Judges’ decisions are an integral part of combat sports, from boxing and wrestling to mixed martial arts (MMA).
However, a new study suggests the rate at which competitors fight is more likely to result in judges awarding victory than the skill with which they attack their opponents.
The research was conducted by experts in animal behaviour from the University of Plymouth’s School of Biological and Marine Sciences.
They analysed almost 550 men’s and women’s mixed martial arts contests, taking place between February 2019 and March 2020, using data collated for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
That data included the percentage of significant strikes landed that land firmly on the target (a measure of skill), the number of strikes attempted per second (a measure of vigour), the outcome of the fight and whether it was determined by knockout or judges’ decision.
The results showed that in all fights, winners fought more vigorously than losers but this performance trait was more important for fights resolved via judges’ decisions compared with those ending as a result of a knockout or technical knockout.
Fighting skilfully (landing more significant strikes) also increased their chance of winning – with skilful fighting even enhancing the effect of vigour on success – but despite this, the rate of attack was consistently the dominant factor determining success in fights evaluated by judges.