Science of the Slam: Out With a Bang, Not a Whimper

Gray Maynard & Nate Diaz  // PHOTO BY PAUL THATCHER

Gray Maynard & Nate Diaz // PHOTO BY PAUL THATCHER

Not all takedowns are created equal. Some are dragged-out wars of attrition that end with a whimper, while others are explosive feats of athleticism that end with a bang. “Slams” on takedowns are a recorded metric in MMA, categorized by what types of takedown it accompanied. Slams have their own subtle patterns that can cause damage, end fights, and win points in the judges’ eyes.

The most famous practitioner of the slam in his PRIDE days,” Quinton “Rampage” Jackson never actually used the maneuver to win a UFC fight. However, slams have resulted in TKO/KO finishes on eight different occasions in UFC history.

The first UFC slam knockout occurred at UFC 16: Battle of the Bayou on March 13, 1998. Frank Shamrock retained his UFC Light Heavyweight Title against Russian born Igor Zinoviev by slamming him into unconsciousness just 22 seconds into the fight. The slam also broke Zinoviev’s collarbone, and he never again competed professionally. This brutal debut of the slam ended a fight, ended a career, and won a championship belt in less time than it takes to make toast.

That wasn’t the only time a UFC title came down to a bang. At UFC 134 on November 2, 2001, Matt Hughes took the UFC Welterweight Title from Carlos Newton with a cage fence slam that is controversial to this day. Having already landed a couple of slam takedowns in round one, Hughes got caught in a tight triangle choke in round two. Hughes used his famous country-boy strength to lift Newton up against the top of the cage and slam him down into a power bomb. Newton went out cold on impact, and while Big John McCarthy tended to Newton to confirm the finish, he missed the fact that Hughes was essentially choked out as a result of the triangle. When Hughes snapped back to reality, he was the new champ.

Breaking Down The Data

So, what’s with these slams? Don’t think they can hurt all that much? Let’s run a very simple thought experiment. Consider Tim Kennedy’s slam of Ronaldo Souza at Strikeforce: Houston as an example.

During this slam, Souza’s torso fell almost five feet to the mat. It could have been higher given the angles and initial lift involved, but we’ll be conservative. In many cases, a fighter will carry an opponent over his shoulder in a “fireman’s carry” before leaping and diving into a slam. In this sense, a slam victim (“slamee”) usually falls at least from the shoulder height of a fighter. Two basic equations for falling bodies to determine the speed of Souza’s impact with the ground are used.

With some very rough rounding, let’s estimate that Souza was traveling at 10 miles per hour when his back and shoulders hit the ground (thanks to a full second of gravitational acceleration)—except Souza wasn’t just falling with the aid of gravity. Kennedy’s muscles were likely working to accelerate Souza even faster toward the mat. So Souza was traveling faster than 10 miles per hour, which means he’s approaching the speed at which a normal person can sprint (roughly 12-15 mph on average). In the case of a fireman’s carry drop of six feet with no additional downward acceleration beyond gravity, we also get to 12 mph on impact.

Now, imagine sprinting full speed into a wall. Sound like it might knock the wind out of you? You bet. That running speed of impact could easily knock someone out, as wide receivers in the NFL frequently find out. Slams are no fun, even if they don’t result in such a brain-bouncing jolt as to render the recipient unconscious.

Some slams are easier to come by than others. Because FightMetric differentiates between three flavors of takedown and slams, we can see which types of takedowns are most likely to end with a bang. It turns out, there is a difference.

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Not quite 1 in 10 successful takedowns will have a slam, but given how often takedowns occur, that’s still an appreciable amount of slamming going on in the UFC. The chart clearly shows a difference in the slam rates for each takedown type relative to the overall UFC average of 9.4%. A shooting takedown rarely ends in a slam, while clinch takedowns have double or triple the slam rate of shots, depending on the body grasp.

Strategically, slams emphasize cage control and put the exclamation mark on takedowns. This could be important for affecting a judge’s perception of who is winning a round. The loud crash, the “ohhs” of the crowd, and the temporary stunning of the opponent that could lead to a quick position gain by the advancing fighter all mean that slams should not be overlooked as an influencing factor in the takedown game.

Finally, it’s important to note that some fighters are clearly better at this than others. Here’s a short list of some of the UFC’s most prolific slam artists.

Screen shot 2014-04-15 at 12.41.44 PM The most prolific slammers have had enough appearances in the Octagon to rack up career stats, but within that list, some guys have outperformed others on a per takedown basis. Notably, Tyson Griffin added a slam to 40% of his landed takedowns, with Mike Pierce, Aaron Simpson, and Josh Burkman all surpassing a slam rate of at least 30%. While many of these career leaderboard fighters are no longer with the UFC, there’s enough slamtastic talent floating around to ensure the violent artistry of the slam will not die anytime soon.

Keeping The Slams Alive

Slam fans should look no further than UFC lightweight Rustam Khabilov, whose suplexes earned him a slam TKO-victory over Vinc Pichel in his UFC debut at The Ultimate Fighter Finale 16 in December 2012. Beginning his UFC career 2-0 with two finishes, Khabilov also used takedowns to injure his second Octagon opponent, Yancy Madeiros. image desc Despite not having enough career slams to show up on the career leader board, his slam rate is an impressive 50%. Just two fights into his career, Khabilov’s takedowns and slams appear to be as dangerous a weapon as any inside the Octagon.

One last consideration on the subject of slams: are some fighters more likely to get slammed than others? If so, then we should keep an eye on these frequent “slamees,” who all tend to get planted at twice the UFC average slam rate or more.

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FIGHTNOMICS Hits Bookshelves

MMA finally gets the analysis it deserves in Fightnomics by Reed Kuhn. Common theories about the sport get put to the test with a little bit of science and a whole lot of numbers. The fight game will never look the same after you discover what really matters in the cage.

For more info on ordering the book, visit fightnomics.com.

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