Data designed to help you get an edge
A core element of our work here at UFC Secrets is to provide data that helps further everyone’s understanding of what works in high level Mixed Martial Arts. We have the entire event history of the UFC tracked and analysed so that we can bring you the facts that help to back up the theory – that’s 25 years of data, 5,000 fights, 11,000 rounds, 2,700 finishes and over 1,000 submissions!
Don’t just guess what works, know what works.
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The Big Picture
Let’s start with the basics, we’ll establish some core numbers so that we can provide some context to everything that follows. So first up we are going to look at the total numbers of events, fights, rounds fought and even total time fought in the UFC to date.
Next we take a look at how these overall numbers look throughout the years so that we can get a sense of how MMA has changed and progressed through the years.
As expected as the UFC has gained in popularity and hosted far greater events so the number of finishes have also risen. This is most notable around 2005, the year Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar went to war for the first time. From this point forward the amount of UFC events increases rapidly in what could be known as the modern era of MMA 2005-onwards.
You can also see how this finally plateaus in 2014 as the UFC finds the first MMA saturation point when it hits 500+ fights a year and things start to settle down. In 2015 a record 249 fight finishes were recorded – this has not been beaten since.
How Do Fights Get Finished?
If we start to dig down further then the next thing we can do is take a look at a breakdown of the outcomes of fights. Here we divide them up into Knock Outs, Technical Knock Outs, Submissions, Decisions (including draws) and Disqualifications & No Contests. It breaks down like this:
So around one third of fights get finished by a KO/TKO, around 20% via submission and around 44% of fights go to a decision. So approximately a 55% chance of seeing a fight getting stopped, that’s 1 in every 1.8 fights.
Going a step further we can drill down on the finishes themselves and ask ‘if a fight is finished then what are the chances of it being a KO, TKO or a Submission? The helps to bring a little more clarity to the likelihood of certain kinds of finishes and you can see that roughly 4 out of 10 finishes are via submission and 6 out of 10 are via KO/TKO. Hopefully you can already see how this data might be useful to guide your training, there’s a fairly even chance of you getting finished via some kind of knockout or some kind of submission so both elements need to trained well but it might be worth putting a touch more emphasis on your striking defence over your submission defence.
As Mixed Martial Arts is a fairly young sport it progresses considerably over fairly short periods so it’s always important to note whether the statistics in more recent years are significantly different to the overall number. This also helps us to identify trends and make sure that we are on or ahead of the curve when we are considering the numbers. Next up we look at the finishes breakdown over the history of the UFC to see how things have changed over time. Here we combine KO/TKO finishes for clarity as it doesn’t really matter to your training whether it’s more likely to be a KO or a TKO.
You’re twice as likely to get knocked out than you are to get submitted
You can see here that the early years are far more erratic in terms of statistics as there are far fewer events and the sport is generally more unstable. As we come into the modern era around 2006 things start to settle down considerably and from 2010 we start to get much more predictability and consistency. In more recent years we can see that the breakdown between finishes is quite stable with submissions accounting for about 18% of finishes, KOs/TKOs accounting for around 32% and almost exactly half of fights finishing in a decision. So if we use more recent years as a guide then we can see that you’re actually almost twice as likely to get knocked out as you are to get submitted. Now you can see that it would be wise to make sure that you’re not over prioritising submission defence and not under prioritising striking defence.
Historic Trends and the rise of the decision victory
This is a good point to introduce a slightly different graph, it represents the same data as before but represents it accumulatively over the years, so at any data point on the graph the stat shows the total for that year and all previous years combined. The reason for this is that it allows us to get the clearest view possible of the trend of any particular set of data, how it’s moving now compared to its entire history.
You can see that it’s much easier to identify the general trend of any particular data set with this model, and with this you can see that decision finishes have basically been stealing market share from all over finishes consistently since they were introduced (remember, decisions didn’t exist in the first UFCs!). In the last couple of years things have finally settled down and fights going to decision has not made any additional ground – settling at 44%.
Finishes Round by Round
A reminder that our focus at UFC Secrets is to try and bring you statistics and data that can actually educate the way you fight. Data that shows how finishes happen round by round is useful because it helps us to understand how the level of risk typically changes throughout a fight, if certain things are more or less likely to happen as a fight progresses then it can help us to adjust our tactics accordingly. So in this next graph we take a look at how finishes change during each round. It’s important to note that here the calculations are made against the amount of times that round actually happens, for example, there have only been 7 submissions in the 5th round in the history of the UFC which if we calculated it against all fights would equate to just 0.0014% of fight finishes, but what we’re actually interested in is how often a fight finishes via submission IF it actually goes to a fifth round. When we calculate it this way we can see that it actually equates to around 5%, meaning that of all the fights that have ever been to a fifth round about 1 in 20 ends in submission. Take a look at the breakdown:
You’re 50% Safer In Round 3 & Beyond
So there are a few important things that we should take away from this. We can see that the chances of you getting finished in the first round of a fight are highest, however it only drops by 5% in the second round. Once you get to the third round and beyond your chances of being finished are cut in half. Understanding this data can help you to adjust your tactics, be more careful as you are in the first round and then be less afraid to take chances as you get into the later rounds.
Looking closer at the data we can see that there is also a difference between the way submissions and KO/TKOs start to drop as the fight progresses. The chance of you being knocked out in the first round is about 18%, second round it drops to 14% and third round it drops to 9%. So there’s a fairly steady decline as the fight progresses. But with submissions it is different, in the first round it is around 10% but this only declines to 9% for round two and then it drops considerably to 5.5% by the time we get to round 3.
So now our revised tactics might be that we are prepared to take more chances with our striking the longer the fight goes but that we’re particularly cautious with our submission defence until the third round where we can start to take a few more chances to go for the finish on the ground.
NEW ROUND BY ROUND STRATEGY ANALYSIS
How often does a fight get finished via submission?
Next we focus on UFC submission statistics. First let’s take a look at the overall volume of submissions throughout the UFC:
Again you can see how the modern era of the UFC (2006 onward) has a huge upsurge in volume of fights and consequently volume of submissions with the record level coming in 2014 with 99 submissions recorded.
However, we need to look at the submissions as a percentage of fights to get a proper indication of how well they are actually performing:
Prior to 2005 the numbers are erratic as the sport itself is going through turbulent times and there weren’t enough events held to make the statistics highly meaningful. However from 2005 onward you can see the decline in the overall submission success rate, from it’s high point in 2007 with more than 30% of fights being finished via submission through to the last few years where it is more consistently around 18% (think 2 submissions finishes on average per fight card and you’re about right).
For submission fans we’re pleased to report that this steady decline has finally been halted in the past 18 months. 2018 had a total submission rate of 19.2%, that’s its highest level since 2012 and there were 91 submissions recorded, that’s the second highest in terms of volume in one year.
As we did when we were looking at finishes we’re going to bring in the additional graph which measures total marketshare over time. This allows us to get a clearer view on exactly what the overall submission trend looks like historically:
This graph again clearly indicates the steady decline in the overall success of submissions but it also shows how it would seem as if that decline is finally at an end and a more steady finishing rate is being established.
What TYPE of submission has been most successful?
We split the submissions in the UFC into two core categories of ‘Neck’ and ‘Limbs’ and then two further sub categories for limbs of ‘Arms’ and ‘Legs’ so it breaks down like this:
This allows you to get a high level overview of the placement of the submission attacks and the next graph shows us how this breaks down:
8 Out Of 10 Submissions Happen On The Neck
Once again the intention is to bring you data that will inform your training decisions, you can see how this can immediately have an impact on which types of submission defence you might prioritise during practise. The overwhelming percentage of submissions finishes are on the neck and only a relatively small percentage of finishes happen on the limbs. An incredible 8 out of 10 submissions are on the neck.
It can be tempting to think that as submissions have increased in complexity and are more diverse that the limbs have probably been attacked more recently, especially with the progression and success of the leglock game in grappling tournaments. So next we’ll look at how this has changed over time to see if this really is the case.
This graph shows us the percentage of submissions that can be attributed to the Neck/Limbs/Arms/Legs year on year:
Here the main lines represent the two core categories of Neck and Limb and the two minor lines represent the breakdown of the Limb category into Arms and Legs.
All Neck, No Legs (yet)
There are some interesting trends here. Firstly we see that in the late 90s through to early 2000’s the predominant area of attacks were actually on the limbs but by the time we got to the modern era (2005 onwards) the neck became the clear leader and has increased its domination ever since. Amazingly the neck attacks are more dominant than ever, hitting an all time high in 2018 with 91% – that’s 9 out of every 10 submissions happening on the neck. It’s also interesting to note that we see no evidence of the prolific leglock attacks that are dominating NoGi grappling tournaments having the same impact on the MMA world yet.
What Submission is the best?
So what submission tops the list? What’s the number 1 in the submission world? For this we need to examine the individual submission breakdown, we need statistics on each individual submission so that we can see how they compare. So here it is, the definitive list of the best submissions in the UFC throughout 25 years of competition (anything with less than 3 total submission finishes is excluded for now).
As the data shows there is one clear winner – The Rear Naked Choke. This submission is so dominant that it accounts for 8% of every finish ever achieved in the UFC. That’s an incredible success rate, since 2005 it’s only been beaten once, that was in 2009 when it was narrowly beaten by the Guillotine Choke, every other year in the modern era the Rear Naked Choke has been king – and usually by a long way.
The second and third best submissions might be quite a way behind the Rear Naked Choke but they’re still highly successful and stand out from the crowd statistically. The Guillotine Choke is 2nd and the Arm Bar is 3rd, both achieving a >3% finishing rate. The Arm Bar is a clear leader in terms of limb attacks, it has a success rate of more than 4 times its nearest competitor – the Kimura.
Let’s take a more visual look at how these submissions compare against one another. This pie chart shows how much each submission contributes to all the submissions ever achieved.
Once again it’s clear that the Rear Naked Choke is dominant, it’s responsible for more than a third of all submissions ever achieved in the UFC. Incredibly, the top 3 submissions account for around 70% of every submission. If you were going to prioritise any of your submission defences, these would be the ones to drill!
The Arm Triangle (Head & Arm Choke) and the Triangle Choke complete the top 5 submissions but they’re considerably behind the others. We’re often surprised by the rather low statistics that the Triangle Choke produces given that it’s always seen as such a prominent submission in both BJJ and MMA.
Regardless, once you get past the top 5 you realise just how few submissions can be contributed to all the other submissions. The top 5 contributes more than 80% and all the rest combined contribute less than 20%.
Let’s take a look at how the top 5 submissions have trended historically. Once again we’re looking at how each submissions overall marketshare has changed over time to give us the clearest possible trend lines.
The short story here is that there are three winners and two losers. Trending up and generally increasing their marketshare over time we have
- Rear Naked Choke
- Guillotine Choke
- Arm Triangle Choke
And generally declining in marketshare over time we have
- Arm Bar
- Triangle Choke