Is the smaller Cage at the UFC APEX More Exciting than Standard Octagon?

UFC Apex
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 12: A general view of the Octagon during the UFC 256 event at UFC APEX on December 12, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Due to the pandemic, the UFC has used the UFC APEX to host events in the United States after the Nevada State Athletic Commission reopened combat sporting events in the state.

The events at the APEX facility were fought inside a smaller octagon than the regular-sized ones used at most UFC events. The one in the facility is 25ft compared to the larger 30ft octagon that we usually see.  

UFC Apex: Smaller Cage = Bigger Action?

With the smaller octagon, there has been discussion whether the fights have been more exciting in the 25ft cage as opposed to the 30ft one as it forces the action more due to there being less room to maneuver causing the fighters to engage each other on a more frequent basis.

Looking at statistics, we’re going to compare the first three events in Jacksonville and the first three at the UFC APEX during the start of the “COVID era”.

From the first three Jacksonville events, in the normal 30ft diameter with an area of around 746 square feet, there was approximately a 48% finish rate. That is nearly a fifty-fifty chance of the fight being stopped by KO, TKO, submission, or by doctor stoppage.  Doesn’t sound bad right? I mean that is nearly half the fights ending in an exciting finish which the fans love to see.

Now let’s look at the smaller cage statistics from the first three events UFC APEX. It is 25ft in diameter and about 518 square feet which were used in promotions such as the old World Extreme Cagefighting, Dana White’s Contender Series, and The Ultimate Fighter show.  According to statistics used by the smaller octagon, the finish rate is 60%.  

Smaller octagon results in more exciting finishes instead of long-drawn-out decisions looking at statistics. There is a 12% increase in finishes which translates to 1.4 additional finishes on a card that features 12 fights. That is an additional sublime knockout or a slick submission highlight for the event! An extra highlight reel for the event. 

I believe that is significant. I point towards Sugar Sean O’Malley’s devastating one-punch knockout of the veteran Eddie Wineland at the UFC APEX or Cody Garbrandt’s destructive right hook that made Rafael Assuncao go to sleep.

I cannot speak for the rest of the MMA community but I am certainly in favor of the smaller octagon in the future especially after the events at the APEX produced two of the best fights I have seen in the UFC with Dan Hooker vs Dustin Poirier and Shane Burgos vs Josh Emmett. Both were absolute wars that showed non-stop action, violence, grit, and determination. The smaller cage not only provides exciting finishes but action-packed wars inside the octagon.

UFC president Dana White quickly shutdown the notion and does not believe in the smaller cage more action theory’, believing it to be all an ‘illusion’.

“Were the fights in Jacksonville bad?” Dana said. “They were great. It’s all an illusion. It’s bullsh*t. It’s not true.”

Journalist and co-owner for MMA Junkie, John Morgan explained that White actually prefers the bigger cage because he does not like the way the 25ft cage looks on broadcast however Morgan admitted he also prefers the smaller octagon.    

“I like the smaller octagon,” said Morgan. “It’s something that they’ve used a little bit over the years like at The Palms. Dana and the other executives don’t like the way it looks on TV. They want the space to look bigger but I like the smaller octagon.  

“I don’t care what Dana says, I believe it does make a difference in the fights. It forces the action a little bit more as there’s not as much room to move and to be honest I like the smaller octagon,” said the MMA journalist of the year 2009.

Despite what Mr. White thinks, the fact of the matter is that a smaller cage equals more exciting, violent fights and thrilling finishes. There is less room to maneuver and fighters do not have the luxury of circling away from danger. Fighters have to think and react quicker resulting in more action leading to more highlight reels.  

More highlight reels that go viral lead to more hype for a fighter and more eyeballs on the sport as popularity for the UFC as a brand goes up. If you disagree, then look back at Jorge Masvidal’s flying knee knockout of Ben Askren. The knockout went viral on social media all around the world and resulted in a big spike in popularity for the UFC and Masvidal himself.

“Dana always says ‘were they not greats in Florida?” said Morgan. “I’m like ‘yeah they were’.  If you’re going to make that argument, it’s not like there are never great fights in the big octagon. It’s not like there’s never bad fights in a small octagon 

“They’re both great but I do feel like the smaller octagon is better, it’s just simple logic there’s not as much room to move or retreat. You’re going to get more action out of it.”

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