Identifying the performance characteristics of a winning outcome in elite mixed martial arts competition

Document Type

Journal Article



Place of Publication



Centre for Exercise and Sport Science


Originally published as: James, L. P., Robertson, S., Haff, G. G., Beckman, E. M., & Kelly, V. G. (2017). Identifying the performance characteristics of a winning outcome in elite mixed martial arts competition. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 20(3), 296-301. Available here.


Objectives To determine those performance indicators that have the greatest influence on classifying outcome at the elite level of mixed martial arts (MMA). A secondary objective was to establish the efficacy of decision tree analysis in explaining the characteristics of victory when compared to alternate statistical methods. Design Cross-sectional observational. Methods Eleven raw performance indicators from male Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts (n = 234) from July 2014 to December 2014 were screened for analysis. Each raw performance indicator was also converted to a rate-dependent measure to be scaled to fight duration. Further, three additional performance indicators were calculated from the dataset and included in the analysis. Cohen's d effect sizes were employed to determine the magnitude of the differences between Wins and Losses, while decision tree (chi-square automatic interaction detector (CHAID)) and discriminant function analyses (DFA) were used to classify outcome (Win and Loss). Results Effect size comparisons revealed differences between Wins and Losses across a number of performance indicators. Decision tree (raw: 71.8%; rate-scaled: 76.3%) and DFA (raw: 71.4%; rate-scaled 71.2%) achieved similar classification accuracies. Grappling and accuracy performance indicators were the most influential in explaining outcome. The decision tree models also revealed multiple combinations of performance indicators leading to victory. Conclusions The decision tree analyses suggest that grappling activity and technique accuracy are of particular importance in achieving victory in elite-level MMA competition. The DFA results supported the importance of these performance indicators. Decision tree induction represents an intuitive and slightly more accurate approach to explaining bout outcome in this sport when compared to DFA.