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UFC says takedowns not a top factor in winning following extensive study

Following an examination of UFC fights stretching back to 2002, the UFC’s Performance Institute put together some interesting metrics on what it takes to win in the Octagon. Notably, while takedowns are a factor, they’re not among the biggest.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Covington vs Kim David McIntyre-USA TODAY Sports

It appears that UFC is taking a serious interest in statistics and the ‘meta-game’ of MMA. Back in 2017 – when the world’s largest MMA organization opened the doors to their new $14-million complex – it was advertised as a place where fighters would be able to go to fine tune their strength and conditioning, to learn about proper diet and nutrition, and to generally push the sport forward. If that all sounds a bit like ad copy, it’s not without reason.

There was a certain air of justifying a shiny new toy when the project was unveiled. Yes the UFC built this impressive facility, but would anybody really get the use out of it that they were suggesting?

To their credit, however, it seems like they’ve done well to regularly attract fighters to spend time under the institute’s roof. In part thanks to athlete summits, but they’ve also seen top contenders like Francis Ngannou, Claudia Gadelha, Joseph Benavidez, and others take portions of their training camps at the facility. Currently, they report an average of 18 fighters visiting at the UFC PI on any given day.

And to prove that they’re invested in advancing understanding of the sport, the institute has apparently published 80 pages of new analysis, including metrics on judging trends and how actions in the cage translate to winning fights on the scorecards. That’s according to a report from MMA Fighting, summarizing the UFC’s analytics.

The biggest takeaway from their analysis, apparently, is that among the 167 fight metrics created for the study – which covers bouts stretching back to 2002 – takedowns aren’t as important as previously suspected. They still rank 19th – so by no means a minor influence – but most of the top judging indicators belong to striking stats.

Across most divisions, “total strikes landed” is the top performance indicator for fighter success. With other areas like “significant strikes success percentage,” “total strikes attempted,” and “significant strikes landed” all playing major roles. It should be noted, that while not directly related to takedowns, per se, “time in ground control” was also listed among the top 5 indicators for fighter success. It seems it’s just not that important how you get there.

Former UFC light heavyweight champion, Forrest Griffin, spoke to Fighting on behalf of the UFC, where he expressed his surprise at the results.

“I would have thought from my coaching that the ability to dictate where the fight is is the most important thing in a fight,” Griffin said. “But as far as judging criteria and winning a fight, strikes landed to the head is the most important thing. Significant strikes. Those are the most important things. It’s not that takedowns aren’t important. It’s just that of the 167 metrics — data points — that are collected from each fight, it falls down to 19th. Which surprises you, right?”

Hopefully this kind of information can be used to create a broader understanding of not just what wins any one fight in MMA, but how MMA is ‘played’ as an athletic contest. That kind of influence may result in more gamesmanship from athletes looking to exploit flaws in officiating, but it could also lead to more rapid evolution away from entrenched ideologies.

Check out MMA Fighting’s report for more details on the UFC PI’s data, including injury prevention, finishing rates, and striking output.

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