MMA Math: Is It Valid for Predicting Mixed Martial Arts Fights?

MMA fighter thinking
Shutterstock / Zoriana Zaitseva
For those new to the MMA sphere, “MMA math” is the thing that is not a thing. It is the dime-store version of that dreaded nightmare you encountered in high school, assuming you were educated in the United States, called the Pythagorean Theorem. It goes something like this — just kidding! Even if I understood it, there’s no way I would force you to relive those moments.

But MMA math at its base level looks a little like that formula from Pythagoras. Whatever the formula actually means, it holds that a2 + b2 = c2 in reference to the sides of a right triangle. In MMA math, it goes like this:

Fighter A beats Fighter B. Fighter B beats fighter C. Therefore, Fighter A can beat Fighter C. For the logicians, this is called the fallacy of the transitive property. But enough of the school stuff already!

There is practically no way, save for arduous stat-review — And who wants that? We already decided that we hate math class! — of quantifying whether this is even close to being true. For our subject, the validity of it being considered an accurate thing is not the question. It is how it’s used in discussion that is the question. Incidentally, depending on the source, it is somewhere around 60 percent that the math works out. But again, this is not the thesis here.

You will know you are in a discussion with a hardcore MMA fan if MMA math is mentioned. If you want to do a social experiment, you can try this. And though the reality or validity of MMA math is in question, the zeal of the hardcore MMA fan is not.

Mention MMA math, and you will be met with a torrent of wrath from said hardcore. And their refrain will be in unison: There is no such thing as MMA math!

The real stalwarts will echo what pugilists of old have often said in response to all fight predictions: “I guess that’s why we go ahead and fight.” For proof of the hardcore’s reflex to shoot down MMA math, do a search for the phrase itself. It is quite humorous how many times you will find statements like “MMA math was wrong.”

There are examples aplenty of both scenarios. Brought into the laboratory and entered into computers, there is no shortage of times when it panned out that a fighter who beat someone who beat someone went on to beat the common someone. But of course, and alas, the opposite is also true.

What is odd is when there is so much resistance any time MMA math is mentioned, yet the people who use it and give it the most credibility are the fighters themselves. And the use is not always in the abstract. It is not mere allusion to sets of skills, weight classes, common training partners or anything like that. They will literally use it in its base form.

In his post-fight presser after dispatching Darren Till, Derek Brunson used MMA math in its very non-abstract form. It is granted that he was making a broader point about Till improving, but he still said, “He dropped Robert Whittaker in their fight. It went five rounds, and nobody got finished there. I was able to impose my will and get the finish.”

He had already stated leading up this that he felt he deserved a title fight with this win. “They did not get a finish, I did” is equivalent to “I would get it against the common opponent.” Not said directly, but it is there theoretically (pun intended).

Recently, former champ Michael Bisping said it pretty directly when he noted that fighters root for fighters they beat because it makes their own win “look even better.” That is clearly because mathematically, their wins in some sense equate to yours being amplified.

MMA math is not limited to actual fighters; it can also be tabulated with styles such as with Daniel Rodriguez, who recently deduced that he can handle Belal Muhammad’s wrestling because he handled Kevin Lee’s. Yes, it is a little more abstract, but it is still in the vein.

Heck, while we’re at it, how about Daniel Cormier talking about going virtual MMA math once with his former rival Stipe Miocic and calling for a video game showdown, saying, “I can't beat you in reality — let me see if I can beat you virtually.” If Cormier can beat a virtual Stipe, is he thinking he is beating the real Stipe? That is Christopher Nolan-type stuff.

You need only listen to fighters make their own cases for getting opportunities like title shots. They will often list whom they have defeated and whom their potential foes have not. Whatever the reason —be it a genuine desire for meaningful discussion or a hipster who plays the contrarian, MMA math is not something in which there is much neutrality. Expecting it to go away simply doesn’t add up.

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