Octagon Envy: Does Size Matter?

Fightland Blog

By Shawn Smith

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The question of whether or not ring size matters has been a hot topic as of late around the proverbial contact sports campfire.

With so many examples of the ring or cage potentially playing into fight results I decided it’s time to take a look at if size really does matter.

Going from the large UFC Octagon (reaching 30 feet across) to the smaller UFC Octagon (reaching 25 feet across) can makes the ring surface much more claustrophobic for fighters, especially heavyweights.

But does this matter in fight results? Is this something fighters need to plan for?

Numerous factors play into the result of a fight, but having a smaller platform allows for less movement, subsequently forcing fighters to compete in close quarters. In theory, this should result in more action as the competitors have less room to separate.

At Fight Night 50, Ben Rothwell took on Alistair at the Foxwoods Resort Casino. It was a smaller venue, and the UFC was forced to use the smaller cage. This played into the advantage of Rothwell, who earned the first round knockout.

As a traditional kickboxer who has competed most of his career inside of a ring, Alistair Overeem depends of his footwork and movement to move around the cage and land his strikes. Rothwell on the other hand has a plodding, forward movement style which lends itself to the smaller fighting surface.

From a fight fan’s perspective, the difference was immediately noticeable. The fighters just seemed to take up more of the cage.

Heavyweight fights have a higher finishing rate than any other weight division due to their size, so it can’t be said for certain that the Octagon played an integral part in the result, but the evidence suggests it could have played a factor.

What we do know is that historically, the smaller Octagon has produced a higher percentage of finishes and a larger percentage of significant strikes landed than it’s larger counterpart. In an August 2012 study, fightonomics.com found that, specifically, the weight divisions of bantamweight through welterweight (which were used because these divisions fought in both the UFC cage as well as the small WEC cage), the finishing results were significantly higher in the small ring as opposed to the large ring.

As the study took place shortly after the WEC-UFC merger took place, it only provides a small sampling of UFC bantamweight fights that had taken place in the UFC’s small Octagon (seven fights in total). The bantamweight number jumped from roughly 35 percent in the large Octagon as opposed to 100 percent in the UFC’s smaller one (again, that’s only using data from seven fights). In the welterweight division, the finishing rate jumped from roughly 55 percent in the UFC’s large cage to around 90 percent in the WEC.

These of course are the extreme examples. Most results showed a 10 to 15 percent increased finishing rate inside the smaller cage.

The topic of ring size also came up during this weekend’s Floyd Mayweather Marcos Maidana bout. If the ring seemed irregularly large, that’s because it was.

While the average bout takes place in a ring somewhere around 20x20, it’s been reported that Mayweather versus Maidana took place in a massive 26x26 ring designed for super heavyweight fighters. The larger ring favors a fighter like Mayweather, who uses his movement to frustrate opponents. For a fighter like Maidana, who depends on ‘phone booth’ style boxing and pinning an opponent on the ropes, the large ring is a nightmare.

As a fighter, it’s crucial to know the size of ring or cage they will be competing in prior to the bout. It allows them time to acclimatize themselves to the fighting surface and plan their strategy around it.

To put it simply, inside fighters prefer the smaller ring surface because their opponents have nowhere to go. Outside fighters prefer the larger fighting surface as it allows them to use their movement.

If you’re a fighter who depends on movement, it may be worth thinking twice before signing on to fight on the smaller canvas.



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