The myth of 90 percent of fights end up on the ground

Just recently, somebody asked Marc MacYoung a question on his Facebook page. I think is still relevant, even though the answer has been known for some time. The question was:

Have you ever researched, or seen research, regarding data about the number of fights (where weapons are not involved) that end up “on the ground.”

This immediately brings to mind the “ninety percent of all fights end up on the ground” myth. Before we get to Marc’s answer, some background on the origin of this myth. First of, where does it come from.


The myth of 90 percent of fights end up on the ground

As far as I know, it was Rorion Gracie who started claiming this back in the late 1980’s. A Google search gave me this article (originally published in Playboy of all places…) from 1989. This was before UFC 1 and the Gracies weren’t as well known as they are now. Neither was Brazilian Ju Jitsu. In fact, if you opened up a martial arts magazine back then, there was still a lot of traditional martial arts in there, along with lots of Jeet Kune Do. People were writing about trapping, the different ranges and so on. There was very little on ground-grappling or striking on the ground.

There is a lot more to how it all went down (an interesting article right here) but Rorion seems to have been primarily looking to promote his family’s style when he claimed that ninety percent of all fights go to the ground. The angle he played seems to have been something along the lines of:

  • 90 percent of all fights eventually end up on the ground according to an LAPD study.
  • Gracie Ju Jitsu specializes in ground fighting and we have a proven track record.
  • Therefor, Gracie Ju Jitsu is the best system for fighting.

A few years after that original article, UFC 1 came along, Royce Gracie won and that brought ground grappling and MMA in the limelight. The Gracies fared well in the twenty years since then, to put it mildly.

During those two decades, that 90% quote got tossed around all over the place until it eventually became accepted as a fact by the average martial artist, in particular by the BJJ or MMA practitioners. It even came to the point that if you questioned this “fact”, you were labeled a stupid traditionalist who didn’t know what real fighting was. Unfortunately, there are some problems with that quote.


Why is this a myth?

The first problem is that the logic doesn’t hold up.

One of the key problems we all have nowadays is that we are bombarded in the media with “studies” and “statistics” that supposedly prove all sorts of things. At least, that’s what’s implied when you read those kinds of articles. The issue is this:

Correlation does not imply causation

This is a classical mistake scientists are warned about and one they should always strive to avoid. Just because one factor is correlated to another, doesn’t mean it causes it.  Or to put it in relevant terms: [Read more…]