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MMA Submission: Fighting and Stats? Those go together?

3/12/2009
Wait, wait, wait. This article is about MMA and stats, right? So why is this picture of Mark Cuban? Someone made a boo-boo! Naw. Read the piece. Getty Images

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In 1984, Bob Canobbio felt boxing needed statistics, so he found an upcoming fight, compiled stats during the bout, then took his numbers to then-HBO producer Ross Greenburg (now the president of HBO Sports). He picked the perfect fight, because Livingstone Bramble vs. Ray Mancini may be the most important bout in fight stats history.

During the bout, viewers saw Mancini on non-stop offense, throwing 1,500 punches in the 14-rounder. Throughout, Mancini forced the action. But Bramble effectively counter-punched. When Mancini went down in the 14th round, many fans were shocked.

But the numbers showed why.

Bramble connected on far more power punches and, despite audience perception, was actually winning the fight. "It wasn't just quantity," Canobbio says. "Bramble was landing all of the big shots."

And so, fight statistics began. Over the past 22 years, CompuBox has emerged as the authority on boxing numbers. The bulk of Canobbio's business comes from a contract with HBO. For big fights, CompuBox compiles numbers throughout the fight, often times running numbers down to commentators between rounds. Now the service is standard for HBO fights.

A year-and-a-half ago, Canobbio saw a similar opportunity to track statistics during MMA bouts. Canobbio picked a fight in June 2007 to launch. It was not Bramble/Mancini. Canobbio couldn't have picked much worse than Kimbo Slice/Ray Mercer. The bout lasted 72 seconds, with very few punches, before Slice submitted the former boxer.

But CompuStrike kept plugging away. Though he never has had any kind of contractual agreement with the UFC, Canobbio works events from a remote site, live, the same way he compiles boxing statistics. Two fight-watchers sit ring-side and type in punches, kicks and submission attempts onto the same laptop. Those numbers are sent to key media members and are now being used by various media outlets in post-fight stories.

After posting stats for Chuck Liddell vs. Keith Jardine in September, 2007, Canobbio awoke to find an e-mail on Sunday morning from a wannabe promoter. He recognized the name of the e-mailer but thought it was a prank. Could Mark Cuban really be inquiring about his start-up CompuStrike business?

The e-mail was real, and soon CompuStrike was running numbers for Cuban's HDNet fight cards. That led to more exposure when he did UFC bouts, then two Elite XC cards on CBS, and finally, Affliction's January 2009 show.

The bulk of Canobbio's business still comes from boxing. "I'd say we do 80 boxing shows a year and 20 MMA events," he says. But those numbers are changing fast. Within five years, Canobbio thinks it'll be a 50-50 split for his business.

How far have MMA stats come? Witness the last fight CompuStrike did. It was no Slice/Mercer 72-second bout. CompuStrike did stats last weekend for Jardine/Rampage Jackson, a three-round, 15-minute standup battle in which some fascinating numbers emerged. Jackson won by unanimous decision, a verdict the stats backed up—Rampage out-landed Jardine, 117-91.

There were some terrific nuggets found within those numbers. Jardine, regarded by many as the UFC's best leg attacker, connected on 26 kicks (with five landed knees). Rampage hit on 53% of his punches, with a 75-55 advantage in power shots.

"CompuStrike is an informational tool, and not a judging source," Canobbio says. "But the numbers show the right guy won the fight. And they usually do show that."