UFC & MLB: A Tale of Two Sports

Ronda Rousey and other UFC greats aren’t that dissimilar to the the sport and some top MLB players. (via Miguel Discart)

Ultimate Fighting Championship and baseball couldn’t be more different; they couldn’t be more the same.

Today, Ronda Rousey will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. Her impact on women in mixed martial arts (MMA) was enormous; to quote UFC president Dana White:

There would be no women in UFC without Ronda Rousey. Ronda is an absolute pioneer who helped me personally, and a lot of other people, look at women in combat sports differently. She accomplished everything she set out to do with UFC and became a global icon and role model in the process. Today, the women’s divisions are packed with incredibly talented fighters and they produce some of the best fights you’ll ever see.

Rousey is a pioneering, iconic figure in the UFC. And as baseball and the UFC are my two favorite sports, Rousey’s induction into the UFC Hall of Fame inspired me to pause and consider where the two sports, which appear so different on their surface, might overlap.

How They Are Different

The differences are stark, and probably quite obvious.

  • UFC matches are contested in fenced, octagonal cages. Major league games are played on sunny, grassy fields, often while the players are chewing bubble gum.
  • In the UFC, you are supposed to kick your opponent in the head. In baseball? You are encouraged not to slide into your opponents’ ankles, or even in their general direction.
  • Knock your opponent out in the UFC? You’ll probably get a handshake and a hug from said opponent. Bean your opponent in the butt in baseball? Bench-clearing brawl.
  • One is played with a bare minimum of equipment, safety or otherwise, while the other involves helmets, gloves, chest protectors, bats, gloves and uniforms.

How They Are The Same

The similarities are simple, and perhaps more intricate.

  • Both sports are matchups of individual talents, athlete vs. athlete. Baseball has fielders helping the pitcher, but for the most part, it’s batter vs. pitcher.
  • In both sports, the crux of the game is being able to read what your opponent is doing and then reacting to it in sub-second time.
  • In baseball, there are multiple paths to success (slugger, slap hitter, defensive specialist, etc.). In MMA, there are multiple paths to success (striker, grappler, wrestler, etc.) as well.

Baseball and MMA represent live applications of game theory, with constant decision making, adjustment and calculation being conducted by players and fighters on both sides of the equation depending on ever-changing circumstances. In baseball, these decisions are more concrete, defined by the count, the defensive alignment and what types of pitches the pitcher throws. In UFC, they are more fluid, dependent on, among other things, cardio (how tired each fighter is), the distance between opponents, the interplay of strengths and weaknesses, and the damage taken.

Every decision a pitcher makes (location, velocity and pitch type) impacts the probability distributions for the outcome of that pitch (ball, strike, barrel, ground ball, etc.). Similarly, in UFC, every decision has a cost/benefit tradeoff; throw a significant strike, and be more susceptible to a counter-punch; go for a take-down, and be susceptible to a leg kick. The interactions of these decisions, and opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, allow for dynamic and dramatic competitive outcomes.

Today, we’re going to play a fun game and look through the various weight classes in the UFC, comparing a selection of current and past champions, as well as top contenders (each UFC weight class has a champion and a No. 1 contender, as well as a rich history of past champions), to their major league counterparts. These will ideally be active baseball players, or players of recent vintage.

Heavyweights (265 pounds)

UFC Champion: Stipe Miocic | The Underrated Superstar

Miocic is one of the more underrated heavyweight champions, despite his long, successful record and numerous title defenses. This is likely due to him not “looking” like a true heavyweight, weighing in at “only” 240 pounds, instead of pushing the 265-pound limit. A lot of science goes into making weight for a UFC fight, with the average fighter able to drain approximately 10 percent of his body weight in water and then re-hydrate before his fight. That would mean that a theoretical heavyweight could weigh in at 265 pounds, then basically drink 25 pounds worth of water and weigh around 290 pounds on fight night. Stipe, since he doesn’t need to cut weight to come in under the 265-pound limit, skips this process entirely, and could be up to 50 pounds lighter than his opponent.

Major League Baseball: Jim Thome

Thome stood a robust 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, very close to Miocic’s proportions. Also, Thome spent the bulk of his career in Cleveland, where Miocic was a nationally ranked Division I wrestler for Cleveland State. Thome, who was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, wasn’t regarded as a sure-fire, first ballot Hall of Famer while he was playing, partly because of the relative anonymity of playing in Cleveland. Thome circa 2009 was at a similar place in his career as Miguel Cabrera is now. History, including  Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric, has properly shown Thome to be one of the best to ever play the game; after the passage of time, I think Stipe Miocic will get his due as one of the greatest heavyweights of all time.

UFC Top Contender: Francis Ngannou | The Elite Power Guy

Pickled Tink in Portland
The Pickles are a dilly of a team, even though they're not professional.

Ngannou’s story is the classic “fighting professionally saved my life” story. Born in Cameroon, Ngannou left for France at the age of 26 to pursue a career in professional boxing, ending up homeless until he was given an opportunity to train as an MMA fighter. Ngannou is a heavyweight in the Mike Tyson mold, with incredible, electrifying one-punch knockout power. He’s the kind of athlete you watch and wonder, who in the world would actually step into a cage and fight him? Ngannou lost convincingly to Miocic, who exposed his inability to wrestle at a high level, or really any level, of competency. Ngannou will face Derek Lewis on Saturday, in a fight I am very much looking forward to watching.

Major League Baseball: Giancarlo Stanton & Aaron Judge

Stanton and Judge fit the Ngannou archetype. They are physically imposing, powerful hitters; Judge leads baseball in average exit velocity. Stanton, has been demolishing baseballs since he arrived as a 20-year-old old. While Judge is a better fit as a guy who started his ascendancy at an older age (24 for Judge vs 20 for Stanton), he’s also a more complete hitter than Stanton, with far superior plate discipline. Ngannou is pretty much just a spectacular puncher, with little else that makes him stand out. Time will tell if Ngannou will evolve into a more complete fighter in the mold of Judge, or remain a spectacular, monstrous, electrifying performer who delivers both amazing results as well as maddening stretches of sub-par performance. My bet is on the former.

BONUS: Tai Tuivasa and Pablo Sandoval are both superior athletes who were underrated early in their careers due to a healthy amount of body fat. They have still managed to perform at elite levels, despite people chirping about their weight and body type. And while Sandoval has fallen off in recent years, but still exceeded expectations in his prime. People said Panda would never be able to play third base (he has been above average for his career); people said Tuivasa wouldn’t have the cardio to go three rounds (he was just fine in his last fight and made a point of it in his post-fight interview). This author has no proof that the comparison extends to drinking beer out of shoes.

Light Heavyweights (205 pounds)

UFC Champion: Daniel Cormier | Potential GOAT, if not for Jon Jones

Daniel Cormier shares a lot in common with Stipe Miocic, as a great fighter built around an elite wrestling foundation. Cormier will move up to heavyweight on Saturday (translation: he just won’t cut any weight for this fight) to create a Champion vs. Champion main event against Miocic. Cormier has the amazing distinction of having lost to only one fighter, Jon Jones, in his distinguished career (more on Jones in a bit), which is very impressive in the upper weight classes. Cormier accomplishes this via his elite level wrestling, which he uses to overwhelm his opponents, backed up by a well-rounded striking and defensive game. His major league counterpart should thus be a guy with an elite overwhelming tool and average-to-plus skills in other categories who doesn’t quite get the full respect he deserves, and ideally has a nemesis who provides that little asterisk on his career.

Major League Baseball: Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels has built a tremendous career, relying primarily on his amazing change-up. While he is not unique in this respect (Johan Santana comes to mind), he is unique in that his supporting pitches range from pretty much average to slightly above average. Over his career, per Pitch Info Solutions, he’s amassed +165 runs with his change-up, compared to just +30 with his fastball. On a per pitch basis, this is even more pronounced, with his change-up worth almost two runs per 100 pitches, compared to 0.23 for his fastball. Hamels, despite his recent mediocrity, is 95th in JAWS, ahead of the more celebrated Felix Hernandez. Johan Santana’s reign as baseball’s elite pitcher, fueled by his even more exceptional change-up, has perhaps made Hamels’ otherwise exceptional career to date seem relatively pedestrian in comparison (Santana is 81st in JAWS). Hamels is perhaps not quite as accomplished in his profession as Cormier is in his, but he is listed at precisely 205 pounds, so this author contends that the comparison is flawless.

UFC All Time Great: Jon Jones | The All-Time Great with an Asterisk (or Two)

Jon Jones’ record in the UFC is impeccable and his overall talent immense. His only loss came after a disqualification for an illegal blow, which was really a loss in name only, a loss his opponent didn’t even agree with. He beat Daniel Cormier twice, only to have the second victory overturned as a no-contest due to a doping violation (Jones’ second infraction). While there is some debate as to whether or not the violations helped him performance wise (the first was for a sex pill, the second was for a substance he took only a week before the fight), they nevertheless are a permanent blemish on his otherwise almost perfect career. We won’t have to look very far to find a parallel in the major league universe, as we’re seeking a superior athlete with a best-in-class track record on the field whose classification as the greatest of all time will always be called into question because of steroid use.

Major League Baseball: Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds is an easy choice here. Both Bonds and Jones were so dominant that even if you ignored all their accomplishments post-doping, they would still be among the greatest to ever compete in their respective sports. Bonds was also a superior athlete, a plus runner and defender whose success was powered by an otherworldly offensive game. Sadly, Bonds’ story does not bode well for Jones’ future legacy, as his greatness and Hall of Fame candidacy will always carry a permanent proverbial asterisk. Interestingly, both athletes are great examples of alliteration, and have multiple family members competing in high-level athletics.

NOTE: I’ve left Alexander Gustafsson out of this discussion, mostly because I haven’t watched any of his fights. He is likely to be first in line for a title shot if and when Cormier retires, or permanently moves up to heavyweight.

Middleweights (185 pounds)

UFC Champion: Robert Whittaker | The Overachiever

The Reaper is not one of the more spectacular champions in UFC’s 25-year history and is a poor stand-in for all-time great Anderson Silva, who dominated the division for a decade. Ever since Silva lost to Chris Weidman (twice), the division has been a revolving door of less-than-spectacular champions. Whittaker represents the archetypal player with good skills across the board, who exceeds expectations despite limited athleticism, and lacking in any one standout, spectacular skill. This was on full display in his most recent bout against Yoel Romero, where the huge power advantage that Romero had over him was readily apparent. The player we are looking for is thus someone with average to plus skills across the board, ideally with an MVP award won due to sub-par competition.

Major League Baseball: Justin Morneau

Morneau was the AL MVP in 2006 despite producing only 3.8 fWAR, accruing more votes than David Ortiz and Derek Jeter. Morneau was a very good player in his heyday, but not one you would consider an all-time great. He also fits the Whittaker profile in the sense that he hit for a decent average, with good-but-not-elite power and good-but-not-great patience at the plate. He’s the type of player you wouldn’t be surprised to see as a team’s best or second best hitter, but who wouldn’t be classified as the best hitter in the league (even after an MVP season).

UFC Top Contender: Yoel Romero | The Underachiever

Romero has the kind of physique that would look outlandish on an action figure. The Cuban-born fighter lost a controversial decision to Robert Whittaker in his last fight, despite being the clearly more dangerous fighter. Romero is the type of fighter even casual fans of the sport can immediately spot an elite talent. He’s the complete package of speed and power mixed with plus wrestling, plus grappling, and 80 grade power. Somehow, despite all that talent, he’s never been able to become the UFC champion, with Father Time knocking on the door now that he’s 41.

Perhaps the most maddening aspect of Romero’s game is that his effort level waxes and wanes within a bout. Granted, a lot of that is due to his cardio (or lack thereof), as he tires quickly. Romero, in baseball parlance, is more of a reliever than a starter. He can’t go a full five rounds at max effort; he needs to pick his spots. It was pretty clear that had he put in a full five rounds of effort against Whittaker, he would have won. His baseball counterpart should thus be one with elite tools across the board who is saddled with maddening bouts of inconsistency that have held him back from reaching his full potential.

Major League Baseball: Yasiel Puig

We need not leave the island of Cuba to find a similarly frustrating athlete. Nicolas Stellini already pondered “The Mystery of Yasiel Puig,” so I will refer you to his excellent piece on the subject and simply quote from it:

…Puig will look for all the world like a demigod in a Dodgers uniform, mashing and running and throwing like he was put on this planet to torture pitchers and baserunners.

Spectacular athletes like Puig and Romero are a reminder that the all-time greats are a combination of elite talent and elite work ethic.

UFC All Time Great: Anderson Silva | Elite in All Aspects

To watch Silva was to watch MMA in its purest, most entertaining form. Silva was a marvelous combination of speed, quickness, accuracy and timing. He would stand in front of his opponent, arms down, daring him to strike, only to dip and weave and dodge, waiting to end the fight whenever he chose to end it. Silva’s elite defense was predicated on his incredible quickness and elusiveness, and stayed with him throughout his dominant run. Silva’s reign over the middleweight division ended after he turned 38 and slowed down just enough to allow Weidman to catch him on the chin. From start to finish, he was a spectacular, athletic entertaining fighter, elite in all facets of the game.

Major League Baseball : Adrian Beltre

Adrian Beltre may not jump off the page as an elite third baseman, but he is currently the dourth-ranked third baseman of all time per JAWS and the seventh best of all time per fWAR, and will likely finish as the third or fourth best of all time. While he was very good at age 20 (3.4 fWAR) and at age 21 (3.9 fWAR), his greatest success, much like Silva’s, came in the latter part of his career.

What stands out the most about Beltre, and what is driving this parallel, has been his remarkable consistency with nearly all of his tools, especially his defense, which has been positive in every season but one since 2002. Compare Beltre’s defensive arc to elite defensive players like Andruw Jones and Ken Griffey Jr, and you’ll see a rather stark contrast. Since 2000, only Yadier Molina has been more valuable defensively than Beltre. Anderson Silva was a great striker, but he was outstanding defensively; Beltre, while perhaps not on the same level as a hitter, was equally outstanding on the defensive side of the game.

One could argue for Mike Trout in this spot, but Trout has yet to stand the test of time. Further, Trout is without peer in the baseball world, a distinction that Silva, who competed at the same time as Georges St-Pierre, cannot claim.

Welterweights (170 pounds)

It is this author’s opinion that this is the most talent-rich division in the UFC, which makes sense when you consider the athletes who compete at 170 are usually closer to 190 on fight night and probably around 200 in their day-to-day training. There are naturally a lot more athletes this size (their height typically ranges from 5-foot-8 to six feet), with a relatively lower risk profile than the higher weight classes. For this division, we’re going to gloss over the current champion (Tyron Woodley) as well as his myriad well-qualified challengers (including the spectacular Darren Till and interim champ Colby Covington) and  focus on Canadian Georges St-Pierre. I believe no fighter has truly separated himself as the clear-cut champion since St-Pierre relinquished the belt. Woodley, despite beating top contender Stephen Thompson twice, did so via split decision and hasn’t yet dominated a true contender.

UFC All Time Great: Georges St-Pierre | Arguably the Greatest Pound for Pound Fighter Ever

Georges “Rush” wasn’t the most entertaining of fighters to say the least. A brief note to the non-UFC fans who’ve made it this far in this article: You accumulate value in each round of a fight through a combination of control as well as superior striking. It is not uncommon for a fighter to win a round simply by holding down her or his opponent with very few strikes thrown. In baseball parlance, this is equivalent to the walks versus homers dynamic: a walk is a guaranteed good outcome, whereas a swing and a ball in play may result in an out or an effective strike. GSP, as he is often called, dominated the division with a very effective wrestling/control game, which wasn’t nearly as entertaining as Anderson Silva’s style, yet was arguably more effective. I wonder if we can find another athlete, ideally from Canada, who fits the profile of a great baseball player who derives most of his value from the less electrifying aspects of the game.

Major League Baseball: Joey Votto

Votto’s batting eye is clearly elite; he accrues tremendous walk rates without the threat of elite-level power that guys like Judge and Harper possess. And he hails from Canada. Not convinced yet? GSP was roundly criticized for being a boring fighter. That’s quite a coincidence, since Joey Votto has the same opinion about… Joey Votto. To quote from the linked piece: “I think I am boring. That’s good. I strive for boring in all elements of my game.”

Batters with an ability to draw walks can maintain value even during slumps, since patience at the plate persists even when production varies. Wrestling has much the same dynamic in the UFC, where even if a fighter is having a bad day, the wrestling base will always be there, even late in their career. Patience also forces pitchers to be more predictable in their pitches, driving them to throw closer to the middle of the plate. Similarly, elite wrestling (and grappling) forces opponents to narrow the range of strikes they throw since they need to be careful not to allow an easy takedown.

Lightweights (155 pounds)

UFC Champion: Khabib Nurmagomedov | The One-Trick Pony

Nurmagomedov is a unique fighter, in the sense that he has only one great skill, the takedown-and-keep-down. He has won 29 consecutive rounds in the UFC, second only to GSP’s run of 33, mostly due to his unstoppable wrestling. You may be noticing a theme here, with the bulk of the champions right now possessing elite wrestling. As discussed above, elite (or at least extremely good) wrestling is akin to having patience at the plate in that the very best have this skill. All Nurmagomedov does is wrestle his opponent down, maul him like a bear and hold him down for five minutes, all while trash talking. He has enough of a chin that he can take whatever is thrown at him, but he’ll always get his opponent down. They know what is coming, and it doesn’t matter.

My opinion is that Nurmagomedov should not have been given a title fight against a sub-standard opponent who was training for a three-round fight (his belt was earned against a non-championship caliber opponent). To me he will be considered a “true” champion pnly if he can beat one of Conor McGregor, Tony Ferguson or Kevin Lee.

Major League Baseball: Kenley Jansen

Our baseball counterpart is an equally powerful force who is able to dominate despite being a one-trick pony. One can question whether Jansen would be as dominant if he were a starter, much as we would wonder how Nurmagomedov would hold up against the three fighters mentioned above. Jansen and Nurmagomedov both demonstrate that even at the elite level of two highly competitive sports, one can dominate with a single, overwhelmingly good tool. Sean Doolittle would fit here as well, though he doesn’t quite have the sustained track record. Mariano Rivera is also a good fit, though he is a proven champion. Only time will tell if Nurmagomedov can ascend to the Mariano Rivera level or be stopped by one of the elite fighters in the division.

UFC Top Contender: Conor McGregor | The “Notorious” Pure Entertainer

Even casual fans of UFC, or combat sports in general, know who Conor McGregor is, even if all they know is that he recently fought Floyd Mayweather. Conor McGregor is a pure entertainer; he’s brash, he’s bombastic and he does a lot of things that just make you scratch your head and wonder. He also has a deep belief that he is the greatest, most exciting fighter alive and that he can accomplish whatever he wants to in combat sports. Recently, he tried to attack Nurmagomedov at UFC 223, in a classic case of “Conor being Conor.” In my opinion, the fight that should happen is Nurmagomedov vs. Kevin Lee, but the UFC will undoubtedly put on McGregor vs. Nurmagomedov, because McGregor sells pay-per-views better than anyone.

Major League Baseball: Manny Ramirez

“Manny being Manny” was a common refrain from managers, teammates and announcers wherever he was playing. He was a classically entertaining player: fun to watch, fond of outlandish outfits, and a world champion (and World Series MVP). On the surface, personalities like Manny and Conor appear to be overly arrogant, aloof and, perhaps even a touch lazy. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Here’s a quote from his SABR bio, as written by Bill Nowlin:

Manny’s lack of English-language skills left him unsure of himself in situations where conversation was called for, but his work ethic showed from an early age in punishing workouts, waking as early at 5 A.M. on a regular basis to get in his running — and quite often running up hills in the city, tugging a 20-pound tire behind him secured by a rope around his waist. Even years later, teammates on, say, the Boston Red Sox, mentioned that no one worked harder in the weight room and with training than Manny Ramirez. Under the baggy uniforms was a sculpted body that might have been featured in a fitness magazine; as a major leaguer, he was listed as an even 6 feet tall and 225 pounds.

Conor McGregor also credits his success not to a superlative talent level but to an unmatched work ethic. As Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson said, “Best part of his success, is when you strip it all away — it will always come down to being the hardest worker in the room. Those roots never go away.”

McGregor described his own talent by saying:

There’s no talent here, this is hard work. This is an obsession. Talent does not exist, we are all equals as human beings. You could be anyone if you put in the time. You will reach the top, and that’s that. I am not talented, I am obsessed.

McGregor and Ramirez teach us that we can’t judge people based on their public persona (excluding, perhaps, McGregor’s criminal activity) and that greatness is achieved with a healthy dose of exceptional work ethic. As unique and eccentric as these great athletes are, underneath that greatness are two obsessed individuals — obsessed with getting better each and every day of their lives.

Featherweights (145 pounds)

UFC Champion: Max Holloway | The Young Superstar

Max “Blessed” Holloway somehow manages to get his 5-foot-11 frame down to 145 pounds for his bouts, without impacting his cardio. Some fighters, after cutting a lot of weight for a fight, get tired far faster than fighters who don’t. His incredible stamina allows him to wear out his opponents with his combination of accurate striking, very strong defensive wrestling, above-average power and sheer volume (he throws a lot of strikes). Holloway hasn’t lost since he fought McGregor and recently knocked out former champ Jose Aldo twice. Still only 26, Holloway looks set to possibly dominate the featherweight division for a long time, provided he can get past Brian Ortega on Saturday.

Major League Baseball: Jose Altuve

Altuve, in UFC parlance, is an incredibly accurate striker, with just enough power to make those accurate strikes effective. Early in his career, Altuve didn’t exhibit much power; he didn’t reach double digit home runs in his first four seasons. This mirrors Holloway, who registered only one knockout in his first six UFC fights. We considered Dustin Pedroia here as well, especially considering his elite defense, however Altuve was a better fit as his career arc is a closer match to that of Holloway.

Bantamweights (135 pounds)

UFC Champion: TJ Dillashaw | The Champion Once Again

Dillashaw is constantly improving his game, even switching gyms (to much drama) in an effort to expand his game. He is the only current UFC champion to have lost and regained his belt, which is incredibly difficult. The list of recent former champions who couldn’t regain their belt include Fabricio Werdum, Anderson Silva, Luke Rockhold, Chris Weidman, Robbie Lawler and Jose Aldo. Dillashaw is a well-rounded fighter, with great tools across the board and a healthy amount of power (especially for the bantamweight division). Our counterpart should be a pitcher with an early run of dominance, followed by a dip and a return to greatness.

Major League Baseball: Justin Verlander

Verlander and Dillashaw have similar career arcs. Both began their careers as good-but-not-great performers, followed by an ascent to the top. Verlander produced over 30 WAR between 2009-13, but was relatively pedestrian in 2014, striking out fewer than seven batters per nine innings. Dillashaw won his belt via knockout, then successfully defended it twice (both also by knockout), stamping his mark on the division, before losing it to Dominick Cruz via split decision. Verlander has since regained his form, and, much like Dillashaw, is better than he was during his first run. Further, both athletes gained from switching teams (Dillashaw moved from Team Alpha Male to The Training Lab, Verlander from Detroit to Houston), helping them reach new heights.

Flyweights (125 pounds)

UFC Champion: Demetrious Johnson | The “Perfect” Fighter

Demetrious Johnson is perhaps the most intelligent fighter in the UFC. He thinks through and trains for almost any permutation of fight conditions, positions and situations. He is better than anyone else at this weight class because he will come to the fight better prepared, with a better game plan and a superior ability to execute it. He’s also too smart to take the bait from larger bantamweight fighters and sticks to fighting guys from his own division. One has to watch Johnson to fully appreciate his greatness; he’s always two or three steps ahead of his opponent.

Above, we discussed how both the UFC and baseball are microcosms of game theory, where athletes have to make adjustments in split-second time. Johnson is superlative at this, reading and understanding everything his opponent is doing. He has no interest in getting into a slugfest, or taking the risk of getting a concussion by moving up a weight class. In my mind, that puts an asterisk on his claim for “greatest pound-for-pound fighter,” since he’s competing against a much smaller group of athletes who can weigh in at 125 pounds. However, if you’re going to describe a “cerebral” athlete, as well as a run of unparalleled dominance, look no further.

Major League Baseball: Pedro Martinez

Martinez wasn’t exceptional due to one dominant tool; he was exceptional because all four of his pitches were well above average, despite a fastball that clocked in at just 90.5 mph in 2002 and 89.8 mph in ’03. His elite command and ability to harness all his tools resulted in a level of perfomance very few can reach. Martinez’ unparalleled seven-year peak mirrors Demetrious Johnson’s current six-year run. Pedro, who had great stuff, didn’t dominate because he was a better athlete, or because he had a Nolan Ryan-esque fastball; he dominated with flawless execution of his arsenal, game in and game out. He is the classic example of what great tools, combined with flawless execution, can doo.


On the surface, baseball and UFC are vastly different sports. However when we dig a little deeper, we see that they have a lot in common. Both sports are driven by individual talent. Some players and fighters possess otherworldly, all-around tools, while others have one singular, stop-the-world ability that allows them to dominate despite other deficiencies. What intertwines these two sports the most, and the common thread that fascinates this author, are the game-theory type strategies that underpin the athlete vs. athlete competition we see in these sports. Every action, reaction, decision, adjustment and outcome is based on elite athletes reading their opponent, determining in split-second time what their game plan should be, and executing to the best of their abilities.

References and Resources

Eli Ben-Porat is a Senior Manager of Reporting & Analytics for Rogers Communications. The views and opinions expressed herein are his own. He builds data visualizations in Tableau, and builds baseball data in Rust. Follow him on Twitter @EliBenPorat, however you may be subjected to (polite) Canadian politics.
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I think it is fair game to question openly what it means to enjoy watching people hurt each other
Peace Love and Light to you all


So I take it you don’t watch the NFL?

Eric Robinson

Also, Stipe Miocic is from the Cleveland area for another Jim Thome connection


As a baseball fan I have always wanted to get into UFC.

How do I do this/where do I start?


It used to be on Spike, I don’t Know if it’s on tv anymore (try re-runs)


Well, to make things as easy as possible, the UFC is moving to ESPN in 2019 per their new TV deal. In the meantime, UFC can be found on FS1. The prelim to the PPV Saturday night begins at 8 PM EST on FS1. The 4th of July card is always one of their biggest cards, and the preliminary bouts that air on FS1 from 8-10 PM EST have a nice variety of fighters. I am looking forward to the Lightweight (155 lb) fight. I may suggest if you have the ability to DVR it. One of the things the… Read more »


as someone whose two sports are baseball and MMA, this was a fascinating read. there’s more physical similarities than you would think, too. when I first took up MMA– starting with muay thai– I was surprised by how much transferred from baseball. The power in punches comes primarily from a quick rotation of the hips, and round kicks require that as well as pivoting off one foot, both movements that I found familiar from hitting. Defensively, the fast footwork necessary in any striking combat sport mirrors the footwork required especially of middle infielders, while the lightning tracking of and reaction… Read more »