As the available body of data from FightMetric (and its main competitor, CompuStrike) grows, Genauer and others are attempting to analyze it in new ways. Already Genauer and his colleagues have identified some clear trends in MMA matches. For instance, the number of fights that end in decisions, especially at the lower weight classes, has risen from a third in 2007 to half today. That’s a significant change from the wilder early days of the UFC, when fighters swung crazily and the vast majority of bouts ended in knockouts. It points to increasing skill levels among UFC fighters (knockouts usually happen when one fighter is obviously superior to the other), a factor that could affect fighters’ styles and training methods. A lighter-weight fighter, expecting now to go the distance in his next fight, might accordingly develop his aerobic threshold (so he can wear out bigger opponents) rather than his ability to throw first-round knockout blows.
Earlier this year, John Ruggiero and Trevor Collier, economists at the University of Dayton, and Andrew L. Johnson, an engineering professor at Texas A&M, released a study called “Aggression in Mixed Martial Arts: An Analysis of the Likelihood of Winning a Decision.” With data from FightMetric, the researchers estimated the probability of winning based on fighter characteristics like height and age. From a sample of 946 matches, they measured dozens of variables, including blows attempted versus blows landed, stand-ups, knockdowns and slams. Next they ran that data through a binary response model (a kind of algorithm) to determine which characteristics or approaches most affected a fighter’s chances.
Some of the study’s conclusions were surprising. For example, in fights that end in decisions, the number of strikes thrown appears to be more important than the number of strikes landed. This may have something to do with the vantage point of the judges, who can’t always see the fighters clearly, and so occasionally in error mark a thrown strike as a landed one. Or it may be that a high number of thrown punches simply contributes to the appearance of dominance. Either way, the study is something a fighter can use: The more punches you throw, the more fights you’ll win.
better approach to MMA fighting—one, as FightMetric’s website advertises, “rooted in data and demonstrated effectiveness rather than in gut feelings and bandwagon jumping.”Genauer says he is constantly working to improve both the hardware and software used to collect fight data. As collection methods improve, the data will become richer, analysis will become more granular and the results more useful. That’s been the case in other sports such as baseball, which have changed as statistical analysis of in-game strategies has become more sophisticated (as Moneyball first highlighted). Stats have suggested, for example, that sacrifice bunting is not as useful as previously thought, leading many teams to attempt it less frequently. In MMA, trainers might find demonstrable proof that certain moves, like sidekicks or flying punches, are less effective than others, like knees or arm triangles. They might see the consistent success of a shoulder lock or the repeated triumph of the arm bar. They might rely on that data to engineer a
“Data and demonstrated effectiveness” is something that Greg Jackson has stressed for years. Unlike other MMA coaches, Jackson holds no belt in any martial art and has no allegiance to any guru. In fact, he had hardly any formal training at all. He opened his first gym at the age of 17. In the absence of a particular fighting style, he experimented with practically all of them: aikido, karate, Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, kickboxing, straight-up boxing. “All I was doing was looking for empirical evidence,” he says. “I’d form a hypothesis and I’d try it out in a fight. If it didn’t work I’d get rid of it, and if it did I kept it. It was science at its purest. It was driven by need.”
Jackson would have two evenly matched fighters spar 10, 15, even 20 times in a row. Waiting nearby, notepad in hand, he would assiduously track which moves worked in the greatest number of situations. Unlike most trainers, he held no sentimental attachment to any specific moves. If he found that a flying sidekick didn’t consistently do enough damage, he’d stop teaching it.single page