The Champion’s Decision Advantage In UFC: Fact or Fiction?

Leading up to UFC 162 which takes place on July 6, 2013, we have decided to take a look at a longstanding belief in the UFC that champions are less likely to lose their belts in decisions (you have to decisively beat the champ to take the belt). After going over the 120 total title defenses in UFC history, we are ready to share our evidence of some titleholder decision affect.

Comparing Decisions To Other Finishes

In all, there have been 120 title defenses in UFC history. They break down as follows:

  • There have been 86 successful title defenses (71.7% success rate)
  • 57 have ended in KO/TKO and the champ has won 34 of those (59.6%)
  • 23 have ended in submission and the champ has won 20 of those (87.0%)
  • 39 have gone to decision and the champ has won 32 of those (82.0%)
  • Only 5 have gone to split decision with the champ retaining 4 out of 5 times (80%)

 
When performing our analysis we have to keep in mind that it is important for a champion to defend his title on a regular basis, regardless of the caliber of opponent available. Thus, not all decisions are created equal. The champ is likely the champ for a reason and many of the unanimous decision victories are well warranted. Anderson Silva’s fights with Demian Maia and Thales Leites come to mind.

It is interesting to note however, that in fights that have ended via TKO/KO, the champ has retained just 59.6% of the time. When compared to decisions, where the champ retains 82.0% of the time, it seems like we have a good basis for argument. After performing the hypothesis analysis that the decision probability is significantly different from the KO/TKO probability, we find that there is not a significant enough difference to rule out the fact that the two are the same. In other words, we do not have enough evidence to state “champions have an advantage in decision outcomes.”

The reason we don’t have enough evidence is the lack of total title defenses in UFC history. 120 title defenses is too few to draw significant conclusions from, but we do have some evidence that the champion has an advantage in decision outcomes.

Data Issues

Guys like Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo, who have long term title reigns with many defenses really mess up this data. As an example, Silva has 6 title defenses via TKO. If we were to drop him from the data, the TKO success rate for titleholders would drop 10% to 49% and our evidence that champs have an advantage in title defense decisions would grow even stronger. On the other hand, if we drop Georges St Pierre and his 7 decision title defenses from the data, the defense rate via unanimous decision drops from 82.7% to 56.8%. An extremely significant jump from just dropping one titleholder.

Conclusion

There is definitely some evidence in the data that titleholders have a slight advantage in title defenses that go the distance. In reality though, the 120 fights we have collected data from is not enough to draw significant conclusions from and a few dominant champions in UFC history make up for much more data than they would in a good data set.

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