The recent heavyweight title fight between a 37 year old Fabricio Werdum and a 40 year old Mark Hunt got us thinking…when are UFC fighters usually in their prime? In addition, if our memories serve us correctly, it seems like successful fighters in the lighter weight classes tend to be younger than successful fighters in the heavier weight classes. We started out by looking at the 128 male fighers ranked in the UFC’s top 15 rankings. We know, we know, these rankings aren’t always the greatest and sure fighter X should be ranked ahead of fighter Y, but who cares we are considering the dataset as a whole so if a fighter or two is subbed out, it won’t make a huge difference.
At what age is a UFC fighter at their best?
The above graph indicates the number of male fighters who are ranked in the top 15 in their divison at a given age. As you can see, the prime age for a fighter appears to be 30 with 20 of the 128 fighter’s considered being this age. The ages 28-32 account for a big proportion of the data, but interestingly there is a second spike in the data from 35-37. We can only speculate about why this is the case, but TRT and experience would likely be two big factors.
From a statistical perspective, this graph appears to be a normal distribution which is a common distribution seen in many cases. Basically it means you have a small number of results at both ends of the graph and the majority in the middle. It makes a lot of sense physiologically that there would be a peak age at some point on the graph given a number of contributing factors to an MMA career (training, experience, body wear and tear, etc).
Is there a different peak age for different weight classes?
As we stated at the start of this point, one of the motivating factors for indulging in this research was to see if fighters tend to peak at different ages in different weight divisions. The graph above shows the average age of the top 15 fighters in each weight division. The result is even more pronounced than we had expected. Fighter’s that fight at 170 lbs or lighter seem to peak on average between 29 and 30 years old. Fighter’s who fight above 170 lbs seem to peak between the ages of 33-35.
This result is not really what we had expected. One of our theories going in was that in lighter divisions, speed tends to play more of a role while in heavier divisions, size, strength and power tend to play a bigger role. While your speed may decrease dramatically once you’re on the wrong side of 30, your size and strength may be maintained more easily. In reality though, this post was more to get people thinking/theorizing for themselves about what factors go into a UFC fighter’s prime. Feel free to let us know in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.