Investigating luckiness and unluckiness of judging decisions

Dec. 20, 2021

Inspired by a rewatch of Chan Sung Jung vs Yair Rodriguez, I wanted to utilize the Judging Model 1.0 to measure which fighters won the most rounds in fights they lost and which ones lost the most rounds in fights they won.

At a high level, we can think of this as a competition between the luckiest and unluckiest fighters in MMA. A fighter that wins the most rounds in losing efforts could be said to be unlucky and likely to positively regress to the mean with minor alterations to their fighting style (the number two fighter on this list will make sense with this in mind).

Fighters with the most lost rounds in winning efforts would be expected to regress negatively and start losing more fights because they were essentially getting luckier to either finish their opponent while losing the overall fight or squeaked out a 3-2 or 2-1 decision victory.

Some things to keep in mind:

Because of the setup, there will be a positive bias towards fighters who have fought more rounds because they will have more opportunities to lose/win rounds in competition. A fighter with 20 rounds under their belt that lost 25% of them (5 lost rounds) will look the same at the macro level as a fighter with 10 rounds that loses 50% (also 5 lost rounds). To make up for this, I have divided the number of lost rounds by total rounds fought and sorted fighters by their lost rounds ratio (the 25% / 50% in the above example).

Another issue are outliers. A fighter who has fought one round and lost it has a 100% lost round ratio, but that largely means nothing to us so I am limiting results to only fighters with at least 20 rounds fought.

Now for the fun part, the results. The fighters with the highest ratio of rounds lost in fights they won are:

  1. 1 13 rounds lost out of 22 (59.1%)

    Sam Stout

  2. 2 18 rounds lost out of 37 (51.3%)

    Robbie Lawler

  3. 3 13 rounds lost out of 27 (48.1%)

    Ross Pearson

  4. 4 10 rounds lost out of 21 (47.7%)

    Paul Felder

  5. 5 15 rounds lost out 35 (42.9%)

    Derrick Lewis

Inversely, the fighters with the highest ratio of rounds won in fights they lost:

  1. 1 10 rounds won out of 21 (47.6%)

    Kelvin Gastelum

  2. 2 13 rounds won out of 30 (43.3%)

    Jorge Masvidal

  3. 3 13 rounds won out of 31 (41.9%)

    Michael Johnson

  4. 4 9 rounds won out of 22 (40.9%)

    Tim Elliot

  5. 5 9 rounds won out of 22 (40.9%)

    Gleison Tibau

A lot of results to digest but I would say really interesting questions can be asked from this. One could think of the second set of results from a gambling perspective and discount a fighter’s record in favor of their overall round to round effort. Prior to his global superstardom, we could have looked at Jorge’s career numbers and projected that he is actually an underrated fighter that is close to breaking through into the top tier of his weight class.

Statistically, this could function analogously to BABIP in baseball, which stands for Batting Average on Balls In Play. A league wide average is computed for a season and gets used as a benchmark for all players. Let's say theoretically it is .300 or in other words 30% of balls in play led to a hit. If an individual batter has a BABIP of .400, we would expect them to regress and get hits at a lower frequency than they currently are since their value is much higher than our league wide benchmark of .300. On the opposite end, a batter with a lower BABIP of .230 would be expected to regress positively and generate hits at a higher rate going forward.

Again, prior to his breakout, Jorge fits into the latter category which is a highly skilled fighter that needs to make minor tweaks to be one of the best fighters in his weight class. Jorge did exactly that by upping his cardio allowing him to throw with more power earlier in fights without fear of emptying his proverbial gas tank. After making this change, Jorge has reeled off a 3-1 record and is one of, if not the top contender, in the Welterweight division (sorry Gilbert Burns).

While writing this I have stumbled upon a couple of really interesting findings especially the above 3 paragraphs which I didn’t expect to see and hadn’t planned for. I think that I am going to end this particular article here and do a deep dive into Jorge’s career, specifically referencing the above analysis to further develop this point. The follow up article is written and will be released next Wednesday!

Fighters Mentioned: