(If MMA were like this, Fightmetric would be perfect.)
Fightmetric wants to change the way you think, watch, and talk about MMA.
Their plan is very simple: they’ve created a litany of categories by which to keep stats in every fight, scoring the action based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative judgments, which they use to come up with a fighter’s TPR (Total Performance Rating), thus measuring his effectiveness and the quality of his performance.
Oh, wait. That isn’t simple at all. It’s really, really complicated.
Here’s the thing about Fightmetric: it’s not a bad idea, just an unnecessary one. I give them credit for being ambitious and creative and somehow managing to push their analysis onto Yahoo! and AOL. And I like that they’re trying to do something new. Seriously, I do. But at the same time, I just don’t see the point.
In a recent article on Yahoo! Sports, Fightmetric’s Rami Genauer performed an impressively thorough analysis of George St. Pierre’s career stats. Turns out, GSP has a median TPR of 90. Can you believe it? 90!
In case you’re wondering, that’s apparently pretty good. At the same time, it’s hard to foresee a time when internet forums will be abuzz with people arguing about the TPR’s of their favorite fighters.
Some of the stats seem legitimately interesting. For example, did you know that GSP is successful in 80% of his takedown attempts? That’s much better than the “average success rate” of 48%. His opponents are successful in taking him down only 17% of the time.
But what does that really tell us, that GSP has good takedown defense? Seems like I knew that just based on casual observation. Sports stats are useful primarily for purposes of nuanced comparison. In baseball, a guy with a .330 average is considered more valuable than someone hitting .280.
But comparing stats in fighting is more difficult because of the variable created by matchmaking. GSP, for example, has spent the majority of his career facing pretty tough competition. A TUF winner who gets fed tomato cans for a year and a half might have even better takedown stats, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a better fighter.
When you think about it in those terms, “average success rate” starts to seem like a hazy phrase. Say what you will about A-Rod, his batting average comes against largely the same pitchers as Robinson Cano is facing, so the comparison holds up.
Another thing that seems troublesome about the Fightmetric system is the use of qualitative data. For example, one factor in the score is damage, which is rated as “light, moderate, or heavy”. That’s fine in Tekken, where we all know just how much life you lose if Marshall Law lands a five-punch combo on you, but it’s slightly tougher in real life.
Some guys cut easier than others. Some guys freak out as soon as things aren’t going their way. Some can walk through fire without a scratch on them and some start bleeding during the introductions.
It’s the same problem with rating how “powerful” a strike is. Fightmetric claims to measure the “distance created” between the two fighters in order to determine how powerful a punch or kick is. In order for that to work, you first need to believe that the more powerful a punch is, the farther it will move a person, and I can’t get on board with that.
Sometimes the most damaging punches are the ones that catch you moving into them. Sometimes a guy moves with a punch to lessen the blow, thus creating more distance but minimizing the effect.
You see where I’m going with this? You can’t always look at a punch and tell how much it hurt. Even if you could, people aren’t robots. What hurts one won’t hurt another. Think about the essential differences between Mark Hunt and James Thompson, for instance.
But even if it did work, the question remains, why? Stats are useful in baseball because the games are so slow and there are so many of them. You need something to talk about, and stats are more fun than discussing our feelings in the bleachers of Yankee Stadium.
Fighting, however, is fast-paced, over relatively quickly, and includes a number of variables (heart, conditioning, intimidating Russian-ness) that can’t be accurately measured or compared.
Percentage of punches landed, takedowns executed or avoided, that’s interesting. But it’s interesting in the way that the sex lives of strangers is interesting, which is to say I’ll look if I’m passing by on the street and the blinds are open, but I won’t go to any trouble to seek it out (I realize now that this analogy was a bad idea, and so I’m moving on).
I guess what I’m saying, Fightmetric, is good effort. I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I just can’t see it proving very useful. Then again, I’m the guy who thought Laser Discs would really catch on, so what the hell do I know.
You keep calculating those TPR’s, Fightmetric. Live the dream. I’ll just be over here, watching fights for entertainment value and not caring whether GSP is mathematically superior to Anderson Silva.