MMA is a game of inches where everything happens in a blink of an eye. A game where just a few inches of reach is often a decisive factor between winning and losing. But have you ever wondered, how do they measure reach in MMA?
You can look at the fighters’ reach as their arm span. To measure the reach, fighters are asked to stand up, lift and extend their arms to the side at the shoulder level parallel to the ground. Next, they would measure the distance between the tip of the middle finger on your hand, all the way to the tip of the middle finger of the other hand. There is also another method called “ape index” where height is subtracted from the reach to get a more precise number.
As you can see, calculating fighters’ reach is a bit complicated so be sure to read this article to learn more about it.
How do they measure reach in MMA?
Having a high reach gives you a big advantage, not just in MMA but in other combat sports as well. This is notably true for gifted fighters who know how to get the most out of every inch. But how do they actually measure it?
There are two methods of measuring a reach: traditional and ape index
Via the traditional method, a fighter needs to stand up straight, and lift their arms to the side at shoulder height. Next, they measure the distance between the tip of the middle finger on one hand to the tip of the middle finger on the other hand to get the fighters’ reach. But is this accurate enough?
One thing to note is that, among most humans, the height to reach ratio is usually 1–1, or in other words, your arm span equals your height. But this ratio is not always the same when it comes to pro fighters and this is why most promotions actually use the ape index to calculate reach.
In some physically gifted athletes like Jon Jones, there is a big variation between their arm span and height. In this case, fighters’ reach is higher than their height (around 2–3 inches) so the ratio is no longer 1:1. As a result, most promotions like the UFC use a different way of measuring the reach called the “ape index”.
In short, the ape index is a difference between the fighters’ height and reach. They calculate the apex index by subtracting fighters’ height from their reach.
The other problem is the fact that fighters throw punches with their fists closed. So to get the correct reach measurement, they would have to measure the arm span with their fists closed rather than from the top of the middle finger.
How do they measure leg reach in MMA?
To calculate the leg reach, you have to measure the length from the hipbone all the way down to the heel. It’s worth pointing up that the leg reach does not differ as much as the arm span and most fighters have similar leg reach. This is the reason why you won’t hear coaches or other experts talking too much about leg reach as being a big advantage. Leg reach is not even displayed on the “tale of the tape” graphic before the bout starts.
There are exceptions where the difference in leg reach might be quite big. This is because the height of one fighter might be concentrated on the longer torso, while the other has longer legs. Usually, tall fighters like Stefan Struve are the ones who have longer legs, but even in this case, there are exceptions. For example, Paulo Costa stands 6’0″ but has a leg reach of 39.50, which is less than Edson Barboza who stands 5’11” and has a leg reach of 41.00 inches.
Here are some of the UFC fighters with the highest leg reaches:
- Stefan Struve — 48″
- Walt Harris — 47″
- Alexander Volkov-47″
What are the advantages of having a high reach?
Having a high reach is considered to be one of the biggest advantages one can have in a fight. Here is a list of reasons why fighters with large wingspan enjoy a big advantage inside the cage:
Fighters who have long reach have a much easier time landing punches on their opponents. High reach allows them to strike from the safe distance without worrying too much about the counters. To land a shot, the opponent would have to find a way to close the range and step into your space before they can land a strike. As a fighter with a bigger reach, you may counter this attack by landing a shot on your own or using footwork to move away and angle out. High reach simply gives you enough time to set up your defense and counter the attack more efficiently.
Fighters who are master at picking their opponents from the distance are Israel Adesanya and Jon Jones.
Set up the attacks better
As a fighter with longer reach in a fight, you don’t have to look for ways to step into range to land a shot, or to rush in and be reckless. No, fighters like Jones prefer to use their long reach to set up the attacks from a safe distance with the jab or a front kick for instance. Even if things do not go as planned, they can always focus on keeping their range and out striking the opponent from the distance.
Better takedown defense/offense
On paper, fighters with long reach have a better chance of defending against takedowns. However, bear in mind that the highest reach in the world won’t help you much if you don’t have good defensive wrestling. But if you possess solid skills, high reach plays a big role in grappling because you don’t have to fight at close range where you will be prone to takedowns against grapplers. Once again, if the opponent wants to take you down, they would have to close the distance first before taking you down. You would have more time to move away or sprawl than fighters who have average or below average reach.
If you decide to go for a takedown, having a high reach allows you more grip both when it comes to getting a takedown and submitting the opponent.
Who has the highest reach and ape index in the UFC?
Here is a list of fighters with the highest reach and ape indices on the UFC roster.
- Sergey Pavlovich — is a mountain of a man who has an amazing 84″ reach and is 6’3″ tall. This means that his apex index is +9.0″, the highest on the entire UFC roster.
- Jon Jones — is a fighter famous for having the highest arm span in the UFC of 84.4″. Considering that he is 6’4″ tall, his ape index is slightly below Pavlovich’s, +8.5″.
- Uriah Hall — has a reach of 79.5″, the highest wingspan on the middleweight roster. He stands 6’0″, so his apex index is +7.5″.
- Francis Ngannou — apart from power in both of his hands, Ngannou has a reach of 83″, and an apex index of +7.0″.
- Alexander Volkanovski — is 5’6″ tall and has a reach of 71.5″ which gives him the highest ape index of +5.5″ in the featherweight division.