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VCURamFan 04-03-2012 05:32 PM

Crunching Numbers
A new weekly feature from, this time chock full of more nerdy goodness:

In MMA, There's No Such Thing as a Heavy Wait


Apr 1, 2012 - As interest in the all-heavyweight main card for UFC 146 begins to heat up, skeptics are beginning to wonder if maybe we're expecting too much from the event. Specifically, can this many consecutive heavyweight fights offer enough long-lasting action to satisfy fan expectation over the course of a full pay-per-view event?

There is a belief in the larger MMA community - partly rooted in the experience of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix - that a full main card of heavyweight bouts could lead to an exceedingly short night of fights. It's true quick finishes are hardly something to be reviled. Perhaps it's also true, though, that there is something to be said for having a balanced fight card that offers as much carrot as it does stick.

Is it even true heavyweight fights on average end more quickly than fights in other divisions? If so, what is the average length of time for a fight in each division? Let's take a look at the numbers to see what they tell us about the complexion of heavyweight fights.

Below are the average lengths of time for a fight for each weight class since UFC 28, which is when the Unified Rules were put in place:

Weight/Avg Time

The most obvious takeaway is, quite clearly, heavyweight fights on average do end more quickly than fights in other divisions. In fact, the data tells us heavyweight fights are approximately 30% shorter than bantamweight fights on average. We can also see the difference between heavyweight and light heavyweight marks the biggest increase in average time between any two weight classes.

The difference between the weight classes seems to be incremental from there, but there's virtually a negligible distinction in time between light heavyweight and middleweight bouts. That's the same for featherweights and bantamweights.

Speaking of bantamweights, the numbers here do not tell us precisely why their fights go longer than other UFC divisions. One common theory is they simply lack the striking power to do away with one another prior to the final bell seems. Again, these numbers do not speak directly to that theory (we'd need more information about the rate of knockouts), but that intuition seems to at least be on the right track and worth further exploration.

As for the heavyweights at UFC 146, no one is suggesting their fights have a predetermined destiny to be abbreviated. In this modern era of the UFC and with a main card with so much ranked heavyweight talent, perhaps they will serve as outliers and resemble more the pitched back and forth their lightweight contemporaries. But that's the key word: outlier. The data is pretty unequivocal. We are right to expect a night of quick action, fast endings and a fight card with rapid turnover once the main card goes live.

I am also not suggesting the UFC won't be able to offer a compelling television pay-per-view product even with an exceedingly short main card. The preliminary card for UFC 146 is as stacked as any and it stands to reason UFC will find ways to fill extra time to the extent it exists. In fact, it could be just that balance - longer bouts on the preliminary card, quick bouts on the main card - that could improve the television experience altogether.

I'm further not even asserting that should the main card fights all end early that it'd necessarily be a bad thing. The criticism in the aftermath of Junior dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez in some ways missed the mark. It'd be disingenuous to suggest fight fans as well as the general public weren't left wanting more, but since when is that the least desirable outcome? A quick knockout generally satisfies the violence quotient fans are expecting and typically does so without larger controversy. We could all be so lucky to have those conditions met at UFC 146.

What will be interesting to see is how these upcoming fights stack up in UFC heavyweight history in terms of their speed. The two records to keep an eye on when May arrives are fastest finishes among heavyweights in UFC history and fastest main cards.

The record books tell us the UFC 146 main card fighters will have to beat these top five fastest heavyweight finishes in UFC heavyweight history (since UFC 28) to earn their place among the quickest ever:

0:07 - Todd Duffee, UFC 102

0:15 - Andrei Arlovski, UFC 55

0:17 - Antoni Hardonk, UFC 80

0:39 - Roy Nelson, UFC Fight Night 21

0:43 - Stipe Miocic, UFC on FUEL 1

Higher ranked talent and those known for their durability (Roy Nelson) aren't so easily dispatched. It's far easier to put away Paul Buentello as Arlovski did at UFC 55 than it is Junior dos Santos at any point. But firepower is firepower. I'd be slightly surprised to see anyone on the UFC 146 main card knocked out this quickly, but would it really be so shocking?

As for the shortest main cards in UFC history, how can UFC 146 earn a place among the top five? Simple: each of the five main card fights that night will have to average less than four minutes each to beat these events:

19:10 - UFC 29 (no heavyweight bouts)

19:23 - UFC 91 (two heavyweight bouts)

20:05 - UFC 32 (one heavyweight bout)

21:19 - UFC 55 (two heavyweight bouts)

23:22 - UFC 142 (zero heavyweight bouts)

I don't know that UFC 146 will beat these previous efforts. And it's interesting to note it doesn't necessarily take a certain threshold of heavyweight bouts per fight card to achieve early endings. The chaotic, offensive nature of MMA allows for virtually any fighter in any division to make quick work of matters. But if there is any kind of card that one can put together to beat these aforementioned rankings while still offering competitive fights, there aren't many that wouldn't look similar to UFC 146.

rockdawg21 04-03-2012 05:34 PM

It makes sense, they hit harder and because of that, the fights end quicker. It's been the same in boxing for as far as I've known too. That's why the smaller guys are always more exciting to watch IMO; I love a good scrap!

J.B. 04-03-2012 11:55 PM


Originally Posted by rockdawg21 (Post 188222)
It makes sense, they hit harder and because of that, the fights end quicker. It's been the same in boxing for as far as I've known too. That's why the smaller guys are always more exciting to watch IMO; I love a good scrap!

It really does just come down to a matter of opinion. Smaller guys move quicker and don't gas-out as quickly, which is more pleasing to the eye, but there will always be a mainstream interest in seeing the biggest guys throwing bombs. Half of what makes a guy like Brock Lesnar so popular is his sheer size.

kevint13 04-04-2012 05:22 PM

This was in interesting post. I guess I never really thought about how long a fight really lasted...or didn't last. When I saw the fight card for UFC 146 I got a little worried that these fights won't last long. I still don't think they will and would be surprised if any went past the 2nd round.

rearnakedchoke 04-04-2012 06:51 PM


Originally Posted by J.B. (Post 188258)
It really does just come down to a matter of opinion. Smaller guys move quicker and don't gas-out as quickly, which is more pleasing to the eye, but there will always be a mainstream interest in seeing the biggest guys throwing bombs. Half of what makes a guy like Brock Lesnar so popular is his sheer size.

you mean you don't think Rey Mysterio would make the same splash brock did?

J.B. 04-04-2012 07:04 PM


Originally Posted by rearnakedchoke (Post 188311)
you mean you don't think Rey Mysterio would make the same splash brock did?

Ohhhhh, I see what you set up here......

ONLY BY 619!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


VCURamFan 04-09-2012 01:21 PM

Why Positional Control Is Key to Understanding Gustafsson vs. Silva


Apr 8, 2012 - As the long drought in UFC events comes to a close next weekend, MMA fans will be treated to a thoroughly intriguing event in UFC on FUEL TV 2. This is notable for two reasons, not least of which is that this marks the UFC's debut event in Sweden. The most important consideration, though, is what the main event between Alexander Gustafsson and Thiago Silva will tell us about the future of the light heavyweight division.

Gustafsson enters this bout regarded by some as the next great UFC light heavyweight. The Swede has demonstrated a growing aptitude for the game and increasingly defeated better opposition, seemingly with growing ease. He doesn't appear ready for the Jon Jones end of the division just yet, but this upcoming fight will tell us what sort of trajectory he's really on.

Silva, a perpetual tough task in the light heavyweight division, returns after a year-long suspension tied to steroid use. He also took the time to recover from a nagging back injury.

No one should count Silva out, but it's incontestable that the eyes and expectations of the MMA world are on Gustafsson. Despite the attention, Gustafsson still has much to prove to make good on the promise that's been foisted on him. Against Silva, the data suggests he's going to have his work cut out for him, but there could be one shortcut.

If you're thinking striking is the answer for Gustafsson to defeat the ferocious Brazilian, think again. It's true Gustafsson's stand-up has looked increasingly better. And he recently finished off light heavyweight fixture Vladimir Matyushenko in less than a minute with complete ease, although striking's never been Matyushenko's strong suit. But if the numbers tell us anything, they do not tell us Gustafsson is a better striker than Silva. In virtually every measurable respect, Silva's got Gustafsson beat in the stand-up department:

- Silva blocks 65% of strikes thrown at him to Gustafsson's 48%. The numbers favor Silva in the other direction, too. Silva is accurate 52% of the time striking, while Gustafsson only finds the mark 40% of the time.

- Per minute, Gustafsson absorbs more strikes than Silva: 1.93 vs. 1.72.

- Silva is more effective at landing strikes despite having a 2.5 inch shorter reach than Gustafsson. Per minute, Silva lands 3.3 times to Gustafsson's 2.98.

This isn't to say Gustafsson can't win standing. If there is anything notable of his game, it's the exponential speed at which he seems to be improving. It's also true Silva might have a bit of ring rust from the layoff. Still, Silva's turned in far more effective striking performances thus far in his UFC career according to all available data.

That leaves the wrestling and ground game for Gustafsson to utilize, right? Maybe, but it's no guarantee.

A basic look at the numbers tell us the Swede has some slight advantages, but nothing he can majorly lean on. He's more aggressive with submissions (he averages 2.63 attempts over the course of a 15-minute fight compared to .89 for Silva) and is remarkably good at defending against takedowns: he's stopped 14 of 16 attempts and while a 88% defensive rate isn't MMA's best, it's on pace to be at or very near the top. UFC light heavyweight champion Jones has a perfect 100% takedown defense rate, but that's only against 12 attempts.

Despite being a jiu-jitsu black belt, is Silva really going to take Gustafsson down? Unlikely. He's not particularly proficient at it and as aforementioned, Gustafsson is good at defending them. And Gustafsson isn't much better at takedowns than Silva. Taking this all into account, Gustafsson doesn't have much room to work with. If he's only got a marginal advantage grappling and a clear disadvantage striking, where can he win this bout?

In turns out there is a commonality in Silva's two total UFC losses. Yes, he lost to Lyoto Machida striking and Rashad Evans was able to use wrestling to stifle the American Top Team talent. However, it is the in-between space - positional control standing or the ground - where Silva has shown a true Achilles Heel.

For the purposes of this argument and the data, positional control is defined as time spent on one's back or being pressed against the fence.

When Silva faced Machida, the former light heavyweight champion was able to control Silva's position for 2:27 of the 4:59 of fight time. In the Evans fight, it was 7:14 of 15 minutes. Between those two fights, Silva was held in a disadvantageous position for approximately 48.5% of the time.

In all of Silva's other UFC fights, he was positionally controlled for only 7.5% of the time. It should be noted that last figure is true of virtually every fighter, but what the data demonstrates is that it's significantly more difficult for Silva to win when he's placed and held in bad positions.

Why? Two reasons.

First, Silva isn't exactly a rhythm striker in the traditional Thai boxing sense, but he does feed off momentum. As he's given time to open up, he's largely able to be effective and to continuously build on that success en route to wins or stoppages. If he is constantly forced to reset, however, he is significantly less potent as a striker. He needs time and few interruptions to be all he can be. This was evident in the Evans bout. Even when he's not being controlled, Silva naturally worries about the takedown or bad positioning that could come his way if the opponent has been effective in establishing that early in the fight. It's a natural and understandable response to effective aggression and positional control, but a clear deficiency in his game nonetheless.

Second, time held is time lost. As I mentioned earlier, Silva isn't exactly submission hungry. He's got OK takedown defense, but if he's held he's largely content or unable to do much about the position problem. The time in which he's controlled adds up for his opposition.

Is Gustafsson up to the challenge now that the blueprint is clear? Not so fast. The Swede has well-rounded talents, but he's only controlled position for 23.2% of his UFC fight time against previous opposition. That's not bad exactly, but it's not the overwhelming percentage employed that seems necessary for success by Machida or Evans.

There isn't one way to defeat Silva or any fighter for that matter, but it will be interesting to see if Gustafsson tries to follow the road map of positional control. Unless his abilities have taken a demonstrable step up since we've last seen him, standing toe-to-toe with Silva seems like a very dubious strategy. He's got to keep Silva contained before anything else is really possible.

Gustafsson's got talent. No one can or would deny it. But he's under the weight of great expectations, too. Like any top and surging prospect, there's both reason for optimism and expectations that have to managed about potential upside. On Saturday, we'll know if he'll join two previous light heavyweight champions as the only men to defeat Silva or if we've been too quick to anoint him the next big thing.

All quantitative data provided by FightMetric.

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