I’ve spent the last few days compiling statistics on UFC rookies who debuted with the promotion in 2014. I wanted to look at the types of fighters UFC has been recruiting, their age, where they are being recruited from, what sort of records they have and what sort of opponents they have fought prior to debuting in the UFC. With UFC running over fifty shows a year, scouting prospects has become an even more integral part of the promotion. Of course, talent scouting has always been important, but going into 2015 there are more UFC roster spots than ever before. It wouldn’t surprise me if over the next few years UFC continues to run more and more shows each year as the demands of international television contracts means the promotion needs to continue adding more shows.
MMA doesn’t have a particularly sophisticated scouting system, at least in comparison to the major team sports in the US. Of course, that isn’t necessarily a fair comparison, because team sports and MMA are totally different. But I do believe there is a lot more work that can be done outside of the UFC when it comes to scouting prospects. The little bit of work I’ve done doesn’t even scratch the surface. There are lots of other writers doing a good job of scouting prospects on the major MMA news web sites, but this is something that has really just started to come along recently and will likely grow in sophistication over time.
Scouting talent in MMA is difficult for a few reasons. First, MMA doesn’t have a formalized developmental system. There are basically just hundreds of promotions of varying quality operating worldwide where inexperienced fighters hone their skills with the hope of making it to the UFC.
Second, it is very difficult for one scout or even a team of scouts to watch fights involving talented prospects. Many regional MMA shows that may have prospects with potential do not broadcast on TV or the internet, nor do they have DVDs available for purchase. Often one is left relying on looking at a fighter’s record, and the record is frequently misleading about a fighter’s skill level.
Third, many MMA prospects come out of other combat sports such as college wrestling, judo, and championship jiu jitsu. Of course, when many of these athletes begin competing in MMA they will do so on smaller shows, but if they are skilled and coming into MMA with an impressive athletic background, they will be signed by one of the larger promotions fairly quickly. Fighters who enter the sport with no previous athletic experience are far more difficult to scout and seem to spend more time fighting on smaller shows that are difficult to view.
There are other reasons why scouting MMA is hard, but these strike me as the most salient, or at least the major issues I’ve personally faced trying to scout potential UFC talent.
What I decided to do was to look at fighters who debuted in the UFC throughout 2014 and compile statistics about them. Those statistics could subsequently be used as a guide to both look at other potential prospects on small shows, as well become familiar with which small shows graduate the most fighters to the UFC. Understanding which promotions UFC is scouting makes my own scouting more efficient. There is also the possibility of looking at promotions that may have good talent that UFC isn’t recruiting from, particularly international promotions. But that is an issue for another article.
This article is divided into three sections: first, I will look at overall statistics for all fighters who debuted in the UFC during 2014. Second, I will look at these statistics by weight class. Third, I will look at the promotions that fighters most frequently fought for during the three years prior to their UFC debut and discuss the larger promotions in detail.
At the bottom of the article is a link to an Excel file where these stats can be downloaded. I’m imperfect and my stats may be imperfect, too. Should anyone find errors, please let me know. All of the stats are based on the Sherdog database, which, while also imperfect, is the most popular database for MMA fighter records. I also intend to modify these stats at the end of the year to account for UFC debuts in November and December.
Overall UFC Rookie Statistics
The period of time I am looking at consists of UFC events held between January 1, 2014 and November 1, 2014. 171 fighters debuted in the UFC during that period. Yes, that many. This figure does not include fighters who competed on the 2014 seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, unless those fighters actually competed on a UFC event. If it included everyone who fought on an episode of TUF that aired during 2014, the figure of 171 would be significantly higher.
Here is how the previous MMA careers of the UFC’s 2014 rookies break down statistically:
The average age of a UFC rookie is 27.4 years.
The average amount of total career professional wins prior to fighting in the UFC is 10.1. This number does not include amateur bouts.
The average amount of total career losses prior to fighting in the UFC is 1.8. This number does not include amateur bouts.
The average won/loss ratio for bouts fought prior to competing in the UFC is 87.8%. This figure is arrived at by dividing career wins into career losses. It does not include amateur bouts. It also does not include draws or no-contests.
The average amount of stoppage wins in bouts fought prior to competing in the UFC is 75.9% (referred to here on as the finishing ratio). This figure is arrived at by adding TKO, KO, and submission wins in professional fights together and dividing this total into total pro wins.
The average amount of wins during the three year period prior to debuting in the UFC is 5.3. That does not include amateur bouts.
The average amount of losses during the three year period prior to debuting in the UFC is 0.6. That does not include amateur bouts.
In short, the average UFC fighter that debuted in 2014 is around 27 years old, has 10 career wins and 2 career losses and wins about 88% of their fights. This person also TKOs, KOs, or submits about 76% of their opponents. In the three year period prior to fighting in UFC, their record is around 5 wins and, at most, one loss.
UFC Rookie Statistics by Weight Class
Before starting, it should be noted that these stats don’t differentiate between fights fought in different weight divisions prior to entering UFC. So, if a fighter debuts in UFC at bantamweight, but fought some fights at featherweight before joining the UFC, those stats are included in his overall career statistics and are factored into the bantamweight category. This makes the exercise inexact, but far less time consuming. It still achieves the goal of getting a broad look of what the typical UFC rookie looks like.
Heavyweight: 7 fighters debuted in 2014. Average age was 30.9. This is highest among all weight classes. Average career wins was 13.9 and average career losses was 2.1. The average career wins is highest among all weight classes and the average career losses is second highest, behind only the flyweights. The average won/loss ratio is 88.7%. The average finishing ratio is 82.2%. Average amount of wins in the three years prior to debuting in UFC is 6.7 and average amount of losses is 1. This is the highest average wins among all weight classes in the previous three years and tied for highest in losses with the bantamweight women. The high stats in the heavyweight division are likely attributable to the heavyweights being the oldest group of debuting fighters. Tee more interesting question is to ask why the heavyweights are older than other groups of fighters, as the average debuting heavyweight is about 3 years older than the average debuting fighter at any weight. It does mean age is less of an issue for scouting heavyweights relative to the other weight classes.
Light-Heavyweight: 13 fighters debuted in 2014. Average age was 29.1. Average career wins was 8.4 and average career losses was 1.8. Average won/loss ratio was 87%. Average finishing ratio was 78%. Average wins over past 3 years was 4.1 and average losses was 0.5. The rookie light-heavyweights also skew older than the average rookie from any weight class, by two years. The light-heavyweights, though, had the fewest amount of career wins on average compared to the other men’s weight classes. They also had the fewest wins among all men’s weight classes during the three years prior to debuting in the UFC.
Middleweight: 18 fighters debuted in 2014. Average age was 28.5. Average career wins was 9.4. Average losses were 1.2. Average won/loss ratio was 90.2%. Average finishing ratio was 74.9%. Average wins over previous 3 years was 5.3 and average losses was 0.6. Middleweights also skew older than the overall average by a year. It seems that it can be inferred from the stats that the heavier weight classes have fighters that are older in age, which probably isn’t any great revelation.
Welterweight: 35 fighters debuted in 2014. This was the highest amount of rookies by weight class. Average age was 26.5. Average career wins was 9.7. Average career losses were 1.9. Average career won/loss ratio was 86.6%. Average finishing ratio was 76.1%. Average wins over past 3 years was 5. Average losses were 0.69. Most notable among the welterweight statistics would be both the sheer amount of welterweight rookies, plus their average age being slightly below the overall average of all rookies.
Lightweight: 29 fighters debuted in 2014. This was the second highest amount of rookies by weight class. Average age was 27.1. Average career wins was 11 and average career losses was 2. Average won/loss ratio was 88.4% and average finishing ratio was 72%. Average wins in past 3 years was 5.6 and average losses was 0.5. The lightweights had the third lowest finishing ratio among all weight classes, and second lowest among the men. Like the welterweights, there was also a substantial amount of lightweights debuted this year, and many of them were young.
Featherweight: 19 fighters debuted in 2014. Average age was 25.9. Average career wins was 11.3 and average career losses was 1.4. Average won/loss ratio was 92.5%. Average finishing ratio was 80%. Average wins in past 3 years was 6.5 and average losses was 0.5. The featherweights were the youngest group of fighters on average to debut in the UFC this year. They also had the highest career won/loss ratio among the men and the second highest amount of wins in the previous 3 years, just behind the heavyweights.
Bantamweight: 25 fighters debuted in 2014. Average age was 27.5. Average career wins was 10.1 and average losses was 1.8. Average won/loss ratio was 87.6% and average finishing ratio was 71%. Average wins in past 3 years was 5.5 and average losses was 0.6. Bantamweights had the lowest finishing percentage among the men.
Flyweight: 11 fighters debuted in 2014. Average age was 27.1. Average career wins was 9.8 and average career losses was 2.9. Average won/loss ratio was 81.8%. Average finishing ratio was 83.1%. Average wins over past 3 years was 4.6 and average losses was 0.6. The rookie flyweights had the highest finishing ratio among all of the men’s weight classes. The flyweights in the UFC are known as finishers, which surprises some people, so it would seem to follow that the rookie flyweight fighters would also be able to finish. Maybe the high finishing ratio is due to the physical toll of the weight cut to get to flyweight, but that’s merely speculation.
Women’s Bantamweight: 10 fighters debuted in 2014. Average age was 27.6. Average career wins was 8.2 and average losses was 2. Average won/loss ratio was 82%. Average finishing ratio was 85%. Average wins in prior 3 years was 4.1 and average losses was 1. The rookie bantamweight women had the highest finishing ratio of all weight classes. Women’s MMA is not as well developed as a sport as men’s MMA, so this is not a surprise.
Women’s Strawweight: 4 fighters debuted in 2014. Average age was 27. Average wins was 7. Average losses were 0.25. Average won/loss ratio was 96.4%. Average finishing ratio was a low 54%. Average wins in prior 3 years was 4.25 and average losses was 0.25. Considering the small sample size of the women’s strawweight rookies, I wouldn’t read anything into these stats at all. We’ll get a better look at women’s strawweight rookies throughout 2015.
Promotions Producing the Highest Number of UFC Rookies
Lastly, I want to look at MMA promotions that produced the highest number of fighters that went on to debut in the UFC during 2014. The goal is to identify which promotions are worth watching when it comes to scouting potential UFC talent.
In this final part of the article, I have counted promotions where a UFC rookie fought within 3 years of their UFC debut. If a rookie fought in a promotion more than 3 years before debuting UFC, then that promotion wasn’t counted. The choice of 3 years is totally arbitrary on my part, and you can alter the results by going with 2 years or 5 years or any period of time, although my guess is that these results won’t be altered by much.
I also did not count promotions owned by Zuffa, including WEC and Strikeforce. I did count WEC and Strikeforce from before the Zuffa purchase, but that’s going back many years now, so it wasn’t really relevant here. I did count other major MMA promotions like Pride, Dream, One FC, Elite XC, etc., most of which are so old now that they are also irrelevant in discussing UFC rookies in 2014.
A total of 20 different promotions featured at least 5 fighters within the 3 years prior to a particular fighter’s debut in the UFC. I’m going to look at the top few promotions. Number of UFC rookies produced by each promotion is in parenthesis.
Bellator (11): Tied for first on the list was Bellator. 11 fighters debuted in the UFC in 2014 that had fought for Bellator within the previous 3 years. This is the only promotion that I am going to break down which specific fighters debuted because I am interested in whether they were feature performers on Bellator TV or whether they fought in Bellator prelims.
Of these 11, none of them appeared on Spike TV. 4 appeared on MTV2, and only 1 appeared on MTV2 more than once. 1 fighter fought for Bellator both before and after the Viacom purchase, but the rest fought all of their Bellator fights after the Viacom purchase. The rest all appeared on Spike web site prelims, or even unaired prelims. Only 2 of the 11 fighters had a losing record in Bellator.
It seems to me that this indicates the Bellator prelims are a good place to scout potential future UFC fighters. It’s also one of the few chances to watch high quality video of MMA prospects. Keep in mind, though, that these 11 fighters fought in Bellator over a combined range of a few years, so it is not like every single Bellator prelim has fighters that are quality prospects. But fighters with multiple wins on Bellator prelims are fighters that may have potential to debut in UFC, or even Bellator itself, in the future.
King of the Cage (11): This includes the regional offshoots, like King of the Cage Australia. I was actually surprised to see this promotion so high on the list. Back before MMA blew up in 2005, KOTC was probably the number two promotion in the US and were a major feeder for UFC. I didn’t think that they still were, but it appears that way. The thing that needs to be kept in mind with KOTC, though, is that they run tons and tons of shows all year round in various regions both in the US and internationally. That means more fighters are going to have KOTC fighters than they would if KOTC just stuck to their home base in California. So, some of KOTC producing so many fighters is a numbers game simply because they run so many shows, thus so many different people fight for them. KOTC frequently runs shows headlined by guys with few pro fights, or even lopsided records, but the promotion is still worth keeping an eye on for potential prospects somewhere on the card.
Resurrection Fighting Alliance (10): Not a surprise. RFA runs a major league style promotion that airs on AXS TV. They started in 2011 and have run 19 shows up to the beginning of this November. They started out in the Midwest, but have started touring into California and promoting in a wider range of western states. Fighters who compete for titles in RFA are worth keeping an eye on.
Legacy Fighting Championship (9): Also not a surprise. Like RFA, Legacy airs on AXS TV. They run nearly all of their shows out of Texas, which has a thriving grassroots MMA scene. They’ve run 36 shows since 2009. Fighters who compete for titles in Legacy are also worth keeping tabs on as future UFC prospects.
Cage Warriors Fighting Championship (9): Cage Warriors is located out of Britain and is the top European promotion for producing UFC prospects. As UFC continues to expand into Europe, Cage Warriors will probably become even more important as a feeder. They have run 72 shows since 2002, mostly in England, but have expanded elsewhere, particularly in Europe. They broadcast in the US online through MMA Junkie and in Britain on their own web site.
Jungle Fight (8): Jungle Fight is right now the top UFC feeder in Brazil, which is important because Brazil is one of the UFC’s biggest markets. Jungle Fight has run 74 events since 2003. JF is the best promotion to start with in looking for potential Brazilian talent for the UFC. There are a few other feeders from Brazil, with WOCS and Shooto Brazil being the other big two. Brazil has a ton of small MMA shows every weekend, many of which don’t broadcast on TV anywhere. Jungle Fight has supposedly aired on ESPN Deportes in the US, but I don’t know if that is still current or not.
Tachi Palace Fights (7): TPF runs the Tachi Palace Casino in Lemoore, CA. Lemoore was also the original home of the WEC before Zuffa bought that promotion. Tachi has put on 20 shows since 2009. They’re a well-known feeder to the UFC. They sometimes air their events on Sherdog, but I don’t think this is a consistent thing.
Maximum Fighting Championship (7): MFC is based out of Western Canada and is probably the most important Canadian feeder for the UFC. They’ve held 44 events since 2001, but really started as a more regular promotion in 2006. They are almost exclusively based in Edmonton. The promotion airs on AXS TV.
Pacific Xtreme Combat (7): PXC runs both Guam and the Philippines. Many of the UFC fighters that debuted in 2014 who fought previously in PXC fought on UFC’s cards in Asia. If UFC continues to try promoting in Asia, they will probably pick up more guys from PXC. A lot of the best fighters in that region are in One FC, though. PXC has run 52 events since 2004. They air on TV in parts of Southeast Asia and they offer video on demand of their past events through livestream.com.
BAMMA (6): The British Association of Mixed Martial Arts has held 18 events since 2009. They’re probably the second most widely known promotion in England behind Cage Warriors. They stay closer to home compared to Cage Warriors, the latter of which will tour into other countries. BAMMA does have a branch in the US called BAMMA USA. The total of 6 fighters who debuted in the UFC in 2014 includes BAMMA and BAMMA USA combined. BAMMA USA has run 19 events since 2009, almost all at the Commerce Casino in California. BAMMA USA airs iPPV on gfl.tv. BAMMA in the UK uploads its fights to its YouTube channel.
Ring of Combat (6): ROC has been a feeder for the UFC since 2002, running 60 events in that time. They run almost all of their shows at the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City. ROC is promoted by retired kickboxing champion Lou Neglia. They air iPPVs on gfl.tv.
Pancrase (6): Like KOTC, I was surprised to find Pancrase on this list. I’m not going to go into Pancrase history, but they are older than the UFC (barely). I didn’t think they would still be a major feeder, but with UFC running a couple of shows each year in Japan, the promotion needs Japanese fighters and they’re either going to come from Pancrase or Deep. Pancrase has a YouTube channel where they upload some of their videos. I don’t think they air anywhere else on the internet, although one can still acquire a lot of their stuff from popular pro wrestling tape traders (or I guess DVD traders).
Invicta (6): Doesn’t surprise me that Invicta is on this list. It’s the premier women’s promotion and has close ties with the UFC, with events airing on Fight Pass. If you want to look for female talent for the UFC, this is the obvious place to start.
Other top feeders include the defunct Respect in the Cage (5), Legend FC (6) from China and the CFA (6) out of Florida. Also, Shooto Brazil (5) and WOCS (5) in Brazil produce UFC fighters, as does American indie CES (5). Xplode MMA (6) has also produced quite a few UFC rookies in 2014, but they have a reputation for being a terrible promotion that books skilled guys against people with horrible lopsided records, like guys with 0 wins and 12 losses, that sort of thing.
Most notable absences from this list include Titan FC (4) and WSOF (3). Titan and WSOF are promotions that former UFC guys go to in order to win a few fights and try and get back into UFC. They do use guys that are rookies, but tend to use former UFC, Bellator, and Strikeforce fighters rather than new fighters. Titan airs on CBS Sports and WSOF airs on NBC Sports.
Also, each year is different, and there are other promotions that could have made the top of this list last year, or will do so next year. There are many regionals in the US that produced 2 or 3 fighters that made the UFC this year. In Mexico, there are a few small promotions. Mexican MMA is something I would like to do more research on as I think there is potential for growth there.
M-1 (4), Pro FC (4), and Fight Nights (4) are the major Russian promotions, although there are others. If UFC enters Russia in the future, M-1 would probably be opposition more so than a feeder.
In Japan, there is Deep (4), Shooto (2), Heat (2), and ZST (0). Elsewhere in Asia there is URCC (3), Real (3), Ranik (4), and Road FC (0), among others. One FC is the biggest group in Asia, but only graduated 1 guy to the UFC and is more so opposition to the UFC in Asia than they are a feeder.
In Canada, there is a ton of grassroots MMA out west, a little bit in Ontario and Quebec (the Quebec scene died off big in the past few years relative to a decade ago), and the ECC (2) in Halifax.
There are also others in international locations such as Australian Fighting Championship, EFC Africa in South Africa, and KSW in Poland that don’t produce as many UFC rookies, but could do so in the future. And internationally, that’s just the tip of it. I think there are a lot of great fighters in international locations that have yet to be discovered and it is probably wise for UFC to scout foreign markets for talent, especially if they plan on going into these markets within the next 3 or 4 years.
With this research my goal was to identify the types of fighters based on age, record, and location that the UFC has been recruiting throughout 2014. I also wanted to break down these statistics by weight class to look at the differences between each class, and to look at the main promotions that act as feeders to the UFC.
There was nothing too surprising uncovered by my research. Yet, I feel putting the stats of UFC rookies down on paper clarifies many assumptions about the types of fighters UFC recruits and where they come from. It helps form a plan so that I can scout specific promotions more efficiently, focusing my time on watching certain types of fighters on certain promotions to identify who could make the jump to the UFC, or to find other fighters that have potential down the line, but aren’t ready to make that jump yet.
My goal after this would be to then continue scouting video, focusing more on fight reviews from specific feeder promotions rather than on researching a fighter’s record.
In a few months to a year, it would be interesting to go back and look at the list of UFC rookies from 2014 to see how they performed in the UFC, to identify trends, to see if certain styles of fighters survive, or to see if fighters from certain locations perform better than others. I would also like to continue research on which gyms debut the most successful fighters, and to identify international promotions with fighters that might be able to jump that UFC hasn’t started scouting yet in order to try and get ahead of the curve.
The Excel file with all of the UFC rookie stats for 2014 can be downloaded at http://wp.me/a4qupE-7R
Jeremy Wall is the author UFC’s Ultimate Warriors: The Top 10. He blogs at mmachronicle.com. He can be reached at jeremydalew at gmail dot com or followed on Twitter @jeremydalewall.