A few UFC fighters say that the use of a smaller cage at certain events is having a big impact on their performance.
The UFC has been using a smaller, 25ft cage, rather than the traditional 30ft they use at arenas like the MGM Grand Arena, at more and more events as they expand globally.
The reason for this is that sometimes the 30ft cage is 'too big' for the venues and ends up taking up too much space on the floor but fighters say it's not just having an effect on the amount of space used.
By using the smaller cage, the UFC sacrifices 44% in length and 20% in width and that causes fighters to throw around 20% more strikes, according to statistician Reed Kuhn.
“It’s silly to think there wouldn't be an effect. Imagine shrinking a baseball field by 44 percent. You’re going to have way more home runs. Imagine doing the same thing to a hockey rink. It’s going to change how the game is played,” said Kuhn.
“It’s not anything magical, just that there’s more engagement in a smaller cage," he added.
As for the fighters themselves, well it's been the heavyweights who fought in the cage at UFC Fight Night 50 that have spoken up the most.
“I noticed right when I stepped in,” says Ben Rothwell, who scored a first-round TKO victory over Alistair Overeem at the event, “I didn't know it was that (the cage) was smaller. They told me after.”
Fighters for or against the change?
It seems as if the issue of a smaller cage is certainly something that fighters both love and hate. While Rothwell was indifferent, he still felt the impact, while over fighters like Matt Mitrione and Tim Kennedy are split on the issue.
“I don’t like fighting in that small cage,” said Matt Mitrione, "I’d rather fight in a field than a phone booth. We’re big bodies. You take two steps and you’re fighting in the middle of it. For me, mobility’s a big part of my game – that, and being athletic. For me, it feels like every time I make a movement I’m a foot and a half from one side of the cage or the other, so it’s more difficult.”
Kennedy on the other hand says that the smaller cage is better for him and that it leads to more finishes - thus more excitement for fans.
“I feel like the smaller the cage, the more finishes you usually see. And fights that end in a finish, I usually win those – so that’s good for me,” said Kennedy.
Lack of communication?
Mitrione did have one other complaint though and that's with the UFC and their lack of communication as to what size cage the fights will be held in.
“That last few times I thought it was going to be a full-sized cage and I come in to find out it’s not, it’s a 25-footer. It makes a difference for me, mentality-wise,” said Mitrione.
UFC Lightweight, Michael Chiesa says that that responsibility falls on the fighter and that they should look at the venue and know.
“You should automatically have an idea what size the cage is by what venue you’re fighting at. … If you think you’ll be in a big cage fighting at a small venue, you should have more common sense.”
Common sense can only get you so far though and if the UFC isn't letting it's fighters know beforehand then Mitrione is right in saying that it can effect him mentally.
A smaller cage means more engagement and it will favour the big hitters who can rely on a single punch to win them the fight - in comparison to a fighter like Kennedy who would want to outwork a fighter before taking it to a slugfest.