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UFC Performance Institute data notebook: Takedowns not as important to wins as traditionally thought

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS — The UFC Performance Institute is leading in the areas of injury prevention, nutrition and strength and conditioning for UFC fighters. Those are not the only areas the state-of-the-art facility’s staff are looking at, though.

The UFC PI, which is now one year old, published an 80-page analysis last week and the first chapter is entitled “Winning in the UFC.” UFC Performance Institute vice president of performance Duncan French said at a recent media gathering on the promotion’s campus that the entire, lengthy study was founded on that question — how do fighters win fights in the UFC? Everything else, French said, was “reverse engineered” from that.

And the answers to that question might come as a surprise. At least some of them. UFC Hall of Famer Forrest Griffin, who is now the UFC vice president of athlete development, said the main thing that stunned him in the data is that takedown success is only the 19th-most important metric involved in winning fights in men’s divisions.

“I would have thought from my coaching that the ability to dictate where the fight is is the most important thing in a fight,” Griffin said. “But as far as judging criteria and winning a fight, strikes landed to the head is the most important thing. Significant strikes. Those are the most important things. It’s not that takedowns aren’t important. It’s just that of the 167 metrics — data points — that are collected from each fight, it falls down to 19th. Which surprises you, right?”

The UFC PI has data on how fighters win fights going back to 2002. Some of the numbers are fascinating. The top five “key performance indicators” in UFC fights are:

  1. Total strikes landed
  2. Significant strikes success percentage
  3. Total strikes attempted
  4. Time in ground control
  5. Significant strikes landed

Per the data, 72 percent of the top-five key performance indicators for all weight classes are related to striking techniques. The UFC PI broke that information down, division by division. Strikes landed is the top key performance indicator in all but two weight classes — featherweight and flyweight. In those two divisions, time in ground control is No. 1. Strikes landed is No. 2 in those weight classes, though.

When it comes to length of fights and how they end, those stats are not as shocking. Heavyweight fights last just 8:02 on average and that number goes up as the weight classes get smaller. Women’s strawweight fights are the longest — 12:35 on average.

While lengths of fights have gone up 32.2 percent since 2002, heavyweight bouts still end relatively quickly and most of the time by knockout — a 60.1-percent clip. On the other end of the spectrum, women’s strawweight fights go to decision 65.9 percent of the time. But women’s 115-pound fights also have the highest submission percentage of any division: 27.1 percent. For the most part, the lighter the weight, the more decisions there will be.

In an odd stat, 48.3 percent of women’s strawweight finishes come by rear-naked choke. Here are a few other interesting numbers:

  • 67.4 of heavyweight finishes come via punches
  • Women’s bantamweight has the highest percentage of finishes via elbows (15.8) of any division
  • Women’s bantamweight has the highest percentage of finishes via kicks (7.9) and knees (7.9) of any division
  • 11.6 percent of featherweight fights end in a guillotine choke, the most of any division

Another interesting metric: the number of average strikes attempted per minute (8.5) has doubled in the past 16 years in the UFC and the women’s divisions are leading the way. Women’s bantamweight (8.87) and women’s strawweight (8.9) have the highest strike frequent per minute in the promotion.

The injury bug

One of the things that drives fans and UFC executives crazy — and costs fighters millions of dollars — is the injury bug in mixed martial arts. The UFC Performance Institute is attempting to attack that with science and medicine. UFC director of physical therapy Heather Linden, who works at the PI, is a mainstay on the social media of fighters in Las Vegas in photos and videos.

French said at the media gathering that the UFC Performance Institute was able to save 18 fights in its first year that likely would have been nixed due to injury in the past. He said that of those 18 fighters who got treatment, a little more than half ended up winning their fight.

Linden and director of sports nutrition Clint Wattenberg now travel to every pay-per-view event, according to James Kimball, the UFC PI’s director of operations. He estimated that up to 70 percent of fighters on those cards utilize them on those fight weeks. The plan, Kimball said, is to have more staff on the ground at more cards moving forward.

The data compiled in the analysis gleaned some fairly obvious points, specifically that striking techniques cause the most injuries, but grappling and takedown techniques cause the most severe injuries. Per the data, head and face injuries make up 75 percent of fight injuries.

According to the study, UFC fighters show a predisposition to tight hip flexors and UFC fighters “present significantly compromised” shoulder flexion and abduction range of motion compared to non-combat sports athletes. So those are areas fighters need to be conscious of.

The common thread throughout the study is training and nutrition throughout the year. French calls it a 52-week training camp.

UFC PI quick numbers

300: Amount of UFC fighters who have been through the doors

67: Percentage retention rate for UFC fighters

18: The average of fighters in the facility daily, a number that fluctuates

167: The most fighters to ever enter the building in one day (International Fight Week 2017)

15: Amount of PI staff members

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The UFC Performance Institute held a summit for MMA coaches two weeks ago, presenting to them the findings from their first-year analysis. Among the coaches in attendance were Javier Mendez, Bob Cook, Firas Zahabi, Mike Brown, Jason Parillo and Ricardo Almeida, Kimball said.