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The UFC home-court advantage
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a new weekly opinion column by retired UFC fighter Kenny Florian]
In traditional sports like football, soccer, basketball, and hockey, performing in your hometown can be a huge advantage due to the familiarity of your home arena, the cheering local crowd, and the lack of travel.
In the fight game, things are a little different.
Aside from some logos here and there, the Octagon is always the same regardless of location: same fence, same mat, same gloves. The real benefit of fighting at home comes from the hometown support. Yes, it's always motivating to hear a rowdy crowd cheer for you, but what I’m talking about goes beyond that.
The cheers and jeers can affect the judges and the referee. Whether it’s the “oohs” and “ahhs” that influence a judge that a particular strike was effective or whether it’s the crowd screaming for a stand up to aid a particular fighter, the hometown crowd can certainly benefit a fighter. Not all judges and referees are susceptible to the pressure of the crowd though. In addition, a biased crowd isn’t just an advantage reserved for fighters fighting at home; it really goes to any fighter that is popular.
I remember the crowd for the Dos Santos vs. Velazquez rematch in Las Vegas being about 50/50, despite Cain fighting in his home country and JDS being far away from his hometown of Salvador, Brazil.
The biggest benefit of fighting in your hometown comes from eating the food that you are most accustomed to, having family and friends for support, and not having to fly several hours. With fighters cutting weight, it’s important to know where you can find gyms, restaurants, supermarkets, and transportation to do what you need to do during fight week. Expenses are lower as well, since you don’t have to fly out your training partners and coaches. Even something as simple as sleeping in your own bed can be an advantage for a fighter.
We also mustn’t forget about the advantage of being accustomed to sleeping and training for your particular time zone on fight night. These are all things that limit stress for a fighter during fight week. Less stress equals better performance.
Fighting in your hometown isn’t without its disadvantages either. Expectations are always high for a local fighter. Friends and family will contact you, constantly asking how you are feeling and how training camp is going. They also ask for tickets — many more than you have at your disposal.
And don't forget about obligations from all of the hometown media outlets. There will always be more responsibility fighting at home. Every interview you do is time that could be spent on training or resting. The articles themselves can play up the fact of how “big an opportunity” this is for you, consequently adding more pressure for a fighter on fight night.
I’ve had the opportunity of fighting in hostile territory and have also had the opportunity of fighting at home. On the surface, it would seem that fighting at home in Boston was a disadvantage for me considering I lost there. Some of my best performances were actually fought far away from home.
I believe my poor performances had more to do with how my training camp went and quite frankly, how the stars were aligned for me on that particular night. Some nights are better than others — regardless of where you are competing.
At the end of the day, the crowds will not win the fight for you. Good performances and wins come down to the physical and mental skills you exhibit on fight night. Fellow Bostonian Joe Lauzon has experienced both a win and a loss fighting at home, proving that there is much more to winning than just having a hometown advantage.
This week, we are going to find out from a few fighters if they can reap the rewards of this so-called “homecourt advantage.” Anthony Pettis will be in his hometown of Milwaukee challenging Benson Henderson on Aug. 31 to defend his lightweight UFC belt. Demian Maia will be fighting Jake Shields in his home country of Brazil in October and a couple weeks later, Michael Bisping will be fighting in his home country of England against an American, Mark Munoz.
Bisping’s fight in particular will be an interesting case study. Bisping lives in Southern California but grew up in England and has a huge fan base there. How will the advantages stack up against the disadvantages? We will soon find out. But if history can give us any kind of hint, Bisping remains undefeated in the UK.