Winning Smiles? MMA Predictions Using Pre-Fight Pics

"War is a game that is played with a smile." - Winston Churchill (1941)

Smiles in the animal kingdom are one of the most studied emotional expressions. We generally accept smiles as a universal indication of happiness.

Felipe Arantes vs Milton Vieira UFC 147 pre-fight photo (June 2012). The match ended in a draw.

Felipe Arantes vs Milton Vieira UFC 147 pre-fight photo (June 2012). The match ended in a draw. Photo Source

In many other species, baring one's teeth can be perceived as a threat or show of potential force. But not all smiles are the same.

Frank McAndrew, professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, observes that baring one's teeth isn't always perceived as a threat.

"In primates, showing the teeth, especially teeth held together, is almost always a sign of submission. The human smile probably has evolved from that."

So how does this apply to the world of mixed martial arts? Can we make MMA predictions based on a fighter's propensity to flash their winning smiles?

According to a recent study published in the scientific journal "Emotion", we can.

Michael W. Kraus, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, and Teh-Way David Chen from University of California, Berkeley, hypothesized that smiles are an involuntary, nonverbal signal of submission--similar to forms of teeth baring in the animal kingdom--and that MMA predictions could be made based on facial analysis of opponents prior to a match.

The researchers studied 152 pre-fight pics and weigh-in images of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighters against the actual fight results. The evidence suggests that a more intense smile in pre-fight pics can predict losses.

[The results] provide evidence [that] increased smile intensity prior to physical combat predicted poorer performance by the fighter exhibiting the smile, and enhanced performance for his opponent. More specifically, fighters showing more neutral pre-fight facial expressions in photographs standing opposite of their opponent were more likely to win the fight, more likely to end the fight by knockout or submission, more likely to land a higher percentage of significant strikes, and more likely to wrestle their opponent to the ground during the fight.

Patrick "The Predator" Cote

Brazilian Top Team fighter Patrick "The Predator" Cote has won 44% of his professional fights by KO/TKO.

In a second study, the researchers asked nearly 180 untrained observers to judge fighters' personalities based simply on head shots. Participants were instructed that the photographs were taken while the fighter was directly facing an opponent, one day prior to their fight.

The results of the second study indicate that fighters who showed an intense smile were rated as less aggressive and hostile, and as a result, were seen as less physically dominant than non-smiling fighters.

So there you have it: MMA predictions can be made based on a fighter's facial expressions prior to a match.

You can now add game face preparation for pre-fight pics to your training routine.

Posted in Competition  |  Leave a comment