In sports, home-field advantage is seen as exactly that; it is an added advantage over the opposition. It’s a key factor that could potentially tip the scales in one athlete’s favor and unlevel the playing field.
Mixed martial arts is no different. Home “cage” or “ring” advantage also comes into play. However, the degree to which it is relevant is certainly up for debate.
There are those rare occasions when fighters get the chance to fight at or near their place of birth, current residence, or in close proximity to the gym they are affiliated with.
This unique circumstance makes for good fodder for fans, various media pundits, and helps promote and market the events to the masses.
Many organizations like the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) go out of their way to make sure a high profile fighter is able to fight near familiar territory.
In theory, the hometown support for a fighter could very well be the added motivation or emotional push needed to gain a victory.
On the other hand, it has also presented unwanted distractions for the fighters as the sport has gotten bigger and more mainstream oriented.
There are appearances and interviews from local media on top of the traditional media that needs to be managed. There is also the added burden from friends, family, and training partners for tickets and accommodations.
After a while, it is logical to assume that cumulatively it becomes an emotional and psychological burden, which if sustained over a period of time, could lead to a negative physical toll.
In other words, there is a loss of time, energy, and focus. These are three characteristics no fighter should ever be in short supply of before getting into a cage or ring with another world class fighter.
In recent months, there has been a trend of elite fighters in high profile matchups getting beat on their home turf.
While the effects of home field advantage are difficult to measure because of the psychological nature involved, the recent rash tends to point to it being more of a curse, a home field disadvantage if you will, as opposed to an added bonus.
Earlier this month, Robbie Lawler lost a disappointing main-event matchup in St. Louis, MO, by first round submission at the hands of Jake Shields in their well-publicized Strikeforce catch-weight bout.
Lawler lives and co-owns The H.I.T. Squad gym in Granite City, IL, which is less than 10 miles from the Scottrade Center where the event was held.
Prior to the event, Lawler weighed in on the topic of geography.
“I don’t think home field really means anything in sports in general," Lawler said. "I just think if you’re the better athlete or you have the better team, you’re going to win and it doesn’t matter where.”
He might have a point; Shields could have been the better athlete coming into the fight and simply imposed his will on Lawler.
Current WEC featherweight champion Mike Brown added his two cents just prior to his WEC 41 fight against “The California Kid” Urijah Faber in Sacramento, which is where Faber lives and where his training camp is based.
“To me it doesn’t matter where I fight. It’s all the same once you shut the cage," Brown said. "The only time it matters is if you have a real close decision. The judges might be swayed by the crowd cheering or booing. As long as it’s not tight like that then it doesn’t matter. A five round fight is plenty of time to pull away.”
It was enough time indeed as Brown pulled off a five-round unanimous decision victory in impressive fashion to retain his belt.
So ask yourself, is this a sign of things to come as the sport of MMA continues to evolve or a coincidental pattern of unfortunate luck and circumstance in recent months?
Is there any connection or merit between success (or lack thereof) in MMA with regards to home field advantage?
The much anticipated UFC 100 event scheduled for July 11 will be another case in point.
The event is being held in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is where headliner and current UFC interim heavyweight champion Frank Mir was born and raised. It is also where he trains.
Will the home field advantage be a bad omen for Mir as he takes on current UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar?
Let’s use a wait-and-see approach.