The Myth of Fewer MMA Submission Victories

IntroductionThis post could also be titled, I Owe Royce Gracie an Apology. Recently I’d begun feeling as if less fights end in submission using traditional Brazilian jiu-jitsu moves like the triangle choke, rear naked choke, armbar, kneebar, etc. I think there are two reasons for this nagging fear:

  • Perhaps it’s due to an apprehension that as more new fans are exposed to the sport, fights are getting stood up more quickly after going to the ground to press the striking action, which is easier for an MMA novice to understand, and could increase popularity of a promotion’s fights. If such a bias were present in referees (consciously or not) this would give fighters less time to set up submissions and decrease the likelihood of a successful submission.
  • I also have a small voice in my head that wonders, “What if it’s possible that you don’t need to study BJJ attacks to do well in MMA anymore (and by extension, fighting as a whole), and you can just get by with really good submission defense?” A thought like this, which undermines the effectiveness of something you’ve studied for so long, is not a pleasant idea.

I’d pretty much convinced myself that my fears were becoming a reality. Without having looked at the data behind this idea, in a recent press conference call for this Saturday’s k-1 Dynamite!! show in Los Angeles, I asked Royce Gracie why less fights end in submission these days. Click this link to hear our exchange. As you can hear, Royce was a bit stumped by my question and responded that the reason there may be less submission wins these days is because everybody is now studying Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and that this has brought a parity that wasn’t there before.Materials and MethodsI realized that there are ways of testing my assumption on the matter and decided it was time to see if there really is such a trend. One of Sherdog’s greatest resources is its FightFinder, and I decided that we could use all the fights in UFC history and check to see if there were less submissions now than in the past. (I would have included other organizations, but the time involved would be too great.) Looking at Sherdog’s historical data of UFC, I went and determined how many fights ended in anything that resembled a Brazilian jiu-jitsu based submission. According to Sherdog, the UFC has put on 90 events since inception.UFC Submissions per Year DataScreenshot of data collectedOne note on methodology: if the entry listed non-traditional submissions, “Submission (Strikes)”, or “Submission (Headbutts)“, those fights were not included as we are looking to see if the number of submissions from a BJJ perspective has changed. For example, Mark Kerr’s “submission” victory over Dan Bobish with a chin to the eye was not included. (While Relson Gracie will teach you some similarly unpleasant tactics for streetfighting, I’m not counting a chin ground into the eyeball as traditional BJJ.)ResultsAs time has passed, the UFC has added a lot more events per year to their schedule, empowering our data’s ability to illustrate real trends. Between 1994 and 1998, the number of events per year varied between three and six. However, in 2005 we saw 10 events and in 2006 there were 18 events, so it’s less likely that the trends we see in the data are due to chance.UFC Submission Rate Over the YearsUFC submission Rate over the YearsAs you can see, no results from 2007 are shown above as 2007 isn’t over yet and would not conform to the rule we set for the rest of the years, which required that all data possible from a given year be examined. With the exception of the first few wacky years of data from 1993 to 1995, there’s a pretty narrow band of results.

Average Percent Submissions

Standard Deviation

1993 through 2006

0.32

0.13

1996 through 2006

0.27

0.06

Generally speaking, the data supports the idea that for between 1996 and 2006, the percentage of fights which end in submission wavers between 37% and 17%. So I can rest soundly knowing that there is no general decline in the amount of submissions at least in the UFC over the past ten years. It also bears mentioning that in the preliminary data for 2007, as of this writing the percent of fights ending in submission is consistent with previous years, coming in at 29%.DiscussionWhew! Submissions in MMA don’t appear to be going anywhere (if data from the UFC can be generalized to MMA as a whole, Sherdog data is valid, and I didn’t accidentally mis-enter any data.)Whew! That was a lot of work.So that’s good news. Royce, I am sorry to have put you on the spot and asked you a question that was not based in fact. The next time I see you I will make a point to apologize in person as well. I think we can now say that overall, submissions based on Brazilian jiu-jitsu are safe in MMA. If anyone’s interested in playing with the data I collected, email me using the email address shown towards the upper right of this page and I’ll pass it along.For all you submission fans like me out there, be sure you check out the next episode of “IFL Battleground” on Monday, June 4, at 8 p.m. ET/PT (7 p.m. CT/MT). It’s going to focus on the best wins by submission and “Looks Inside The Art Of Chokes And Holds”. Set your Tivos!Shane Ott and Chad Griggs

5 thoughts on “The Myth of Fewer MMA Submission Victories”

  1. This almost feels too trivial a point for me to make a comment, but meh: it was Mark Kerr who used his chin to submit Dan Bobish, not Mark Coleman.

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