Study – Do MMA Judges Undervalue Submission Attempts?

The Unified Rules of MMA require judges to first and foremost determine the winner of any round looking at effective striking and effective grappling. Judges are instructed that these “shall be considered the first priority of round assessments” and if a round winner can be determined using these criteria then no other factors are looked to.

As previously explained, under the criteria striking is not more important than grappling and vice versa. Instead judges are asked to look at these offensive categories for “immediate or cumulative impact with the potential to contribute towards the end of the match with the IMMEDIATE weighing in more heavily than the cumulative impact“. It does not matter whether a technique is striking or grappling based, rather it matters whether the technique causes immediate or cumulative impact (think damage when you see the word impact). In other words the ‘effect‘ of the techniques are a key focus.

Appreciating the above, a recent study was published in the Journal of Applied Sports Management noting that while “judges appear to be following fight evaluation criteria” and that most offensive measures increase the chances of winning a round that “the relative difference in submission attempts variable is not statistically significant in increasing the log odds of winning a round“.

In the study, titled The Way of the Fight: An Analysis of MMA Judging, the author reviewed FightMetric data from November 17, 2000, to December 19, 2015 (Note the Unified Rules judging criteria overwent a major overhaul in 2016 and data from this period onward is not included in the study casting some limits on its value). Using this data the author looked at various measures of striking and grappling to see if they help predict the winner of any given round.

The author broke offensive output into several categories including knockdowns, strikes landed, significant strikes landed, takedowns, and submission attempts. The author noted that all of these categories could be linked to better predicting the winner of a round with the exception of submission attempts with the author concluding as follows:

Winning fighters all have higher numbers than the losing fighters, except for the submission attempt variable. Judges appear to be valuing the number of strikes landed and attempted, takedowns landed, and control of the octagon; however, per the data, submission attempts are not valued. Additionally, in terms of split decisions, Table 4 shows the averages across all split decision contests segmented between winning and losing fighters. The numbers are closer together for split decisions. Even so, winning fighters edge out losing fighters in all categories except for submissions attempted

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