Fantasy Fights

Intelligent, unique MMA analysis

In Sports and Especially MMA, Some Things Are Just Unpredictable

Seahawks 43, Broncos 8. According to Nate Silver this is the first time in the history of the NFL a game ended with that final score. It also was a completely unexpected result by all accounts. The Broncos were the slight betting favorite going in. The Seahawks opened as the slight favorite but that didn’t last long as a heavy percentage of the money wagered was on Denver.

I believed Seattle was more likely to win the game than Denver but not by much. Going into the Super Bowl I thought that if Seattle and Denver played 100 games, neither team would win more than 55 out of 100. I might have allowed for one or two games out of the 100 to feature a Seattle blowout by at least 35 points… maybe.

This is why I go out of my way to avoid the media coverage of the Super Bowl in the two weeks before it’s played. All of the talking heads relaying their carefully crafted opinions end up being completely meaningless when the actual game begins. The reality is that there’s a lot more randomness in sports and in life than many people care to acknowledge.

Overall, Seattle is not 35 points better than Denver. If these teams played a rematch in a week, Seattle would be the favorite but not by 35. Yes, the Seahawks were dominant in this one game, but as important as the Super Bowl itself is… it’s still just one football game.

I write this because it should serve as a cautionary tale regarding MMA fights. MMA is a sport where people like to say a fighter is “only as good as his last fight.” I’ve always hated that cliche. Was Georges St-Pierre only as good as when he was knocked out by Matt Serra? Was Anderson Silva only as good as when he was heel hooked by Ryo Chonan?

Here’s an example of something random: I can look at all the statistics and history suggesting that Jeremy Stephens has poor takedown defense and Darren Elkins has decent takedown offense, and conclude that Elkins should be able to take Stephens down reliably. Then the fight actually happens and Stephens stuffs all nine Elkins takedowns. A lot of people would watch that fight and say “wow, Jeremy Stephens has awesome takedown defense!” Others would watch it and say “wow, Darren Elkins just can’t buy a takedown.” There are many reasons why Elkins may have struggled, but maybe all it comes down to is Stephens just had a good night?

Then there’s a fight like Alistair Overeem vs. Frank Mir. A fight I never thought would go the distance ended up hitting the judges’ scorecards. In a battle between heavyweights with a history of either finishing or being finished… the fight went all three rounds.

Here’s the point. I was never going to predict Alistair Overeem by decision instead of KO. All the data and common sense I have says Overeem should win that fight by knockout the vast majority of the time. I was also never going to pick Seattle to beat Denver by 35 points.

Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking “what did I get wrong” when I make an incorrect prediction. Often, the proper reaction is to simply acknowledge that some things are just unpredictable.

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