An analysis of weight and fighting styles as predictors of winning outcomes of elite mixed martial arts athletes – The Sport Journal

An analysis of weight and fighting styles as predictors of winning outcomes of elite mixed martial arts athletes – The Sport Journal


Authors: Chenghao Ma

1School of Humanities and Social Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, China

Corresponding Author:

Chenghao Ma
2001 Longxiang Blvd.,
Shenzhen, China 518172
[email protected]

Chenghao Ma is now at the School of Humanities and Social Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen.

An analysis of weight and fighting styles as predictors of winning outcomes of elite mixed martial arts athletes

ABSTRACT

This study analyzed weight and fighting styles as predictors of the methods used by 174 top-ranking Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) elite athletes to victory, thus providing valuable information to help coaches and athletes formulate their training plans and competition strategies. A total of 174 athletes (male: 127; female: 47) who are champions and rank in the top 15 were involved in the sample data. The backward multiple regression test was applied to test the effective predictors (weight and fighting styles) for the outcomes (KO/TKO, Decision, and Submission) of winning MMA athletes in each gender group. One-way ANOVAs were also performed to examine the significance of the regression models. The study indicates that weight and fighting styles (MMA and Striker) are significant predictors of KO/TKO victories for male athletes, whereas female athletes’ KO/TKO wins can be predicted by fighting styles (MMA and Striker). Results showed that the weight and striker style were effective predictors for Decision wins. In addition, the findings indicate that weight and fighting styles can be utilized as predictors of Submission wins for both male and female athletes. The present study aims to provide managers, coaches, and athletes with valuable references concerning weight, fighting styles, and winning outcomes, thus enabling them to optimize training plans and competition strategies to secure competitive advantages. Sports fans can make more logical predictions concerning the winning methods of their favorite athletes.

Key Words: combat sports; UFC; athletic performance; training plan; competition strategy

INTRODUCTION

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a dynamic combat sport that combines various techniques from different martial arts disciplines, allowing fighters to employ a wide range of skills and strategies in the ring. The sport has gained significant popularity worldwide, attracting a diverse audience and producing some of the most skilled and versatile athletes in combat sports history. Mixed martial arts can be traced back to ancient civilizations, where different forms of hand-to-hand combat were practiced. However, modern MMA has emerged in the early 1990s with the inception of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which served as a platform for fighters from various martial arts backgrounds to compete against each other (10).

 Over the years, MMA has evolved into a highly technical and regulated sport, combining techniques from disciplines such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, boxing, wrestling, judo, and many others (15,22). The inclusion of multiple fighting styles has led to the development of well-rounded fighters who can effectively strike, grapple, and defend in different situations. The evolution of the sport can be attributed to various factors such as rule modifications, increased safety measures, and integrating training methodologies from different martial arts. One significant development was implementing weight classes and establishing comprehensive rules to ensure fighter safety and promote fair competition. The growth of MMA organizations globally, including Bellator MMA, ONE Championship, and others, has contributed to the sport’s expansion and popularity.

Mixed martial arts has come a long way since its early days as an experimental sport, evolving into a mainstream combat sport that captivates millions of fans worldwide (12). Its combination of striking and grappling techniques and its emphasis on strategy and adaptability make it a unique and exciting form of athletic competition (3,5,14,17). With ongoing advancements in training methods, fighter safety protocols, and the continued global expansion of MMA organizations, the sport’s future appears promising.

Mixed martial arts is now becoming a mainstream sport, and the UFC has since become the leading organizer of MMA events (29). The UFC adopted the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts in November 2000 to ensure the safety of athletes and fair competition (32). These rules are intended to provide a clear set of regulations governing professional MMA competitions consistent across different athletic commissions and other regulatory bodies. The establishment and adoption of the Unified Rules of MMA mark the beginning of MMA as a sport accepted by both governing bodies and the public alike and have played an essential role in developing and promoting mixed martial arts. The commercial growth and international expansion have attracted athletes from other fighting categories to join the sport and compete in the UFC. Therefore, a study on top-ranking UFC athletes is considered valuable and meaningful.

UFC fights are governed by the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts in which the fighter wins the fight in the following ways (1,26,30): First, for a victory to be secured through KO (Knockout), the referee stops the fight because the athlete cannot defend himself consciously caused by striking techniques. The second is the TKO (Technical Knockout), which occurs when the referee, doctor, or athlete’s corner intervenes to halt the fight due to the athlete’s inability to defend themselves or the risk of safety if the fight continues. The third is the referee’s Decision, in which the referee scores the winner through a ten-point must system. The fourth is won by Submission, in which the athlete controls his opponent through submission techniques, causing that opponent to signal that he cannot continue the fight (25). The diversity of winning styles makes the outcome of MMA fights unpredictable.

Mixed martial arts fights occur within specific weight divisions, with athletes winning a contest by Knockout, Technical Knockout, Submission, or the referee’s Decision (23,27). Weight divisions are based on body mass, and the athletes are then paired according to weight to prevent heavier athletes from scoring an obvious advantage, just as in other combat sports (8). The weight divisions stipulated by the UFC include eight weight classes for male athletes (Flyweight, Bantamweight, Featherweight, Lightweight, Welterweight, Middleweight, Lightweight Heavyweight, and Heavyweight) and three weight classes for female athletes (Strawweight, Flyweight, and Bantamweight), with the Flyweight division for females having been added (31). MMA athletes are grouped into different weight classes determined by their weight and measured around 24 to 32 hours before the competitions (7). Body mass manipulation through rapid weight gain and rapid weight loss is common among MMA athletes to ensure qualification for the weight class in which the athlete wants to compete (2,4,18). Therefore, weight classes are usually a concern for coaches, athletes, and even MMA fans and are a prerequisite for fair competition (24). Previous research indicated weight as an effective predictor of outcomes of UFC fights and suggested the possibility of adding other factors that might enhance the accuracy of the prediction (21).

The uniqueness of MMA skills makes the sport different from other combat sports that rely only on limited fighting techniques. This distinction means that athletes can come from different regions with various fighting styles and specialize in different martial arts techniques (19,25,26). Researchers have therefore been able to examine the effects of different fighting styles on combat sports performance (6,9). Previous research showed three fighting style categories of modern elite MMA athletes: mixed, striking-dominant, and grappling-dominant (20). Thus, this study assumes that fighting styles can be another influential factor influencing the outcomes of the UFC fight. So the present study used weight and fighting styles as independent variables and winning outcomes (KO/TKO, Decision, Submission) as dependent variables to examine the assumption. The main research questions that this study seeks to answer are as follows: Can weight and fighting styles be utilized as valid predictors for the winning outcomes of elite MMA athletes? This study hypothesizes that weight and fighting styles are effective predictors of the winning outcomes of MMA athletes. The study’s findings might provide valuable information and reference for sports managers, coaches, athletes, and fans.

METHODS

Sample

Data concerning weight, fighting styles, and the methods used by male and female MMA athletes competing in the UFC to secure a victory (KO/TKO, Decision, and Submission) were collected from the official UFC ranking website (https://www.ufc.com/rankings) in April 2023 (31). A total of 174 athletes (male: 127; female: 47) who are champions and rank in the top 15 were involved in the sample data. Archived databases from public access websites have been employed for studies similar to the present research, without ethical issues in the investigation and interpretation of the data, as they were gathered in a secondary form and not developed experimentally (11,13,14,16,20,21). The personal identification of individual data has also been avoided in this study, thus ensuring anonymity and confidentiality.

Statistical Analysis

First, a descriptive statistical analysis was conducted using SPSS 29 software. The backward multiple regression test was applied to test the effective predictors (weight and fighting styles) for the methods (KO/TKO, Decision, and Submission) used by winning MMA athletes in each gender group. One-way ANOVAs were also performed to examine the significance of the regression models. In addition, the research will set fighting styles as dummy variables, including mixed, striking-dominant, and grappling-dominant styles (20).

RESULTS

As shown in Table 1, male athletes who won were as follows: by KO/TKO: 43.75%±22.98; Decision: 33.35%±20.75; and Submission: 22.92%±18.70. Female athletes who won were as follows: by KO/TKO: 30.64%±17.04; Decision: 46.04%±18:43; and Submission: 23.23%±17.61.

Multiple regression analysis was performed based on the weight (Pounds), fighting styles, and the methods used by male athletes to win. Table 2 shows statistical tests for the regression model. For male athletes, the correlation coefficient was R=0.556, R2=0.31, adjusted R2=0.293, and the estimated standard error was 19.33. For female athletes, the correlation coefficient was R=0.46, R2=0.211, adjusted R2=0.176, and the estimated standard error was 15.47.

Table 3 shows the results of the variance test of the regression statistics, such as the sum of squares, degrees of freedom, mean square value, the value of the statistic F, and its probability of significance for the model. The results for male and female athletes show a probability of P<0.01, indicating that the regression effect is significant in this case.

Table 4 shows the test of regression coefficients. The results showed that weight and fighting styles (MMA and Striker) are predictors of the KO/TKO wins for male athletes, and only fighting styles (MMA and Striker) are predictors for female athletes. For male athletes, the regression equation is thus: Ŷ = -12.168 + 0.272X1 + 8.293X2 + 17.643X3. For female athletes, the regression equation is: Ŷ = 17.8 + 11.494X1 + 20.4X2.

Table 5 shows statistical tests for the regression model. For male athletes, the correlation coefficient was R=0.366, R2=0.134, adjusted R2=0.12, and the estimated standard error was 19.46. For female athletes, there were no effective predictors for the dependent variable.

Table 6 shows the results of the variance test of the regression statistics, such as the sum of squares, degrees of freedom, mean square value, the value of the statistic F, and its probability of significance for the model. For male athletes, the results show that F=9.592 with a probability of P<0.01, indicating that the regression effect is significant in this case.

Table 7 shows the test for regression coefficients for male athletes. Results showed that weight and striker style are the predictors of the dependent variable. The regression equation is thus: Ŷ = 65.783 – 0.176X1 – 7.322X2.

Table 8 shows statistical tests for the regression model. For male athletes, the correlation coefficient was R=0.338, R2=0.114, adjusted R2=0.092, and the estimated standard error was 17.82. For female athletes, the correlation coefficient was R=0.607, R2=0.369, adjusted R2=0.325, and the estimated standard error was 14.47.

Table 9 shows the results of the variance test of the regression statistics, such as the sum of squares, degrees of freedom, mean square value, the value of the statistic F, and its probability of significance for the model. The results for male and female athletes show a probability of P<0.01, indicating that the regression effect is significant in this case.

Table 10 shows the test of regression coefficients. The results showed that weight and fighting styles (MMA and Striker) are predictors of Submission wins for male and female athletes. For male athletes, the regression equation is thus: Ŷ = 46.947 – 0.9X1 – 10.802X2 – 11.838X3. For female athletes, the regression equation is: Ŷ = 121.901- 0.657X1 – 17.325X2 – 23.972X3.

DISCUSSION

The descriptive analysis showed that the percentage of the approaches used by male athletes to win in descending order was: KO/TKO 43.75%±22.98, Decision 33.35%±20.75, and Submission 22.92%±18.70. The rate of female athletes in descending order by the method they used to win was: Decision 46.04%±18:43, KO/TKO 30.64%±17.04, and Submission 23.23%±17.61. According to the findings, the primary approach utilized by male athletes to secure victory was KO/TKO, succeeded by Decision, and lastly Submission. Conversely, the Decision method was predominantly utilized by female athletes, followed by KO/TKO, and finally Submission.

According to the findings, male athletes’ KO/TKO wins are predicted by weight and fighting styles (MMA and Striker), while female athletes’ KO/TKO wins are only predicted by fighting styles (MMA and Striker). For male athletes, the regression equation is thus: Ŷ = -12.168 + 0.272X1 + 8.293X2 + 17.643X3. For female athletes, the regression equation is Ŷ = 17.8 + 11.494X1 + 20.4X2. For male athletes, the results indicate that the higher the athlete’s weight class, the more likely they are to win by KO/TKO. Additionally, for both male and female athletes, MMA and Striker styles rely more on their technical specialties to win fights, i.e. they are more likely to win by KO/TKO than Grapplers.

Results showed that weight and striker are the predictors of the Decision wins as the dependent variable. The regression equation is thus Ŷ = 65.783 – 0.176X1 – 7.322X2. The results show that male athletes will be less likely to win by Decision as they move up in weight class. The main reason for this is that an increase in weight increases the KO/TKO win rate. Additionally, it can be inferred that a negative correlation exists between Decision wins and strikers, owing to their tendency to prioritise striking techniques, leading to a greater prevalence of KO/TKO victories.

The findings indicate that weight and fighting styles (MMA and Striker) can be utilized as predictors of Submission wins for both male and female athletes. For male athletes, the regression equation is thus: Ŷ = 46.947 – 0.9X1 – 10.802X2 – 11.838X3. For female athletes, the regression equation is Ŷ = 121.901 – 0.657X1 – 17.325X2 – 23.972X3. Results showed that negative relationship between these independent variables and dependent variables. The findings indicated that Grapplers are more likely to win the fights through Submission, and MMA and Striker styles were negatively associated with Submission wins.

The key role of this study is to provide managers, coaches, and athletes with valuable information to optimize their training programs and competition strategies (28). This study added other factors (fighting styles: Grappler, MMA, and Striker) as predictors of outcomes of winning MMA athletes compared with previous research (21). Coaches train athletes at diverse competitive levels, and this study has the potential to enlighten coaches’ training programs for athletes of distinct weight classes and fighting styles. When planning their training, MMA coaches and athletes should consider their weight divisions and fighting styles as crucial factors in developing more effective training strategies. Coaches and athletes should also analyze their opponents’ weight and fighting styles when planning for specific competitions. Also, the present study allows MMA fans to make more reasonable forecasts regarding competition outcomes and the winning techniques employed by their preferred athletes.

There are some limitations in the current study. First, the data on athletes were acquired only from the UFC, the foremost organization in promoting the sport. Second, the present study has solely examined weight and fighting styles as predictors, yielding limited adjusted R2 outcomes, thereby constraining the applicability of the multiple linear regression models. Future research can apply similar studies on other MMA organizations to scrutinize the generalizations made in this study and potential technical trends within the sport. 

CONCLUSIONS

The results indicate that male athletes primarily employ KO/TKO to secure victory, followed by Decision and Submission. In contrast, the Decision method was primarily employed by female athletes, with KO/TKO and Submission being utilized subsequently. The study indicates that weight and fighting styles are significant predictors of KO/TKO victories for male athletes, whereas fighting styles might predict female athletes’ KO/TKO wins. Results showed that the weight and striker are the predictors of the Decision wins as the dependent variable. In addition, the findings indicate that weight and fighting styles can be utilized as predictors of Submission wins for both male and female athletes.

APPLICATIONS IN SPORT

This study can provide managers, coaches, and athletes with valuable references for the relationship between weight, fighting styles, and the methods used by winning athletes when optimizing training plans and competition strategies. Coaches and athletes must consider the prospect of different winning methods in diverse weight categories when switching weight classes to gain a competitive edge. For sports fans, this study can help predict competition outcomes.

REFERENCES

1. Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports. (2018). Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts.

2. Barley, O.R., Chapman, D.W., Abbiss, C.R. (2018). Weight loss strategies in combat sports and concerning habits in mixed martial arts. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 13(7), 933-939.

3. Brett, G. (2017). Reframing the ‘violence’ of mixed martial arts: The ‘art’ of the fight. Poetics, 62, 15-28.

4. Burke, L.M., Slater, G.J., Matthews, J.J., Langan-Evans, C., Horswill, C.A. (2021). ACSM expert consensus statement on weight loss in weight-category sports. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 20(4), 199-217.

5. Buse, G.J. (2006) No holds barred sport fighting: A 10 year review of mixed martial arts competition. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 40(2), 169-172.

6. Chernozub, A., Korobeynikov, G., Mytskan, B., Korobeinikova, L., Cynarski, W.J. (2018). Modelling mixed martial arts power training needs depending on the predominance of the strike or wrestling fighting style. Ido Movement for Culture-Journal of Martial Arts Anthropology, 18(3): 28-36.

7. Coswig, V.S., Fukuda, D.H., Del Vecchio, F.B. (2015). Rapid weight loss elicits harmful biochemical and hormonal responses in mixed martial arts athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 25(5), 480-486.

8. Coswig, V.S., Miarka, B., Pires, D.A., da Silva, L.M., Bartel, C., & Del Vecchio, F.B. (2019). Weight Regain, but not weight loss, is related to competitive success in real-life mixed martial arts competition. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 29(1), 1-8.

9. Follmer, B., Andreato, L.V., Coswig, V.S. (2021). Combat-ending submission techinques in modern mixed martial arts. Ido Movement for Culture-Journal of Martial Arts Anthropology, 21(2), 6-10.

10. Ford, S.J. (2015). Co-evolutionary processes and positive feedbacks in the growth of the ultimate fighting championships. Sport, Business and Management, 5(1), 31-49.

11. Franchini, E., Fukuda, D.H., Lopes-Silva, J.P. (2020). Tracking 25 years of judo results from the world championships and olympic games: Age and competitive achievement. Journal of Sports Sciences, 38(13), 1531-1538.

12. García, R.S., Malcolm, D. (2010). Decivilizing, civilizing or informalizing? The international development of mixed martial arts. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 45(1), 39-58.

13. Haugen, T.A., Solberg, P.A., Foster, C., Moran-Navarro, R., Breitschadel, F., & Hopkins, W.G. (2018). Peak age and performance progression in world-class track-and-field athletes. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 13(9), 1122-1129.

14. James, L.P., Robertson, S., Haff, G.G., Beckman, E.M., Kelly, V.G. (2017). Identifying the performance characteristics of a winning outcome in elite mixed martial arts competition. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 20(3): 296-301.

15. Jetton, A.M., Lawrence, M.M., Meucci, M., Haines, T.L., Collier, S.R., Morris, D.M. & Utter, A.C. (2013). Dehydration and Acute Weight Gain in Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Before Competition. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(5), 1322-1326.

16. Julio, U.F., Takito, M.Y., Mazzei, L., Miarka, B., Sterkowicz, S., & Franchini, E. (2011). Tracking 10-year competitive winning performance of judo athletes across age groups. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 113(1): 139-149.

17. Kirk, C., Hurst, H.T., Atkins, S. (2015). Measuring the workload of mixed martial arts using accelerometry, time motion analysis and lactate. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 15(1), 359-370.

18. Kirk, C., Langan-Evans, C., Morton, J.P. (2020). Worth the weight? Post weigh-in rapid weight gain is not related to winning or losing in professional mixed martial arts. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 30(5): 357-361.

19. Kovalchik, S.A. (2014). The older they rise the younger they fall: age and performance trends in men’s professional tennis from 1991 to 2012. Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, 10(2), 99-107.

20. Ma, C. (2023). Age, regional distribution, and fighting styles of elite mixed martial arts athletes. The Sport Journal.

21. Ma, C. (2023). The correlation between weight divisions and methods used by winning mixed martial arts athletes. The Sport Journal.

22. MacDonald, K.E., Lamont, M., Jenkins, J.M. (2019). Ultimate fighting championship fans: foundations of subcultural stratification. Leisure Sciences, 41(6), 441-459.

23. Miarka, B., Aedo-Munoz, E., Perez, D.I.V., Teixeira, F.G., Brito, C.J. (2020). Ending an MMA combat bout: Specific striking techniques which determine the type of outcome. Ido Movement for Culture-Journal of Martial Arts Anthropology, 20(3), 9-17.

24. Miarka, B., Brito, C.J., Bello, F.D., Amtmann, J. (2017). Motor actions and spatiotemporal changes by weight divisions of mixed martial arts: Applications for training. Human Movement Science, 55, 73-80.

25. Miarka, B., Coswig, V., Brito, J.C., Slimani, M., Amtmann, J., & Del Vecchio, F.B. (2016). Comparison of combat outcomes: Technical and tactical analysis of female MMA. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 16(2), 539-552.

26. Miarka, B., Coswig, V.S., Amtmann, J. (2019). Long MMA fights technical-tactical analysis of mixed martial arts: Implications for assessment and training. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 19(2), 153-166.

27. Miarka, B., Dal Bello, F., Brito, C.J., Del Vecchio, F.B., Amtmann, J., & Chamari, K. (2019). A 12-year cohort study of doc-stoppage in professional mixed martial arts. International Journal of Sports Physiology & Performance, 14(5), 606-611.

28. Pinto, F.C.L., Neiva, H., Nunes, C., Marques, M.C., Sousa, A.C., Marinho, D.A., Branquinho, L., & Ferraz, R. (2020). Ultimate full contact: Fight outcome characterization concerning their methods, occurrence times and technical–tactical developments. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(19), 7094.

29. Reams, L., Shapiro, S. (2017). Who’s the main attraction? Star power as a determinant of ultimate fighting championship pay-per-view demand. European Sport Management Quarterly, 17(2), 132-151.

30. Stellpflug, S.J., Menton, W.H., Dummer, M.F., Menton, T., Corry, J., & Lefevere, R. (2020). Time to unconsciousness from sportive chokes in fully resisting highly trained combatants. International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport, 20(4), 720-728.

31. UFC rankings, division ranking, P4P rankings, UFC champions. (n.d.). The Official Home of Ultimate Fighting Championship | UFC.com. http://www.ufc.com/rankings. Accessed 15 April/2023.

32. Unified rules of mixed martial arts | UFC. (n.d.). The Official Home of Ultimate Fighting Championship | UFC.com. http://www.ufc.com/unified-rules-mixed-martial-arts. Accessed 15 April/2023.

Print Friendly, PDF & EmailPrint Friendly, PDF & Email





Read More