Going into UFC 152—and more specifically, the flyweight title fight between Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson—there was plenty of discussion about the finishing ability of flyweights and the lower weight classes general.
The general feeling among MMA fans and select portions of the MMA media is that guys residing in those lower weight classes don't finish fights nearly as often as their counterparts in the heavier divisions. Part of that is probably due to the fact that heavyweight fights are a visceral experience; they're huge dudes, they're hitting each other in the face really hard and you can see immediate results.
But is there any truth to the idea that the guys under 170 pounds don't finish fights? My buddy Spencer Kyte did a bit of research and wrote an excellent blog post on his Keyboard Kimura blog deconstructing the myth:
When you remove heavyweights and flyweights from the calculations – the former because they “always” finish and the latter because they “never” finish – the difference between the finishing rates of the “heavier weight classes” (LHW to WW) and the “lighter weight classes” (LW to BW) is one percent:
LHW to WW: 49 finishes from 96 total fights = 51%
LW to BW: 55 finishes from 110 total fights = 50%
That means if there had been one less finish this year in the light heavyweight, middleweight, and welterweight divisions, the “heavier weight classes” would have an identical finishing percentage as the “lighter weight classes” who allegedly never finish fights.
Ready to re-think your stance on the lighter weight classes yet?
The UFC flyweight finishing rate is just 28.6 percent, which seems to validate those who believe the little guys don't finish fights. But as Spencer points out, you have to keep in mind that there have been just seven flyweight fights in the UFC thus far. If one more of those fights had ended in a finish, the percentage would have jumped up to 42.8 percent, a number more in line with the rest of the weight classes.
Here are the finishing percentages in each weight class, again from Spencer's blog post:
Heavyweight – 84.2 percent
Light Heavyweight – 47.1 percent
Middleweight – 52.8 percent
Welterweight – 51.2 percent
Lightweight – 45.5 percent
Featherweight – 50.0 percent
Bantamweight – 57.1 percent
Flyweight – 28.6 percent
Average Finishing Percentage: 52.7% (126 finishes from 239 fights)
On first glance, it's pretty easy to assume that flyweights can't finish a fight the way the bigger fighters do. They're smaller—much smaller, in fact—and so they don't hit with the same kind of power that heavyweights do. That's obvious. But you have to keep in mind that these flyweights are also fighting other flyweights, which means they're punching guys who are exactly the same size as they are, which means they're just as susceptible to being knocked out as any light heavyweight or heavyweight.
As Spencer pointed out, we just don't have enough of a sample size to determine if these guys finish fights at a lower rate than guys in higher weight classes. The UFC's flyweight division is still in its infancy, and fights in the weight class are few and far between at this point. We'll need to wait at least two more years before the data gets enough volume to actually become usable.
But what about the rest of the lower weight classes? For the purposes of this article, we'll consider 155 pounds and below as the definition of "lighter weight classes," since that's the way things are considered most of the time.
I'll defer to Spencer for one final statistic:
Through UFC 152, fighters competing at 155-pounds and lower have finished 48.7% of their fights, less than 10 percent fewer than their heavier counterparts. If you eliminate the upper and lower limits, the only real difference is in terms of perception.
I think the last portion of the final sentence says it all. It's all about perception. Fans see these little guys and automatically assume that they don't have the power to knock someone out. They assume they're going to see a pretty exciting fight, but they aren't expecting a highlight-reel knockout.
We've been conditioned, by the UFC and by society in general, to expect large levels of violence from big athletes. Fights at heavyweight are often billed as monstrous collisions between gigantic, hard-hitting punchers who can end a fight at any moment. And that's true, because they can. But the next time you see a bantamweight or flyweight fight billed the same way will be the first time.
But as the statistics show, there's just a 10 percent difference between the lower weight classes and the bigger guys. That's not a big difference. Not at all. It proves that the only difference in the way the smaller guys and the bigger guys finish fights is in the way we view them.
And it may take some time, but there will come a day when flyweights and bantamweights aren't considered to be guys who "can't finish fights."
They'll just be fighters, and they'll be afforded the same respect that hulking heavyweights and light heavyweights get.