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Predicting Boxing and MMA winners

Updated on June 12, 2015

Boxing and MMA, like all combat sports, can be ended in a split second, and particularly in the case of the latter, by several different means.

Because of the nature of these sports the outcome of any particular match can therefore be more greatly affected by individual mistakes and out of the ring circumstances then team sports, meaning that predicting winners can often be more difficult to do accurately that it might first appear.

Often though even if the two competitors appear to be evenly matched on paper there are several techniques that can be used to more accurately predict a winner.

Promotional Motives

Promoters will tend to try to make every fight they put on sound like a closely contested and exciting encounter, even though the vast majority of them aren't.

Particularly in boxing, it's in a promoter's best interest to keep their fighters winning, which is why they will very rarely make competitive matches at the highest levels.This being the case it is often easy to tell who a promoter favors in any given match up and in these cases, the fighter who can make the promoter the most money is usually always the winner.

Cross promotional matches in boxing, although a rarity, can tend to be harder to predict and often produce more even matches.

Major MMA promotions such as the UFC by contrast tend to award title shots and make matches on the basis of merit rather than promotional bias, although minor league promotions don't always operate so judiciously.

Styles make Fights

As the old saying goes, styles make fights, and as such certain fighters will have inherent advantages over others purely because of their style or primary discipline.

Some upper level orthodox boxers struggle against even mediocre southpaws, Floyd Mayweather being a prime example. Mixed martial arts fighters often struggle with a particular facet of the sport, for example fighters from countries without either a big collegiate or Olympic wrestling scene can tend to struggle against fighters with strong wrestling bases. Similarly grappling based fighters will often look like a fish out of water striking until they get quite a few fights under their belts, and if they can't get the fight to the ground will often lose to even rudimentary strikers.

Because of this, each fighter going into a fight should be assessed based on their style and how it will work against their opponent. One such generalization that holds a kernel of truth for example is that in boxing a brawler will beat a boxer, but lose to a puncher. A puncher will beat a brawler, but lose to a boxer.

Looking at what each fighter does well and what he or she struggles with can provide an insight into how they will deal with an opponent and thus who will win in any given bout.

While the popular idea that the very best fighters are those who are most well rounded this on closer inspection is actually a myth. The very best are those who remain well rounded but have one discipline in which they are unsurpassed by their competition. Looking at the current UFC champions clearly shows this pattern.

Middleweight champion Chris Weidman has the best wrestling in the division. Similarly to Cain Velasquez at heavyweight or Ronda Rousey in the women's division. Jose Also is the Featherweight champion and also the best striker, while at Flyweight Demetrious Johnson's relentless pace outstrips his challengers.

Relative level of Competition

Although two fighters may have similar records, the abilities of their opponents should always be compared before making a judgement on which would likely win a bout between the two.

An undefeated fighter who has only fought in regional circuits for example might be unlikely to win against a more seasoned fighter who has competed consistently at world level.

In boxing especially, undefeated records sell, and as such promoters will often try to give prospects easy fights on their way up.

In mixed martial arts this can often be more confusing because even a fighter with a relatively poor win/loss ratio can often be a lot better than they might appear. Former heavyweight and light heavyweight champion Randy Couture for example finished his career with a record of 19-11, although would obviously be the favorite to defeat most undefeated prospects from regional promotions.

Similarly someone with an undefeated or close to it record with well known opponents on his resume may have fought them when they were well past their best. A mismatch often used by promoters simply to sell tickets and pay per views. A good example of this being the trilogy of fights between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock in the UFC. The former being one of the best 205lb fighters in the world at the time. The former being a formerly elite fighter by that time well into his forties.

Jason 'Mayhem' Miller cutting weight

Making Weight

Before predicting a winner in any combat sport, an important step is to assess each fighter as they make weight.

Both boxers and MMA fighters usually cut weight in order to fight at a lower weight class. This is a process whereby they try to remove as much water from their bodies as they can before the fight in order to make a lower weight limit than their natural weight. This then gives them a size advantage against some opponents and allows them to gain weight back in the short window between the weigh in and the fight itself. This allows a fighter who for example might weigh 140lbs at the weigh in to actually enter the cage or ring around 160lbs.

Cutting weight however isn't without it's risks, and is a difficult process to get right every time. Fighters without backgrounds in the practice can often tend to struggle, particularly those who don't stay close to their fighting weight in between fights.

A fighter who cuts too much weight or doesn't do it in the correct manner is often weight drained, meaning that during the bout they will quickly become tired and sluggish and won't perform as well as usual.

Being able to tell if a fighter will be weight drained isn't always easy but a fighter than looks ill and gaunt when weighing in has often had a difficult cut. Also fighters who have to make several attempt to make weight should also raise a red flag

Consulting the odds

Although the most obvious way to theorize which fighter might win a fight is to consult the odds, they aren't always as accurate as most might assume.

To begin with they are put together weeks away from the fight, and often aren't adjusted to take into account things such as whether the fighters appeared to be drained while making weight, or whether a fighter has been training as diligently as they should be.

Also if either fighter receives heavy action, the odds will swing in their favor, irrespective of the actual chances of them winning the bout.


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