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CagePotato Databomb #17: Do MMA Finishing Rates Differ by Nationality?


(Click on the chart for the full-size version. For previous Databombs, click here.)

By Reed Kuhn, @Fightnomics

I get this question a lot: Which nation’s fighters finish the most fights? There’s a lot of bias loaded in the question, beginning with the assumption that there should be any difference at all. But what do the stats say? Which country finishes more fights than their peers? You sure you want to know?

Here are the finishing rates (winning performances only) for the top three nationalities that comprise 80% of all fights in the UFC. “All Other” nationalities are lumped together for a fourth category for reference. For this analysis I used all UFC fights that took place from 2008 through mid-2013. The most important data manipulation is that we have isolated each weight class, because as I’ve already shown: size matters when it comes to finish rates.

A good betting man should have guessed that there probably isn’t much difference between nationalities in MMA, and certainly not reliable ones. Most fighters have joined mainstream training camps and although matchmakers may book fighters to compete in certain events based on their home countries, that’s only after they’ve already made the cut for a UFC contract to begin with.

At a glance, the numbers show that Brazilians finish more overall (59%) than any other group. “All Other” fighters are next by finishing 58% of their aggregate wins. Americans (53%) come in just below the UFC average (54.5%), while Canadians bring up the rear (47%).

Brazilian fans rejoice, your fighters are most likely to end a fight in the Octagon “inside the distance.” American fighters, who are the most common competitors in the UFC, ride a consistent finish rate through the weight classes that parallels the overall UFC benchmarks for those divisions. Canadians, however, have a volatile finish rate that is high for small and large fighters, but low for fighters in the middle weight classes. This should push their overall average finish rate downward, since lightweight and welterweight divisions are the two largest (in terms of roster size) and most frequently competed.

Surely, haters of Georges St-Pierre will conclude that he’s responsible for dragging down the average of his countrymen, and indeed he only finished two of nine fights during the period of analysis. Removing his fights from the sample however, might boost the Canadian finish rate for the welterweight division, but the overall finish rate would only climb to 49%, a bump of just one percent that still leaves Canada at the bottom of the heap.

There’s more to this riddle. First, Canada has the smallest sample size of the bunch, and therefore their data is inherently more volatile. The high finish rate for the Bantamweight division is from four fights, while the perfect scores at Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight are from just one fight each. So while their average is low in the center of the weight classes, it’s also possible that there will be a regression to the mean in years to come. Secondly, and more importantly, Canada has the fewest fights of any group above lightweight, where finish rates are higher.

Brazilians on the other hand, have the most fighters competing in the larger divisions, which is likely inflating their overall finish rate average. “All Other” fighters also have a larger percentage of fighters that compete above Lightweight, so naturally their finish rate is slightly higher than average. And the largest sample size of all, the Americans, sit right in the middle in terms of their share of larger fighters and also very closely align with the UFC average.

So can we conclude that there is a national pecking order to UFC ferocity and finish rates? No, not really. What this analysis shows is that in a macro-scale, there aren’t many differences between fighters born in different countries once they start competing at the highest levels. Most importantly, the mix of roster spots among the weight divisions is a stronger driver of overall finish rates.

More specific than overall finish rates would be performance metrics in striking, wrestling, and submission disciplines. In these areas we might see more pronounced differences by nationalities — and that analysis is coming soon. Anybody want to make an early prediction? Which country’s fighters produce the most accurate or powerful strikes? Who has the best wrestling skills, and who has the best submission game? The answers might surprise you…

For more MMA science and stats, follow @Fightnomics on Twitter or on Facebook, and check out the soon-to-be-released book on MMA analytics at www.fightnomics.com/book.

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