High finishing rate stands out after two years worth of UFC's five round non-title main events

Bradley Kanaris

UFC five round non-title main events have become the norm since 2011, and so far only a third of those fights have even seen round 4.

It's been a little over two years since the UFC introduced five round non-title main events. After picking and choosing which main events (generally the ones on Spike TV and briefly on FX and Fuel TV) would be three rounds and ones that were important enough for five, the UFC made five rounders permanent in May 2012 with Chan Sung Jung's classic against Dustin Poirier. What prompted the full switch, you ask? Diego Sanchez and Jake Ellenberger engaged in a FOTN battle earlier that February, with some suggesting that if Sanchez had two more rounds he would've beaten Ellenberger instead of dropping a 29-28 unanimous decision.

The topic of five round fights has long been a point of discussion on Bloody Elbow. Former staff writer Mike Fagan is the original champion of the five round main event argument dating back to February 2009, days after Dan Henderson's narrow three round win over Rich Franklin in the main event of UFC 93. When Dana White announced all main events would be five rounds back in 2011, one of the counter-arguments (written by Josh Nason) was that it would not lead to an increase in finishes, and that some main events were not good enough to be in consideration for an additional 10 minutes.

Note that over the past four years the UFC has since added four new weight classes, switched broadcast partners, and increased the number of events they run annually, so any newer data from both articles is obviously going to be affected by these changes.

Here's just a sampling of complaints and issues taken with five round main events from the Bloody Elbow comments section (from both articles linked above):

"Another crappy side effect of 5 round non-title fights is less room on televised cards for other bouts."

"it's kind of intriguing, but at the same time it takes away a little from the special feeling of a title fight."

"If they do this then in all honesty they should do something to title fights to distinguish them from any other main event and create a special atmosphere specific only to championship fights."

"How many times do we see guys gassed in 3 round fights, and now every main event will be a 5 round fight? .... I really don't like it, first time ever I disagree with something the UFC has done."

So without further ado, let's take a look at every single five round non-title fight that has occurred in the UFC since its inception on November 5th, 2011.

Bantamweight

Urijah Faber def. Scott Jorgensen via submission (rear naked choke) - Round 4.


Featherweight

Chan Sung Jung def. Dustin Poirier via submission (d'arce choke) - Round 4.


Lightweight

Nate Diaz def. Jim Miller via submission (guillotine choke) - Round 2.
Gray Maynard def. Clay Guida via split decision.
Ross Pearson def. George Sotiropoulos via TKO (punches) - Round 3.


Welterweight

Martin Kampmann def. Jake Ellenberger via KO (knee) - Round 2.
Carlos Condit def. Martin Kampmann via TKO (knees and punches) - Round 4.
Jake Shields def. Demian Maia via split decision.


Middleweight

Mark Munoz def. Chris Leben via TKO (corner stoppage) - Round 2.
Michael Bisping def. Jason Miller via TKO (knees and punches) - Round 3.
Chris Weidman def. Mark Munoz via KO (elbow and punches) - Round 2.
Cung Le def. Rich Franklin via KO (punch) - Round 1.
Vitor Belfort def. Michael Bisping via TKO (punches) - Round 1.
Vitor Belfort def. Luke Rockhold via KO (head kick and punches) - Round 1.
Lyoto Machida def. Mark Munoz via KO (head kick) - Round 1.
Tim Kennedy def. Rafael Natal via KO (punch) - Round 1.


Light Heavyweight

Dan Henderson def. Mauricio Rua via unanimous decision.
Rashad Evans def. Phil Davis via unanimous decision.
Mauricio Rua def. Brandon Vera via TKO (punches) - Round 4.
Wanderlei Silva def. Brian Stann via KO (punches) - Round 2.
Chael Sonnen def. Mauricio Rua via submission (guillotine choke) - Round 1.
Glover Teixeira def. Ryan Bader via TKO (punches) - Round 1.
Vitor Belfort def. Dan Henderson via TKO (head kick) - Round 1.


Heavyweight

Alistair Overeem def. Brock Lesnar via TKO (knee and punches) - Round 1
Stefan Struve def. Stipe Miocic via TKO (punches) - Round 2.
Antonio Silva def. Travis Browne via KO (punches) - Round 1
Roy Nelson def. Matt Mitrione via TKO (punches) - Round 1.
Fabricio Werdum def. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira via submission (armbar) - Round 2.
Mark Hunt vs. Antonio Silva ends in majority draw.


Catchweight (195 lbs)

Rich Franklin def. Wanderlei Silva via unanimous decision.

Awards

Fight of the Night:

Henderson vs. Rua
Poirier vs. Jung
Franklin vs. Wanderlei Silva
Struve vs. Miocic
Wanderlei Silva vs. Stann
Condit vs. Kampmann
Antonio Silva vs. Hunt

Knockout of the Night:

Martin Kampmann (vs. Ellenberger)
Chris Weidman
Cung Le
Wanderlei Silva
Vitor Belfort (vs. Bisping, Rockhold, Henderson)
Tim Kennedy
Lyoto Machida
Glover Teixeira

Submission of the Night:

Chan Sung Jung
Nate Diaz
Chael Sonnen

In total, 18 of the 30 listed fights (60%) had at least one post-event bonus recipient.

Finishes by Round

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

Decision

11 (36.7%)

7 (23.3%)

2 (6.7%)

4 (13.3%)

0 (0%)

6 (20%)

Finishing Methods:

Round 1 KO/TKO - 10/30 (33.3%)
Round 2 KO/TKO - 5/30 (16.7%)
Round 3 KO/TKO - 2/30 (6.7%)
Round 4 KO/TKO - 2/30 (6.7%)
Round 5 KO/TKO - None

Round 1 SUB - 1/30 (3.3%)
Round 2 SUB - 2/30 (6.7%)
Round 3 SUB - None
Round 4 SUB - 2/30 (6.7%)
Round 5 SUB - None

DECISION - 6/30 (20%)

Who benefited most from the two extra rounds?

Mark Hunt (vs. Antonio Silva). At the end of 3 rounds, the judges scored the fight a split decision in favor of Silva (29-28, 28-29, 29-28). His 10-8 5th round turned a split decision loss into a draw.

Gray Maynard (vs. Clay Guida). I know no one in their right mind wants to revisit this fight, but Guida was ahead 30-27, 29-28, and 29-28 after 15 minutes against Gray Maynard. The judges unanimously awarded Maynard the final two rounds to win a split decision.

Mauricio Rua (vs. Dan Henderson). Shogun lost, but I'll explain myself a bit later. Henderson destroyed Shogun over the course of 3 rounds, and nearly knocked him out in the 3rd. Shogun turned the ship around and won the last two rounds and while he lost 48-47 (X3), just about any sensible person could've watched round 5 of that fight and scored it 10-8 Shogun thus a draw.

What can we gather from this data?

  • Whether at bantamweight or heavyweight, the finishes are frequent. Yes, the sample size is only 30 fights, but the early finishing rate of 80% 7 weight classes indicates that the "fewer finishes" belief is completely incorrect. And if you had any fears about heavyweight main events being five round disasters with both men teetering on the brink of falling over due to sheer exhaustion, you'll see that only 1 of 6 heavyweight bouts has ventured past round 2, and that turned out to be a pretty good scrap. The only surprise is that every middleweight fight has ended in a KO or TKO, with Chris Weidman's 17 KOs of Mark Munoz skewing the data drastically before Josh Rosenthal stopped the fight.
  • The UFC is putting on higher quality main events, particularly on the Fox networks. With the UFC adding divisions 125-145 and women's 135 (and next year, women's 115), it gives the UFC a greater opportunity to populate their PPV main events with title fights and their TV cards with smaller title fights and improved headliners. In the Spike TV era, Fight Nights were primarily populated with TUF alums, as the show was broadcast on the network, and they obviously believed that the audience would tune in because they were familiar with the fighters. Virtually every PPV from 2012 to the present day has had at least one title fight, and the ones that haven't were the result of late cancellations, thus causing a switch to a replacement three-rounder. Aside from Hendo/Shogun, Franklin/Silva, and Lesnar/Overeem, all of the other five round main events have been on Spike, FX, Fuel TV, Fox, Fox Sports 1, or Fox Sports 2.
  • Yes, the additional two rounds have been vital when needed. Carlos Condit, Urijah Faber, Chan Sung Jung, and Mauricio Rua all scored 4th round finishes. All four of those fighters were assuredly ahead on the cards after 3, but they all turned decision wins into either a KO or a submission. Mark Hunt's draw against Antonio Silva was earned due to two judges scoring the 5th round a 10-8. Only 10 fights have reached the 4th round, but 60% have ended in a stoppage or a decision where at least one of the final two rounds changed the outcome of the fight.

As for the above quoted comments (that were admittedly made before the UFC's current broadcasting methods were implemented), I fail to see how a five round non-title bout degrades "championship" bouts. How "special" is it for an MMA promotion in Virginia to run a title fight between two unknowns that lasts five rounds while a battle between top 10 ranked UFC fighters is only scheduled for three? Even within the context of the UFC, you should be able to distinguish Miocic/Struve from Cain/JDS without worrying about the glamour and importance of the latter. In professional MMA you either have three or five rounds, which is not the same as boxing, where a pro bout can be four, six, eight, 10, or 12 rounds.

After some early skepticism, it looks like five round main events are here to stay and will soon be embedded in UFC culture as normal. The question becomes whether or not we'll see five round fights expand beyond just the main event and towards select co-mains in the same vein as Carlos Condit/Johny Hendricks, Lyoto Machida/Phil Davis, or even Rashad Evans/Chael Sonnen. I certainly hope so.

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