I read 2 articles recently that analyse the finish rate per weight division in MMA. The first (not the order I read them in, btw) was an article on Fightnomics. The author, Reed Kuhn, looked at all the UFC fights for 2006 - 2012. As was expected, the number of KOs, TKOs & stoppages as a proportion of fights increases with the weight of the fighters. Simple physics right? The graph below is a simplification of the data presented by Kuhn to make it more comparable to that presented by Sampson (see the next analysis):

Finish Rate per Weight Division - UFC Total

As expected a positive correlation between weight & knock-out power... simple physics.

When you look at the second article on Bleacher Report. The author, Kevin Sampson, decided to take a different approach. He looked at all the UFC & Pride champion's fights through October 2009. Here the conclusion was that expectations & reality don't mesh:

Finish Rate per Weight Division - UFC & Pride Champions

Un-expected no correlation between weight & knock-out power... does technique trump physics?

The data sets don't match in terms of date ranges & the second analysis includes data from both UFC & Pride. Even given these differences in methodology the results are compellingly different. Enough to say there is a distinct difference between the average & the elite.

Sampson took his analysis one step further. He points out that in boxing when the champs are analysed in the same way the correlation does exist as expected. It's worth mentioning that the weight divisions in MMA & Boxing are not the same but the trend is undeniable:

Finish Rate per Weight Division - Boxing Champions

Again we see the expected a positive correlation between weight & knock-out power...

So what is the difference between the elite in MMA & the rest that seemingly breaks the laws of physics? Both groups have submissions at their disposal (& boxers obviously don't), but the elite use them more across all weight divisions. This implies that the elite have a more well rounded offence. I also feel that the difference between the greats & the 'also rans' in combat sports is largely in the defence (see my previous post on what makes a great striker). This is true for all combatants, both Boxers & MMA fighters in this case (boxing champs get knocked out less often but only have strikes on the offensive). The other major difference might be the extra defensive options that are available in MMA, full clinch & ground. It is probably easier to smother a good striking attack in MMA than Boxing. Basically the elite are fighting more intelligently. This sometimes leads to 'boring' title fights for the average fan who doesn't understand the subtleties of control & strategy.

- mec