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FightMetric gives UFC fans insight and a chance to play fantasy sports

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FightMetric has a fantasy game that allows fans to guess who will advance in "The Ultimate Fighter."

LAS VEGAS -- Every day for the last month, FightMetric CEO Rami Genauer has walked past the bare, white walls of his new Washington, D.C. office and the MMA-inspired, framed artwork still resting on the ground. As he passes by the pictures, the same thought occurs to him everyday: I should really put those up.

Genauer should be forgiven. Decorating his company's new digs has been subordinate to expanding his new(ish) empire. The 32-year-old founded FightMetric, the UFC's official statistics provider, in 2007. In just six years, he has taken his business from his couch, to a tiny office -- "I was pretty sure we were violating the fire code by putting too many people in a space that small," Genauer says -- to headquarters three times bigger in the capital's Golden Triangle district. The moves are as a practical as they are poetic -- fitting metaphors for a business with a relative growth rate that might surpass that of the UFC, its chief client.

FightMetric's hub might have moved occasionally but the heartbeat of its operation shifts almost weekly, setting up shop at UFC events around the globe. Four of FightMetric's data collectors sit near the octagon, video game pads in hand, tracking more than 125 statistical categories -- takedowns, strikes and submissions, etc. -- in real time to compile immediate but unofficial data sets. Offsite, another crew of data analysts uses video editing software to slow down fight footage -- frame-by-frame, if necessary -- to record accurately every fight statistic.

But FightMetric's slate of services now extends beyond its cornerstone data collection. In recent weeks, the company announced three new initiatives. Most notably, FightMetric devised the fighter rankings released last week for the first time by the UFC. The rankings system was preceded by two new fantasy projects started by the company late last month.

The most basic of FightMetric's new fantasy games centers on the UFC reality series, The Ultimate Fighter. The data company created an online platform that allows viewers of the show to participate in a pool, a la NCAA March Madness bracket bets, with fantasy players guessing which contestant will advance in each round.

The second fantasy offering is called UFC Pick 'em. It's a fantasy league meant to offer the same kind of interaction and competition among players who play fantasy baseball or football. The structure of the UFC, however, meant Genauer and his team had to reimagine the entire fantasy game.

"It's not a traditional draft-style league. It's not a salary-cap style league," Genauer says. "The greatest challenge with mixed martial arts fantasy is that you have superstars who fight twice a year. . . If you were to have a draft, even if the seasons lasted 12 months, you'd be making a pick on a guy who'd earn points for you maybe twice, three times if you're lucky. That can be very dissatisfying. You could have three months where nothing happens with your fantasy team."

Instead, the FightMetric team created a league in which every fight on every fight card is eligible for players to earn points. Players simply make predictions about which fighter will win, in which round and by which method, in every bout. They've also introduced a bonus structure to reward players for selecting sleepers in each round or correctly predicting the outcomes of fights considered tossups. Every fight card also features a matchup designated for their Beat The Streak game, in which players try to predict correctly the selected fights over the course of the year.

With the introduction of every new service, Genauer, along with FightMetric's senior vice president and general counsel, Alon Cohen, have to redesign the technical underpinnings that allow the programs to run, even during peak usage.

That FightMetric would endure, much less expand its list of services, is no small feat, especially considering the startup's humble beginnings.

During a February 2007 staff meeting at his corporate strategy consulting job, Genauer quickly grew bored of the business-speak and began doodling on a piece of paper. The former political reporter moonlighted as an MMA journalist and a nagging question from his hobby writing rattled around his head as the meeting dragged on: What about a strike is important? In both his political and sports writing, he'd been able to pick out numbers to support his arguments but when he tried to undergird his MMA analyses with data, he couldn't find any. On his notepad during the meeting, the rough architecture of FightMetric took shape.

"For the first while, it was pretty much just a philosophical exercise," Genauer says.

That statistical void soon morphed from a curiosity to an obsession. He consulted with other MMA journalist and insiders as he refined his statistical categories. By November 2007, FightMetric began furnishing data and sold the concept to the UFC. The introduction of statistical models was welcomed by most in the MMA community.

Says Genauer, "The introduction of numbers was something most people were very happy to see because, at the very least, the basic numbers were ones which everyone had always wondered about like, what is Georges St.-Pierre's takedown accuracy? We know it's really good but is it the best ever? Those were questions which nobody prior had been able to answer. The addition of more sophisticate metrics is still ongoing."

So, too, is the way in which the statistics are now informing the approaches fighters take into the cage and the ways in which fans at home understand the sport. University of Dayton economics professor John Ruggeiro analyzed FightMetric's data and discovered that on the ground, wailing punches that miss are as statistically significant as blows that connect. "It's very difficult for judges sitting cageside to see on the ground what lands and what doesn't," says Genauer. "In that case, you have to give credence to the ones that you see. The other thing you see is that the person who is able to attempt more strikes, that's usually a proxy for their position. The person who is on top has the ability to attempt many more strikes. Maybe he doesn't land them but that's not the part that they're seeing."

"The degree to which positional control actually affects how people win decisions is stark," he says, citing last month's controversial split decision in favor of Clay Guida as an example.

The data also show fighters spend more time in the cage competing than before. It's a trend Genauer suggests could stem from better coaching and the addition of lighter fighters who don't posses as much punchout power.

More than anything, FightMetric has helped legitimize mixed martial arts as a sport, giving it statistical leaders that separate it from the public misconception of an unfettered brawl. "People are starting to understand the sport quantitatively," Genauer says, "then the appetite for statistics and for numbers grows, as well."

The FightMetric team is counting on it.

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