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

Josh Hedges, Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Could the UFC 146 main card become the fastest in history? The chances are actually not bad.

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

Average Time

HW

7:59

LHW

9:02

MW

9:06

WW

9:54

LW

10:34

FW

11:12

BW

11:19

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.

This is the first edition of Crunching Numbers, a new weekly feature that explores the numbers of MMA and what they tell us about the sport and its fighters. All quantitative data provided by FightMetric.

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