect given the amount of fights at each weight class for any given period. For instance, let's say that we are looking at the most recent 10-event window (UFC 115 through UFC 121). We would plug in the following numbers (and remember that we are only looking at non-title fights):

(15 * 0.762) + (13 * 0.598) + (23 * 0.693) + (27 *0.591) + (23 * 0.542) = eFIN

We end up with 63.57 expected finishes. We can compare the expected number to what actually happened between UFC 115 and UFC 121 where we saw 51 finishes, about 12.5 less than our expected number.

Here's how the rest of the data looks:


(Click on the image for higher resolution.)

Again, this data represents UFC 31 to the present in 10-event windows. So, data point 1 represents UFC 31 to UFC 39, data point 2 represents UFC 32 to UFC 40, etc.

We'll take a closer look at the graph after the jump.

Finishes are down over the last three years. The last equilibrium point where actual finishes meet with expected finishes is the 10-event window beginning with the TUF 8 Finale and ending with UFC 98. Let's take a look at all the data after the TUF 8 Finale:

Fights 415
Finishes 226
Ex. Finishes 258
Difference 32
% Difference 12.5%

Since the TUF 8 Finale, we've seen fights go to the judges' decision about 12.5% more than we would expect given historical data.

Let's go back to those 10-event windows. This time we'll look at the percentage difference from expected finishes:


(Click on the image for higher resolution.)

These figures are expressed as absolute values since we're looking for the percentage difference from expected finishes. Click here for a more intuitive look. Over the past three years, we've seen finishes below expectation by no less than 5% while also seeing the two highest differences from expectation.

I'm starting to believe that we are seeing a real trend toward more decisions. I think there's a few things at play here including rising salaries and an influx of talent as the sport gets bigger. The biggest culprit may be the UFC's purchase of Pride and its subsequent entrenchment as the dominant MMA organization in the world.

Pride 34 (the company's last show) occurred right in the middle of the peak in finishes in the UFC. Most of Pride's notable, non-Japanese talent integrated into the UFC over the next year or two, if not prior. The past year has only seen the UFC strengthen its grip on the global MMA scene. Japanese promotions are becoming an afterthought as they struggle to pay fighters on time. Strikeforce may be able to snatch UFC-castoffs and other top talent who choose to remain free of Zuffa's clutch, but they'll never be able to complete talent-for-talent on the level that Pride was able to between 2000 and 2006.

In the next installment, we'll take a detailed look at knockouts and submissions. You might be surprised at the results.

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