Southpaw vs Orthodox in the UFC
While I am hardly a “UFC enthusiast”, from time to time a fighter would come along who was so exceptional and so entertaining to watch that I would find myself tracking their career, and anticipating their fights. Fighters like Anderson Silva, Conor Mcgregor, and more recently Tenshin Nasukawa. They had a way of seeming to outclass their opponents to such a degree it appeared they were only toying with them — this makes for incredibly fun-to-watch matches. The fight commentators would often remark on a certain characteristic that each of the fighters shared: a primary stance of southpaw.
The southpaw fighting stance means you have your right foot and right hand forward. You jab with your right hand, and hook with your left. Often left handed fighters are taught to fight southpaw and it is widely speculated that fighting southpaw is a key advantage on account of its rarity and the subsequent lack of experience other fighters will have had in dealing with this fighting style. This speculation lead me to my data reliant question:
“Do southpaw fighters have a higher win ratio compared to other fighting styles?”
The first visual I set out to create shows the total number of fights that have occurred involving a fighter of each stance from the year 2009 to 2019:
From this we can confirm that orthodox fighters make up the lion’s share of activity in the UFC with southpaw fighters accounting for far less. Roughly 21% of the total fights involve a southpaw fighter, whereas 76% of total fights involve an orthodox fighter. This is to be expected as orthodox is typically the “right handed” fighting style — the mirror opposite of southpaw. Much like right handed people are more common than left, orthodox is the most common stance in MMA and boxing.
My next task was to shape the data specifically to answer a relatively general question. The graph below was made by taking every south paw win or loss for an entire decade and calculating the ratio of wins to losses for each year. Similarly the same feature was created and graphed for orthodox fighters for the sake of comparison.
Judging by this graph all we can say definitively is that southpaw fighters in the UFC as a whole have come away with higher win ratios than orthodox fighters 7 out of 10 years of the last decade. The typical disclaimer is that this does not speak to “why” that’s the case only that it “is” the case. Further more, detailed analysis would likely render a better picture. For example taking only the top performing fighters of each stance and comparing them against the lowest performing fighters of each stance rather than looking at fighters as a whole.
The last graph I put together puts the open stance and switch stance fighters into the mix and plots them against the southpaw fighters. The visual is very similar on account of the fact that switch and open stance fighters are even less common than southpaw so their added ratio doesn’t significantly impact the data.
For 7 of the last 10 years, southpaw fighters as a whole in the UFC have come away with higher win ratios than other fighting styles. Some years the disparity in win ratios were higher than others, and for the last two years (2018–2019) orthodox fighters have had higher win ratios. The data is very much affected by virtue of being an aggregate and can only make a very general statement about the general population of fighters. At best these visualizations can accurately relay that at certain points in time, fighters of the southpaw fighting stance as a group were netting a higher sum of wins than losses compared to other fighting styles. In the future, I hope to answer the question in a more satisfying manner by vetting and narrowing the population of comparable fighters with other relevant metrics such as accuracy, individual record, and overall performance.