Photo - Hector Lombard, Credit - William Musacchia, Sherdog.com
Excuses are everywhere in life, including Mixed Martial Arts. Don't think so? Take a look at UFC 149. The event was filled with excuses that attempted to explain the mind-numbing, pathetic main card.
The card lacked stars because fights fell through. Brian Ebersole looked bad because he was a late-replacement that was planning to cut down to lightweight. Cheick Kongo's dull gameplan was a result of both of his shoulders being dislocated. Hector Lombard fought cautiously because he had octagon jitters.
Although I'm not a fan of validating excuses, as my dad used to say "excuses are like assholes, everyone has one", the first three excuses are at least a bit understandable. Fighting with two dislocated shoulders probably does put having a great fight low on the list of priorities when you are a fighting another man that wants to knock you unconscious.
But the idea of octagon jitters playing a role in a fighter's performance seems a bit unlikely to me. Whenever you are in a fight, you forget where you are. It doesn't matter your in a bar, fighting in front of twelve drunk middle-aged men or in the UFC, fighting in front thousands of drunk fight fans, when you are about to go to war with another human the adrenaline kicks in.
That's why I think it's unlikely that full-grown, (synthetic) testosterone-filled men have stage fright like a 6 year old in a beauty contest. As a fan of analytics in sports and Moneyball (the book was WAY better than movie (joking, I don't know how to read)) I decided to crunch numbers to see if Octagon jitters actually existed.
The first test I ran was how a fighter fared in his first UFC bout against another fighter who already had experience in the octagon. Totaling at 181 fights, I used every UFC fight (under the premise of a debut fighter versus an experienced) that took place between UFC 95 and UFC 149 as my data.
Here were my results.
Win % of debuting fighters = 39.2%
Loss % of debuting fighters = 58.6%
Draw % of debuting fighters = 2.2%
For those that have trouble in subtraction, 20% more debuting fighters lost than won. Does that dispel my hypothesis that Octagon jitters don't exist? Potentially. I wouldn't consider the gap overwhelmingly significant, but it still is sizable.
What that data didn't account for were the local fighters that were filled in on cards as late-replacements. Not only where those fighters not on the same level as the UFC caliber fighters, but they were fighting on short notice.
I would say it's safe to assume that the majority of those fighters fought on the under-card, so I decided to separate the main and preliminary card fights in my next "test".
Here is what I got. (Keep in mind that the numbers don't add up to 100% because of the draws.)
TMCW/TMCF = 46.7%
TMCL/TMCF = 51.1%
TPCW/TPCF = 38.8%
TPCL/TPCF = 61%
That data shows that if you take out the lower level, late-replacement fighters there was much smaller gap between wins and losses of debuting fighters against experienced fighters. In fact it's quite dramatic. The difference between Main Card Wins and Losses is roughly 5% while the difference between Preliminary Card Wins and Losses is around 22%.
Looking at my results, I believe my hypothesis that Octagon jitters are nothing more than a facade was proven correct.
As I end the article, I'll show you guys one more test I ran which takes a look at the way debuting fighters won or lost.
TKW/TW = 32.3%
TSW/TW = 16.9%
TDW/TW = 49.3%
TKL/TL = 25.5%
TSL/TL = 29.2%
TDL/TL - 43.4%
TDQL/TL - .9%
TMCF - Total Main Card Fights, TPCF - Total Prelim Card Fights
TMCW - Total Main Card Wins, TMCL - Total Main Card Losses
TPCW - Total Prelim Card Wins, TPCL - Total Prelim Card Losses
TSW - Total Submission Wins, TDW -Total Decision Wins
TDQW- Total Disqualification Wins, TW - Total Wins
TKL - Total KO/TKO Losses, TSL - Total Submission Losses
TDL - Total Decision Losses, TL - Total Losses
TDQL - Total Disqualification Losses, TKW - Total KO/TKO Wins