Some of the casual fans I know have mixed feelings about the UFC's lighter weight classes, supposing them to be too small to produce exciting finishes, and by extension, exciting fights. I disagree that finishes necessarily make for exciting fights (case in point: Cro Cop v. Mir), but it did make me wonder about the assumption many have that smaller weight class matches tend to end in decisions. Subjectively, I tended to believe that was true, and many other fans I know have similar notions. I decided to tally the numbers for the first full year after the UFC's inclusion of the lighter weight classes to find out if this assumption has any empirical weight. (Earlier results from when the UFC had only five divisions can be found on this previous Bloody Elbow post by Mike Fagan.)
The period I'm looking at runs inclusively from the TUF 12 Finale on 4 December 2010 to the TUF 14 Finale on 3 December 2011. (That means there were two full seasons of TUF in that one-year period, which boggles my mind and slightly depresses me, but isn't important to the analysis.) Some qualifiers should be noted. I only included three-round fights contested at accepted weight classes (i.e. no catch-weight bouts) to negate the extra rounds of some bouts, and because catchweight isn't a division, unless you're Rich Franklin. Decisions with odd results like disqualifications I omitted from the data, using some discretion in deciding what did or did not qualify – meaning my results may differ slightly from anyone else's, should they choose to duplicate this for some reason. Additionally, rounding may throw off percentage totals. I did this the old-fashion pen-and-paper way, so it's entirely possible there are some errors in here, although I endeavoured to be careful in playing with the data. That said, here's what I got.
|Weight Class||Fights||(T)KO (%)||Submissions (%)||Decisions (%)|
|Bantam (135)||34||9 (27%)||5 (15%)||20 (59%)|
|Feather (145)||36||5 (14%)||8 (22%)||23 (64%)|
|Light (155)||61||15 (25%)||19 (31%)||27 (44%)|
|Welter (170)||48||13 (27%)||6 (13%)||29 (60%)|
|Middle (185)||40||10 (25%)||8 (20%)||22 (56%)|
|Light Heavy (205)||25||10 (40%)||5 (20%)||10 (40%)|
|Heavy (265)||22||12 (55%)||2 (9%)||8 (36%)|
A few things jump out. Heavyweights really did seem to have a good year for knockouts (or a bad one, if you're the loser). That said, aside from Stefan Struve and Christian Morecraft, no heavyweights submitted anyone in that period, meaning that if you were going to lose at heavyweight, you were probably getting KO'ed. By comparison, a featherweight could enter the cage knowing that the loser 'only' had a one-in-seven chance of getting revived by smelling salts. Light heavyweight also produced a significant number of knockouts and few decisions. Bantamweights seemed to be a bit more powerful than expected, given the trend of lower classes having lower knockout rates, but it's entirely possible that this is random, given the sample size. Lightweights were the only weight class with more submissions than knockouts, and also bucked the general trend of the lighter weight classes having more decisions. The welterweights were also very likely to end their fights at judges' discretion during this period; and no, it isn't Jon Fitch's fault - he only fought once during that time (a decision, but a fun one).
Of course none of this is definitive, and only covers a year. The results could change appreciably in the long run, but it does seem that heavier weight classes are more likely to end fights. It's worth noting that the majority of the finishes at 205/265 come from knockouts, with other weight classes being just as capable of submitting people – in particular, those submission savvy lightweights showed their grappling chops. In short, the notion fans have that heavyweights are more likely to KO each other is still on sound footing, judged by the numbers.
Still, it's debatable whether finishes really mean exciting fights. Finding a metric for excitement is a little more difficult. As a very crude comparison, I decided to tally the UFC's official fight bonuses for that period. Again, I don't suggest this is a great indicator of whether a weight class has exciting bouts or not, but I think it might weakly point in the right direction.
|Weight Class||(T)KO||Submission||Fight of the Night||Total fights, %||Total awards, %|
|Light Heavy (205)||1||2||3||9.4||8.5|
It appears as if the classes were a little more comparable by this metric, although there are still some outlying results. Bantamweights didn't get much love in the awards department, while the UFC seemed quite pleased with the performances of many lightweights. Middleweights had a noticeable disparity between fights and awards won. And here, the heavier weight classes appeared more in line with other divisions, perhaps suggesting that some of the many finishes the heavyweights churned out weren't quite as impressive as those in other matches, even if they were more frequent. I found it interesting that the two biggest award winners, lightweight and welterweight, accounted for more than 50 per cent of all awards given in this period, which is a bit more than you would probably expect, based on the number of fights contested at those ranges. It's also worth noticing that only four of the 25 'fight of the night' awards went to matches above 170 lbs.
So what does all this prove? Well, probably not much. Really no number crunching is going to change what we as fans individually perceive as the most exciting fighters or weight classes. These sorts of numbers are often used to justify preconceptions we already have, rather than to change our minds – and maybe rightfully so. But it does suggest something about what it is in the different classes that people respond to. The heavyweights are rightly perceived as big, strong and likely to knock each other out, while the lower weight classes do seem to be more evenly matched, and perhaps more energetic, as evidenced by their strong 'fight of the night' showing. If you want to see people laid out, you can't go wrong with the heavier fighters, while longer, quicker fights do seem more common at the other end of the spectrum.
Regardless, I thought I'd post this stuff in the chance that others find something of worth in it. Thanks for reading.
(This is my first post, so let me know if I'd screwed up the formatting or committed some other transgression here.)