The Numbers Behind UFC Title Defenses

UFC Belt After a UFC record ten successful title defenses, Anderson Silva was shockingly knocked out by Chris Weidman at UFC 162 to finally relinquish his middleweight belt. Silva was the longest reigning champion in UFC history in terms of both title defenses and length of time holding the title, and with his defeat, it truly shows that at one point or another, every champion loses. What is of particular interest, especially after the result at UFC 162, is how often belts actually change hands. Tracing UFC title lineages all the way back to UFC 28, when the unified rules of MMA first came into existence, there have been 109 title defenses (this doesn’t account for all title fights across that period, just those where a belt was being defended). Across that sample of bouts, champions have retained their belts 77 times (70.64%) while the challengers have walked away with the strap 32 times (29.36%). Those numbers indicate that if each champion is true to that average, they should warrant a -240 price tag (bet $240 to win $100). Obviously not all champions are created equal, so that line really has no basis on what should or should not result in a bet, simply an interesting statistic. What is more interesting to note is the decreasing frequency of titles changing hands, although I feel like that may be about to change. One of the obvious factors that have kept titles from moving more frequently was the emergence of all-time great fighters like Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre. Since winning their respective belts in consecutive PPV events back in October and November of 2006, those two men have success fully defended their belts a combined 18 times, against only two defeats with their belt on the line. With Silva and St-Pierre closing in on the end of their careers each time they step in the cage, it is hard to imagine Chris Weidman and whoever bears the welterweight torch after St-Pierre also putting together the type of legendary careers of their predecessors. The belts that have essentially been stagnant for the past seven years will begin to move more often. To illustrate the movement of belts slowing with more than just conjecture, there are a couple of interesting data points that were unearthed when crunching these numbers. First, using everything prior to TUF (up to, but not including, UFC 52) titles changed hands in ten out of 27 defenses (37.04%). This is significantly higher than the overall average. Even looking all the way out to UFC 100, challengers for the title were successful 37.50% of the time (24 out of 60 bouts). On the flipside, if we look at all of the title defenses since the WEC merged with the UFC (starting with the first time one of the belts under 155lbs was defended, UFC 129) the rate that titles has changed hands has dropped to an anemic 14.29% (4 out of 28). There hasn’t been a single champion in a division below lightweight has dropped their belt thus far in the UFC, which has drastically reduced the numbers. Those numbers prompted a deeper look into the history of the featherweight and bantamweight divisions. From Zuffa taking control of the WEC back in 2007 to the time the organization closed its doors at the end of 2010, there were 21 title defenses at 145 and 135lbs. Challengers took the belt home in six of those fights, which equates to a 28.57% success, almost exactly the same as the historical UFC mark. This points to an unprecedented string of success by champions in defending their belts which is unlikely to continue. We’ve already seen the greatest champion in UFC history drop his belt, and given these numbers, it would not be shocking for more belts to change hands in the near future. Regression to the mean is certainly a real thing, and right now it seems like the rate at which champions successfully defend their belt is due for a correction.

Written by Brad Taschuk

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