Using EA Sports UFC 4 To Predict How UFC Tournaments Would Play Out In 2021
In 1993, the Ultimate Fighting Championship burst onto the scene, pitting masters of different martial arts disciplines against one another in a bracket-style tournament. The UFC has evolved and grown in a multitude of ways in the nearly three decades since that first event in Denver. Still, with other major promotions like Bellator and the Professional Fighters League experimenting with bracket-style tournaments, many fans wonder what would happen if UFC returned to its roots and hosted its own. We decided to find out for ourselves, using the best tool at our disposal: EA Sports UFC 4.
Using the current official UFC rankings found on the promotion's website, I constructed eight-person tournament brackets featuring the highest-ranked fighters of each weight class (aside from women's featherweight, since there are no official rankings and EA Sports UFC 4 only has two active fighters from that division). The seeding is based on current ranking, though for some high-profile fighters who are in the process of changing weight classes (like Jon Jones or Cody Garbrandt), I had to plug them in where it made the most sense. I then watched every fight as the A.I.-controlled combatants duked it out. Each fight was scheduled for three rounds, except for the championship fight at the end, which could go five rounds.
As the nearly 80 bouts played out, it quickly became apparent that EA Sports UFC 4 skews heavily in favor of third-round knockouts or technical knockouts. In fact, even with grappling specialists, I was shocked at how few submission attempts succeeded. It certainly wasn't for lack of trying because sometimes even the most striking-focused fighters jumped guard to attempt guillotines in these simulations. Still, very few submissions were successful, perhaps a testament to the A.I. submission defense.
However, regardless of the outcome, I noticed that very few fights were completely one-sided. This is likely an indication that developer EA Canada balanced the fighters to create more competitive bouts even with each fighter featuring different attributes and tendencies. While this is a good idea in theory, when you're simulating fights to see how the game predicts they'd play out in real life, it results in some quite surprising upsets.
Without any further ado, let's get to the results of these tournaments.
Click any bracket image to see its larger version.
Current Real-Life Champion: Rose Namajunas
EA Sports UFC 4 Prediction: Rose Namajunas
Fight of the Tournament: Namajunas vs. Weili
The strawweight division is undoubtedly the most exciting women's division in the UFC, with the belt changing hands rapidly following Joanna Jędrzejczyk's loss to Rose Namajunas in 2017. In the time since, Namajunas, Jessica Andrade (who has since moved up in weight), and Zhang Weili have all held the belt. According to this simulation, the four former champions of the 115-pound division (Namajunas, Jędrzejczyk, Weili, and inaugural champ Carla Esparza) advanced past their opening-round matchups. Weili vs. Jędrzejczyk was one of the greatest fights of all time, so a rematch was exciting. Still, the best fight in this tournament came from Namajunas vs. Weili in the finals, with Namajunas securing the victory thanks to a third-round armbar submission.
Current Real-Life Champion: Valentina Shevchenko
EA Sports UFC 4 Prediction: Katlyn Chookagian
Fight of the Tournament: Andrade vs. Calderwood
In contrast to the strawweight division, a single champion has dominated women's flyweight pretty much since its inception. Following inaugural champion Nicco Montaño's unceremonious relinquishing of the title in 2018, Valentina Shevchenko has reigned supreme, facing little hardship in her five title defenses. As such, she is one of just four fighters to achieve a five-star overall rating in EA Sports UFC 4, making her the runaway favorite to win this tournament.
However, the video game had other plans, as Lauren Murphy (who, interestingly enough, is scheduled to be Shevchenko's next title defense in September) pulled off the big upset in the semifinals. Unfortunately, Murphy could not carry that momentum into the championship fight, and longtime contender Katlyn Chookagian took her out with a fourth-round KO.
Current Real-Life Champion: Amanda Nunes
EA Sports UFC 4 Prediction: Germaine de Randamie
Fight of the Tournament: De Randamie vs. Holm
As dominant as Shevchenko is in the flyweight division, Amanda Nunes has been even more ruthless. The greatest female fighter of all time has ruled the bantamweight division with an iron fist ever since taking the belt from Miesha Tate in 2016. As such, she's another member of the elite five-star overall rating club in EA Sports UFC 4. And just like Shevchenko before her, Nunes did not come out on top in this simulation. Instead, Germaine de Randamie overcame a wild, back-and-forth fight against Holly Holm before toppling Nunes in the championship bout.
Current Real-Life Champion: Brandon Moreno
EA Sports UFC 4 Prediction: Cody Garbrandt
Fight of the Tournament: Askarov vs. Benavidez
Former bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt has had his sights set on flyweight for a while now. While his original plan of dropping down to face then-champion Deiveson Figueiredo fell through due to health complications, Garbrandt is now scheduled to face Kai Kara-France later this year. Kara-France isn't in EA Sports UFC 4, so I plugged Garbrandt into the tournament where Kara-France would have been based on the UFC rankings – which just so happened to line him up against Figueiredo.
When current champ Brandon Moreno lost in shocking fashion to Tim Elliott in the first round, the stage seemed all but set for the once-dominant champion Figueiredo to reclaim his belt, but he also lost in the first round. After winning the original fight he wanted in the first round, Garbrandt went on to put on arguably the most dominant string of performances of any tournament I simulated, brutally knocking out former title challengers Joseph Benavidez and Alex Perez to claim the championship belt.
Current Real-Life Champion: Aljamain Sterling
EA Sports UFC 4 Prediction: Petr Yan
Fight of the Tournament: Sandhagen vs. Font
The men's bantamweight division is as exciting as ever but also as muddied as ever. After Petr Yan lost his belt to Aljamain Sterling earlier this year thanks to a disqualification stemming from an illegal knee, the queue of contenders has grown out of control, with the likes of TJ Dillashaw, Cory Sandhagen, and Rob Font waiting to see how the rematch between Sterling and Yan will play out. This makes the tournament format a perfect fit for the division. No matter how you match up these combatants, you're guaranteed to get some amazing fights. Even following the UFC rankings, I still got some absolute bangers in the tournament's first round. However, the semifinals consisted of killers only, with Yan taking out Dillashaw, and Sandhagen avenging his 2020 loss to Sterling. At the end of the day, Yan emerged victorious in the final.
Current Real-Life Champion: Alexander Volkanovski
EA Sports UFC 4 Prediction: Alexander Volkanovski
Fight of the Tournament: Rodríguez vs. Jung
Sometimes, EA Sports UFC 4's predictions go how many people think they might. While several people still consider Max Holloway the best fighter at featherweight, Alexander Volkanovski once again showed why he's the one who holds the belt at 145. Volkanovski defeated Holloway for what would be a third time. Featherweight is another division stacked from top to bottom, with Brian Ortega, Yair Rodríguez, Calvin Kattar, and Chan Sung Jung filling the field. Still, as we've seen time and time again, Volkanovski and Holloway are just on another level.
Current Real-Life Champion: Charles Oliveira
EA Sports UFC 4 Prediction: Michael Chandler
Fight of the Tournament: Gaethje vs. Chandler
As great as men's bantamweight and featherweight are, in all likelihood, lightweight is the best division in the UFC. The historically deep division is in transition due to the abrupt retirement of dominant, undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in 2020. Thanks to this, I was perhaps most excited to see this tournament in action. With newly crowned champion Charles Oliveira taking the top seed and killers like Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje (before you ask, the ninth-ranked Conor McGregor barely missed the cut for inclusion) on the other side of the bracket, this tournament guaranteed awesome fights and surprising results. And boy, did it deliver on both fronts.
Though Oliveira was able to take care of business in the first round, the real-life champ lost his rematch against former Bellator champ and recent UFC convert Michael Chandler. That first fight, which took place at UFC 262 earlier this year, was a back-and-forth, Fight of the Year contender, so the change in the result isn't that surprising in this digital rematch. However, the biggest surprise came on the other side of the bracket when Rafael Dos Anjos won a close decision against Dustin Poirier. Dos Anjos is a former champion, but many consider Poirier the best fighter at 155. Still, the division is stacked; it's hard to argue against any results. The championship came down to Gaethje and Chandler, who delivered arguably the best fight of any tournament I simulated. This absurdly paced matchup didn't last long, but it was non-stop action until Chandler landed an uppercut from hell while Gaethje tried to land one of his own. Watching it play out in EA Sports UFC 4 made me all the more excited for the real-life match-up between these two, which is targeted for UFC 268 in November.
Current Real-Life Champion: Kamaru Usman
EA Sports UFC 4 Prediction: Vicente Luque
Fight of the Tournament: Edwards vs. Luque
Welterweight is the home of perhaps the most dominant men's champion today in Kamaru Usman, so naturally, he was the favorite going in. However, the division is also one of the deeper ones in the UFC, so when you see the all-action Vicente Luque take out the streaking Leon Edwards in his first fight, topple Usman in the semifinals, then beat Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson in the finals, it's difficult to be too upset. Thompson getting past Burns might be the most criticizable outcome of this tournament since we just saw how Burns handled Thompson in July, but this game seems to favor strikers over grapplers when the A.I. faces itself. Interestingly, using my seeding methodology, the first round gave fans a long-awaited grudge match in Colby Covington vs. Jorge Masvidal.
Current Real-Life Champion: Israel Adesanya
EA Sports UFC 4 Prediction: Israel Adesanya
Fight of the Tournament: Adesanya vs. Till
If welterweight Kamaru Usman isn't the most dominant men's champion, it's certainly middleweight Israel Adesanya. The former kickboxing champ blasted his way through the middleweight ranks and has defeated nearly every contender along the way. Everyone thinks they have the solution to the Adesanya puzzle, but no middleweight fighter has been able to execute so far.
After a tiny scare in the first round against Darren Till, Adesanya cruised in his second rematch against Marvin Vettori, knocking him out in the first round, then taking on the man from whom he took the middleweight belt in the first place: Robert Whittaker. While Adesanya vs. Whittaker featured a ton of action and was fairly evenly matched, Adesanya once again finished Whittaker to confirm his coronation through this EA Sports UFC 4 tournament.
Current Real-Life Champion: Jan Błachowicz
EA Sports UFC 4 Prediction: Jan Błachowicz
Fight of the Tournament: Błachowicz vs. Teixeira
After Jon Jones left to go to heavyweight, the light heavyweight division became more interesting. Though Dominick Reyes felt like the uncrowned champ when he fought for the vacant title last year, Jan Błachowicz emerged with the belt. Though Błachowicz has been on an absolute tear, winning nine of his last ten fights, including a win over middleweight champ Israel Adesanya earlier this year, many are still waiting to see if he's the kind of fighter who can hold the belt for an extended period of time. According to EA Sports UFC 4, he very well might be. While it was surprising to see Reyes defeat Jiří Procházka in a rematch of their fight from earlier this year, the rest of the bracket played out realistically, with the two fighters in the championship fight – Błachowicz and Glover Teixeira – serving as the next real-life title fight in the division. If the real fight between those two is anything like EA Sports UFC 4's prediction, we're in for a treat when it occurs in October.
Current Real-Life Champion: Francis Ngannou
EA Sports UFC 4 Prediction: Derrick Lewis
Fight of the Tournament: Ngannou vs. Rozenstruik
The heavyweight division is in an odd place, with recently crowned champion Francis Ngannou having his throne challenged by new interim champ Cyril Gane. Meanwhile, one of the greatest fighters of all time lurks in Jon Jones, and the longest-reigning heavyweight champ in UFC history, Stipe Miocic, can never be counted out. After watching all of these fights play out across the different divisions, heavyweight's results were the ones that shocked me the most. Seeing Derrick Lewis knock out Jones in the first round was a big surprise, but maybe not as big of an upset as Jairzinho Rozenstruik knocking out Ngannou in a rematch of a fight that very much went a different way in real life. The right side of the bracket went about as most people would predict. However, the championship fight between Lewis and Gane was perhaps the biggest upset of the entire tournament, as we just saw how dominant Gane was when he fought Lewis two weeks ago. I have a feeling Lewis would vastly prefer this result to the one he actually got this month.
For more on EA Sports UFC 4, check out our review here.