International Fight Week and the UFC Fan Expo marks halftime for the 2014 calendar year of UFC events, and if you feel like things are going by fast, that’s because a lot has happened. Just six months into the year and the UFC has put on a sometimes sleep-depriving 22 events, totaling 243 fights. That’s a lot. Keep in mind that in 2013 there were only 386 fights altogether, so we’ll be passing last year’s total sometime this September – likely at the Hunt vs Nelson card in Japan. That also means we’re on pace to top 500 total UFC fights in 2014 based on the number of cards remaining this year. Think about that: 500 UFC fights in one year. That’s about equal to every UFC fight that took place from 1993 all the way through 2005, and double the annual total as recently as 2010. Beginning in Singapore with the Saffiedine vs. Lim card in January, and ending in San Antonio with Swanson vs. Stephens in June, the UFC hopped across five continents during the time in between leaving just Africa and Antarctica untouched by UFC blood, sweat and bonuses. Year to date there’s been seven title fights, yet strangely three divisions that have yet to see a champion take the Octagon. That will change at UFC 175 when Middleweight champ Chris Weidman enters the post-Anderson Silva era, but we’ll have to wait until Fall to see the Heavyweight title put back into play, and let’s just hope for an announcement soon on the Lightweight strap. Among the 243 fights were a broad mix of weight classes, decisions, and highlight reel finishes. So to help put the macro-trends into perspective, here’s how every UFC fight so far in 2014 went down in a single chart.
A few things should leap off the graph here. First, knockout rates this year have been surprisingly consistent, with weight classes spanning from 135 pounds up to 185 pounds all seeing the same share of fights end by T/KO or Stoppage. Submissions have been a little more volatile, with some smaller weight classes overachieving, as well as some larger ones. The only division not to see single submission so far this year was the Women’s Bantamweights, which is ironic given the reputation of their ruling champion. Instead, Ronda Rousey was responsible for the only TKO victory in that division, tying them with the Flyweights for the only divisions to see so few knockouts. Meanwhile, we should all get excited for the next Bantamweight title fight as they already put up two knockout finishes this year. The overall finish rate (fights ending by T/KOs or Submissions) year to date is 43%, which is lower than in years past. Readers of the Fightnomics book already know why finish rates have declined over the years, but we also saw a period of stability hovering around the 51% rate for four years straight. We may have finally broken through the glass (jaw) floor with this lower finish rate. The rate of decisions where the judges disagreed on the outcome (Split/Majority decisions) was 24% of all fights going the distance, just a tad higher than the running average over the last few years. We’ve certainly seen some doozies lately, with the Pearson-Sanchez decision probably taking the cake for the most egregiously disputed result. But all in all the level of judging disagreement this year has been consistent with years past, although in my opinion it is still too high. The center of mass for the UFC is now clearly in the Lightweight division, as more than half of all UFC fights took place at 155 pounds or lighter, which are all divisions that didn’t even exist as recently as 2005. The Mekko chart here is adjust horizontally for the share of fights in each division, and the width of the bars reveals that the Lightweights also had the largest single share of fights in the Octagon this year. As the center of mass continues to get lighter with the addition of the new women’s division, fights in the largest divisions will become an increasingly rare attraction. As with all time period analysis, the shorter the timeframe, the more volatile the sample can be. So these trends may change during the back end of the year, or may be small one-year blips on an otherwise stable trend. We shall see. But in the meantime, there’s no rest for weary MMA fans, as we’ve got nearly three hundred more fights to watch before the year is done.