Hacking the Tale of the Tape: How Big is the Average UFC Fighter?
Wondering if you’re “big” or just “average?” Just how big is average for a UFC fighter? Well that depends on the weight class obviously. Here’s the current UFC roster of fighters put into divisions with average (mean) height and reach. Next time someone says a fighter looks big for their weight class, check the facts first.
Mean averages based on UFC Roster as of June, 2013.
The range of UFC divisions spans 140 pounds, which on average translates into about one foot of additional height and reach from the Flyweights to the Heavyweights.
It’s important to note there is plenty of variability that occurs with in each weight class. Some bodies are tall and lean while others are short and stocky. And the larger the division is, the wider the range of maximums and minimums. Just think of heavyweights Stephan Struve and Pat Barry facing off with over a one foot height differential in the same weight class. Conversely, it’s unusual to see a large size discrepancy at featherweight.
It’s also interesting that the average size of each weight class has been increasing in recent years. If we were to go back to 2005 or so, what we would see is the average height and reach being lower in all divisions. This is due to the highly competitive evolution of modern MMA, which has driven fighters to pack more athleticism into a leaner body. The result is that numerous fighters drop weight classes to remain optimally competitive, finding ways to optimize their bodies for fighting. Fighter Kenny Florian set the record by competing in four different weight classes, and he’s illustrative of how average fighter size has changed through the years. The importance of reach is detailed extensively in Chapter 6 of the Fightnomics book, so check it out for much more detail including a complete quantification of the reach advantage.
And look at the new women’s division. At Bantamweight there’s a discernible difference in size between male and female fighters weighing in at the same weight limit. The men’s division has been around a lot longer and has greater competition from a large pool of contenders, who are experienced pros at cutting weight. And despite their larger frames, they manage to pack more muscle and size onto the scale on weigh-in day. Competition always pushes the limits of human anthropometrics. Gamblers too are keen to these trends. Analysis of basic body types is critical in pre-fight assessments, and UFC betting sites frequently account for these factors in making their predictions.
According to the CDC the average American male stands just over 5′ 9″ and walks around at 195 pounds. That means the average American has the height of a lightweight, but is 40 pounds too heavy for their division. Just keep in mind that the UFC averages are based on weigh-in weights, and that the vast majority of fighters walk around ~20 pounds heavier than at weigh-ins. So when comparing yourself to these divisions find your height first then add at least 10 pounds for the small divisions, 20 pounds or more for the middle divisions, and 30 pounds or more for the largest ones. That ought to give you a more realistic view of the natural size of these athletes. But also remember that these are professional fighters, and in no way does that mean what’s “good” for them is what anyone else should aspire to. The most extreme edges of competition breed a few unhealthy habits.
So how do the up and coming fighters out there measure up? Are you a lightweight that eats like a middleweight? Or are you framed like a welterweight who could make a weigh in at bantamweight?