clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
UFC 238: Kowalkiewicz v Grasso Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Filed under:

Stats Corner: Where in the world do MMA fighters come from?

Badar Raja has sifted through the data to see where the world’s major MMA promotions are finding their fighting talent.

MMA commercial breaks are a lot like a steaming hot shower. They give fans time to ponder on all the little things. The details that otherwise escape them in their busy day-to-day lives.

One of those little things I’ve been pondering is: Where do the athletes fighting for these promotions come from? Where does the UFC go to find their talent? What about Bellator? Or ONE Championship? Or the PFL?

To answer those questions, I’ve put together several heat-maps to show how mainstream promotions stack up with their fighter-nationality representation. Most of the data is readily available for public access. Bloody Elbow have compiled a comprehensive list of current UFC fighters. Sources for other promotions such as Bellator, PFL and ONE Championship came from the athlete section of their respective promotional websites—cross-checked through secondary sources.

So, let’s see where top MMA promotions are getting their talent...

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

  • Data Retrieved: 03/12/2019
  • Population Size/Type: 634 current fighters
  • Country/Nation Coverage: 65

Do not be fooled, this is not a depiction of the British Empire in 1920. In recent years the UFC has become a real global powerhouse, cannibalizing regions such as China and Russian territories. The roster boasts fighters across 65 different countries, perhaps the only area not covered by the UFC machine is the North and South Poles. However, unsurprisingly, over 40% of the roster still hails from the USA.

Bellator MMA

  • Data Retrieved: 26/11/2019
  • Population Size/Type: 267 current fighters
  • Country/Nation Coverage: 32

Bellator MMA is often considered the UFC’s biggest rival, and they too are no slouches when it comes to global representation—with large swathes of the European bloc counted among their athletes. In fact, the United Kingdom has the second highest number of fighters (38) for the promotion. However, unlike the UFC, Bellator do not have a heavy presence in Asia.

ONE Championship

  • Data Retrieved: 26/11/2019
  • Population Size/Type: 227 current fighters
  • Country/Nation Coverage: 41

Fight fans can’t consider MMA in Asia without paying homage to ONE Championship. The promotion really leapt into the public eye following a historic trade deal involving two of the sport’s biggest stars: Ben Askren and Demetrious Johnson. ONE has done a fantastic job advocating for MMA among countries which are not traditionally known as mixed martial arts hot spots—including nations such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Mongolia.

Professional Fighters League (PFL)

  • Data Retrieved: 26/11/2019
  • Population Size/Type: 71 current fighters
  • Country/Nation Coverage: 16

Formerly known as the World Series of Fighting (WSOF), PFL has done extremely well in terms of representation—for a promotion that is essentially considered domestic to the US. A point of note: this is the only promotion on this list to have an active fighter representing Lichtenstein, the 4th smallest country in Europe (the United States is 61,459 times bigger than Lichtenstein).

Pride Fighting Championship (Pride FC) - Now Defunct

  • Data Retrieved: 26/11/2019
  • Population Size/Type: 309 fighter alumni. These fighters may have fought for this promotion at any point in time.
  • Country/Nation Coverage: 33

The now defunct Pride FC laid a lot of the groundwork for modern MMA. Most fans old enough to remember the J-MMA giant will recall the soccer kicks, bizarre mismatches, and Lenne Hardt screaming down the microphone. Being a Japanese promotion, one surprising thing was the lack of mainland Asian fighters, particularly intriguing when comparing this heat map to that of ONE Championship.

UFC 239: Ultimate Media Day Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Combining fighter nationalities across all the current mainstream promotions (excluding Pride FC) reveals the entire coverage is 1,199 fighters dispersed across 89 different nations. USA has the greatest international fighter representation at 35%, followed by Brazil (14%) and Russia (6%). While MMA has come a long way since the early days, there is clearly still room for expansion. The hawk-eyed geographer will observe that the African continent still remains hugely underrepresented. However, despite the poor coverage, Africa has produced rich talent in recent years. The rise of champions such as Israel Adesanya and Kamaru Usman, alongside the scariest man in the UFC (perhaps the entire planet), Francis Ngannou, could all be the key to creating the next potential hotbed of MMA.

Let’s see what 2020 holds.

Please note: for fighters with dual nationalities only one nationality has been taken, which is their current country of residence (where applicable). Some countries may have been excluded due to mapping issues.


Video - Former WBO, WBA champ Popo Freitas knocks out Pele Landi-Jons in boxing match

MMA Events

Rizin boss apologetic after ‘vile individual’ tosses Floyd Mayweather’s bouquet on the mat

UFC News

Fights on Tap: Derrick Lewis vs. Serghei Spivac among 9 UFC bouts announced