Nate Diaz (Sherdog)

Analytics and Combat Sports: The Argument Against

The point of having an outside analytic or consultant when dealing with a camp isn’t to downplay the experience, technical knowledge or strategies of the coaching staff preparing the fighter. Nor is it there to replace the experience, skills, physical tools and savvy of the fighter who will participate in the athletic contest. The purpose of the analytic is to provide perspective, provide different options, or to use information borne from research to support or challenge the strategy that has been created by the fight team.

How much of the strategy it impacts depends on the staff, the analyst and the fighter. Sometimes it can change the direction of the plan as a whole. Sometimes it merely adjusts things as it pertains to specific circumstances. Sometimes it’s used to emphasize or deemphasize particular techniques or tools used. Nonetheless, the point of the analytic or consultant is to assist, not to replace or overshadow.

Let’s look at why analytics and consultants are needed, and what exactly it is they do to benefit fighters. Let’s also examine the bias against them and their approach to improving or changing the game.


On a whole, analytics in all sports catch a certain amount of flak. The biggest point is that paying attention to the finer points of the game from a strategic, technical and/or numerical perspective is disrespectful to the people who have spent time in the cage, spilling blood and suffering broken bones.

How can people who haven’t experienced it firsthand contribute anything of value to the planning, technical preparation and strategic execution of a game plan?

This concept can seem foreign to the athletes and the coaches who used to compete that are now directing the camp. In their mind, the value of their experience overshadows anything that can be provided by an observer who hasn’t been directly involved in a fight.

Athletes take the strategies, concepts and techniques of an analytic as unrealistic because the analytic doesn’t have a base of experience that factors in things like fatigue, pain, overconfidence, heart and durability. Analytics essentially look at the actual facts — the things that can be researched, accounted for and measured — and base their reports, advice and assessments on those things.

Firsthand experiences in any sport will provide a sense of awareness in regards to techniques, strategy and the mentality needed to compete. However, even if you have the most open-minded, intelligent, tenured and thoughtful staff, there will be biases. It’s part of human nature. This is constantly exhibited in social, professional and athletic circles. Since a fight camp/team covers all three, it suffers from the bias of all three.

Sports staffs — ownership, head coach, coordinator, position coach, film team, strength-and-conditioning staff, equipment managers — all have a common goal and approach to reaching that goal. This is why it takes so long to fill positions, and it’s why guys pick their own staffs. It is also why, when they bring a guy in or have a guy take over a position, they often have guys they have developed move up in the organization.

More often than not, you have a group of likeminded people who come to an agreement on an approach and as a result determine an identity for their team. This identity of a fighter is reaffirmed through day-to-day training and points of emphasis, both technical and strategic. This in and of itself isn’t problematic. To be good at something, you have to have developed an identity, the thing you go back to when you get confused, off course or lack continued success.

An opposing camp and their fighter aren’t going to approach things the same way. If they did, then they would lose, because they would play to the strengths of their opponent and would be easily neutralized. They would be predictable and ineffective, using techniques or strategy that goes against type or doesn’t attack the opponent’s technical or philosophical shortcomings.

The other camp doesn’t have the same opinion of your fighter. They don’t share the same bias in the favor of your fighter. They can’t afford to. What they will do is have a clear idea of how you train, how you prepare and how you corner a fighter. If they don’t know from firsthand experience, they will be able to glean a lot by specific patterns, strategies, adjustments, techniques used and the type of fighters you bring into your camp or the type of fighters you turn out of your camps. In layman’s terms, they may not know exactly what’s coming, but they will have some idea of what your fighter is bringing to the table. The bigger the camp, the more successful the camp, and therefore the easier it is for the opposition to formulate an approach to beat them.

This is partially why you will see a smaller camp experience a huge amount of success, then plateau or completely regress. In a small camp, there isn’t much outside knowledge about what you do or how you do it. This lack of knowledge makes it very hard for an opponent to scout and prepare for these fighters.

An opponent won’t have enough knowledge to formulate a coherent and sensible plan. This is where you get the common idea of “I do what I do, and what I do is enough to win.” This is fine when you outclass an opponent, but when the gap in talent, experience, skill or IQ doesn’t lean in your favor or when you lack information to truly prepare, then disaster happens. The best example is when an opponent has been switched late in a fight camp — Conor Mcgregor against Nate Diaz — or there’s a fighter with limited footage — Ketlen Vieira against Sara McMann or Joe Lauzon against Jens Pulver.

Analytics is a touchy subject with most fighters and fight camps, even the ones that appreciate the contributions of the analytics. The lack of firsthand experience and accomplishment can hinder the willingness of a camp to either successfully consider the information provided or to even entertain the idea of an outside voice being brought into the camp at all.