By @fightnomics This weekend at the UFC’s debut in the Philippines, the biggest Welterweight matchup in history will take place. Literally. Neil Magny and Hyun Gyu Lim have two of the longest wingspans in the Welterweight division, and they are set to face off at UFC Fight Night 66 in Manila. The 160 inches of combined wingspan is the longest in UFC Welterweight history, by a long shot. And the prior records were usually fights involving one or the other. So if Magny and Lim are on the extreme of the division, then how big is the average Welterweight, and how does the rest of division stack up? Here’s how 46 UFC Welterweights who each have five or more combined Zuffa appearances stack up in height and reach. Ranked fighters have been noted. The measurements may not be perfect, and many will notice that reported anthropometrics change on the televised Tale of the Tape over time, but at least with five appearances the numbers will trend toward the actual measurement. These measurements are also taken by UFC staff, so there’s no self-reporting or need to inflate numbers. Errors, one would hope, will occur randomly in both directions and even out in the long run.
Readers of the “Fightnomics” book may remember the presentation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man.” In his famous depiction of the human form, he noted that “the length of the outspread arms is equal to the height of a man.” That basically translates to “wingspan equals height.” So whatever your measurements, the ratio of those two numbers should be about 1.0. That may be close to anatomically accurate for the population at large, but in many sports there are strong incentives to be tall, or have long arms, or both. In the fight game, however, long arms are probably more important than height. Reaching your opponent with long limbs is critical to striking and snatching a leg, and some of the most famous boxers in history had ridiculous long arms compared to their height. But shouldn’t height also confer an advantage? Maybe, but it also costs you a tradeoff in body mass, and MMA is a weight-controlled sport. Ultimately, you want to pack in the most range with the least mass in order to maximize what you can bring against your opponent on fight night. And exactly what is the average Welterweight walking into the Octagon with? The “average UFC Welterweight” is five feet 11.5 inches, with a 74-inch reach. For those at home on the couch, now you can size yourself up against this batch of men who all make weight at 170 pounds (though probably walk around closer to 200). It’s also interesting that in the graph above nearly all UFC Welterweights fall on the right side of the even wingspan-to-height ratio. The average for the group as a whole is 1.04, well above Da Vinci’s estimate, with the highest being Neil Magny at 1.08. Magny is now on a rare six-fight win streak in one of the UFC’s most competitive divisions, so it’s interesting that his ratio is even higher than Muhammed Ali’s (1.07). Shorter, long-armed men may perform better in wrestling or boxing than in basketball or football, where height carries an additional advantage. But while frame size isn’t the only physical characteristic that matters, it’s likely that certain body types are better than others in any direct-interaction sport. So it’s even more impressive that Johny Hendricks managed to hold the Welterweight title despite being one of the smallest athletes in his division. Meanwhile, current Champion Robbie Lawler sizes up almost exactly at “average,” while his upcoming challenger Rory MacDonald is on the upper end of the division in terms of size. There’s a pretty wide spread of frames in the Welterweight division, and the size of two fighters is one key ingredient in determining how a fight may play out, with some fighters relying on size stylistically more than others. As for the two biggest fish in the Welterweight pond facing off this weekend in Manila, size will finally be an even playing field for both. So let the better fighter win. For information on getting the “Fightnomics” the book, go here.