Triangle Choke Trigonometry: How Important is Fighter Height?

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This month the MMA Fight DB team dusted off our MMA math books for a little triangle choke trigonometry. We compared MMA fighters’ heights across weight classes to see what impact height had on securing a triangle choke submission.

The results of our analysis reveal that there is no correlation between height and triangle choke success. However, being taller than your opponent, particularly in the heavier weight categories, appears to be connected to greater triangle success.

The results of our analysis suggests that it is the relative height (ie the height difference of fighters) that is more important than the overall height of a fighter when it comes to triangle success.

Triangle CHOKE and HEight

As we previously noted, there hasn’t been a single successful triangle choke in either the Flyweight or Heavyweight divisions of Bamma, Bellator, Strikeforce, UFC or WSOF in the last 1291 fights.

This led us to question whether there might be an ideal height for triangle choke submissions. For example, do taller fighters have more success than shorter fighters? Are Heavyweights too big for triangle chokes?

The results of our analysis show that successful triangle chokes were not correlated with an increase in fighter height. In fact, triangle chokes peaked at around the 6 foot mark, with fighters taller than six foot having less success.

Triangle Choke Basics

First, let’s begin with the basics. The triangle choke is a blood choke applied with the legs to an opponent’s neck in order to stop the flow of blood to an opponent’s brain. In terms of effectiveness, the triangle choke comes in as the fourth most common submission in our Top 10 MMA Submissions. It is, however, one of the few submissions to be applied almost exclusively with the legs, with little use of the arms.

Triangle Choke Mechanics

The choke works by applying pressure to an opponent’s carotid arteries to stop the blood flow to the brain. To apply the choke, a fighter traps his opponent’s head and one arm between his legs and squeezes his legs together to restrict the space around an opponent’s neck.

Pressure on one side of the neck is formed with a fighter’s leg while the pressure on the over side comes from an opponent’s own shoulder or arm. Typically the triangle choke is obtained from the closed or open guard and is one of the few submissions successfully applied from the bottom.

For the basic mechanics of the triangle choke, we recommend Ryan Hall’s breakdown below.

Long Legs

Seeing as the choke is applied almost exclusively with the legs it stands to reason that the length of fighters’ legs would impact their success rate in applying the triangle choke.  As a proxy for fighter leg length, which is unmeasured, we examined the heights of fighters who had successfully pulled off a triangle choke.

Using our online database of fights and fighters we compared the heights of fighters across weight divisions to determine whether the height of a fighter was correlated with more triangle submission victories. The results suggest little to no correlation between height and the number of triangle submissions.

Correlation between Triangle Choke Submissions and Fighter Height

Rather than gradually increasing as fighters get taller, triangle submissions increase in number up to 72 inches (6 foot) in height before dropping away again as fighters get taller. This suggests that height is not correlated with triangle success. If it was, we would expect to see triangle choke success increase with a fighter’s height. Instead we see fairly random scatter of dots between 66 (5’ 6’’) and 77 inches (6’5’’).

Correlation between height and triangle submissions

 

Most Successful Triangle Choke Specialist

In terms of triangle choke success, David Rickels claimed the crown of most successful triangle choke specialist. He picked up more triangle choke submissions than anyone else, tapping out Dylan Smith, Rich Bouphanouvong and Levi Avera in Bellator 40, 43 and 53, respectively.

Behind him were Jason Butcher, a Bellator Middleweight fighter, and Tom Breese, a Bamma Welterweight, who both picked up 2 triangle submissions each.

The lack of UFC fighters in this list reflects the fact that the UFC generally has a much lower triangle submission success rate than any other organization. In terms of triangles per fight, the UFC had the second lowest rate at 4/426, with only the World Series of Fighting coming in lower (0/23).

The only recorded UFC fighters to have success in this period were Sergio Moraes, Michael McDonald, Rony Jason and Joe Lauzon (ED note: our data doesn’t include Jimy Hettes’ recent triangle choke of Rob Whiteford).

triangle rate in Bamma, Bellator, UFC, STrikeforce and WSOF

Shortest and Tallest Triangle Choke Artist

The shortest fighter to find success with the triangle choke was Joel Roberts who at 5’6’’ tapped out Brylan Van Artsdalen (5’8’’) in the second round of their Bellator 49 fight. At the other end of the spectrum, the tallest fighter to triangle their opponent was Mike “crazy” Mucitelli whose 6’5’’ frame earned the V over Matt Van Buren in the first round of their Bellator 73 fight.

Triangle Choke Rounds

If we break down the triangles by round we can see that it is a submission that works best in the first round of an MMA fight. 72.73 percent of triangles came in the very first round. The remaining triangle submissions appeared in the second round only 21.21 percent of the time and in the third and fourth only 3 percent of the time.

round triangle choke finishes

Weight Classes

In terms of weight classes, the Featherweight division had the highest rate of triangle submissions at 0.05 triangles per fight. Featherweight fighters tapped out MMA opponents at a rate of 0.03 and 0.04 more than either the Bantamweight or Lightweight divisions.

Despite being the third lightest and third shortest weight category on average, Featherweight fighters had a higher triangle submission rate than any of the heavier and taller divisions.

triangle choke rate by weight class

Relative Heights

To dig a little deeper into the data, we compared the heights of winners and losers in fights ending with a triangle choke.

average triangle choke height

 

The results show a relatively mixed picture of heights and triangle choke success. What is curious about the results though is that being taller than your opponent appears to have more significance in the heavier rather than the lighter weight categories. This suggests that being taller appears to be more important where you opponent is himself tall.

In the Bantamweight and Featherweight divisions, 4 of 10 triangles were from fighters who were reported to be shorter than their opponents. This contrasts with only 1 triangle in the Middleweight and Light-heavyweight divisions.

winner vs loser with lighter weight highlight

 

However, by averaging together all heights across weight classes we can see that triangle choke winners were on average slightly taller than their opponents. Triangle choke winners averaged a height of 71.4 inches (mode: 72, median: 72) whereas triangle choke losers averaged a height of 70.07 (mode: 72, median: 70).

winner vs loser averages

The results show that there is almost a one and a half inch difference overall between the average height of triangle choke winners and the triangle choke losers.

What is interesting about those averages is that they are almost entirely attributable to the Middleweight, Welterweight and Light-heavyweight classes. The difference between the height of Bantamweight, Featherweight and Lightweight winners and losers is only factional, with winners averaging 68.46 inches and losers 68.38.

This would seem to suggest that being taller is only important when competing at above Lightweight.

Conclusion

The results demonstrate what is perhaps key to all MMA fights; that it is the relative mix of fighters that is more important than any single objective factor. Being tall is good, but being taller is what matters, at least when it comes to triangles in the heavier weight categories.

Shorter and lighter fighters may take hope in the fact that in the lighter weight categories, height appears to make little difference to triangle success.

While legs and body shapes undoubtedly change how submissions work, there appears to be little evidence that being tall in itself will equal more triangle choke success. What appears to matter more is that a fighter is taller than his or her opponent.

The results contrast with many peoples’ experiences in the gym. Shorter fighters will testify that it is harder to triangle larger opponents than smaller opponents. Many will note that it is taller opponents that prefer the triangle choke in a training setting.

What is interesting is that this doesn’t seem to feed through into professional competitions, where fighters are required to weigh in at the same weight. This may be because height ranges and weights are restricted by weight categories more than they are in practice.

Next month we will look at the factors that do influence triangle choke success….

-Professor X

Dataset:

Bamma 1-13

Bellator 13-103

Strikeforce Heavyweight GP – Marquardt vs Saffiedine

UFC on Fuel TV Gustafsson vs Silva – UFC Fight Night 29 Maia vs Shields

World Series of Fighting 1-5

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3 Responses to “Triangle Choke Trigonometry: How Important is Fighter Height?”

  1. lenzy
    • Professor X

      Thanks for the link Lenzy but Stefan Struve vs Pat Berry was in Oct 2011 so was before our dataset started. That’s why it isn’t in the results.

      Reply

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