According to a recent study of 96 countries, Canada continues to be dominant in producing male professional ice hockey players but lags behind in other major sports, including MMA.
The Professional Athlete Index, a six-week study commissioned by Global Odds Index and researched by Magmatic Research, examined which countries produce the highest percentage of male athletic professionals and odds being a professional in eight key sports: Football, Tennis, Athletics, MMA, Soccer, Golf, Cycling, Ice Hockey, and Basketball.
“For most of us, being a professional sportsperson is a distant dream, something that might seem possible as a child but quickly succumbs to a sense of realism as adulthood approaches,” Magmatic Research data analyst Cristian Heidarson said in the study’s notes. “We hope this study shows just how special these athletes are by highlighting how few people make it to the top tier of their sport.”
The goal of the index was to calculate the odds of reach the elite level of the sport focusing on elite athletes – broken down by country of birth – with two datasets produced to capture the context of larger countries and smaller countries.
Researchers recorded the total number of athletes for every sport performing in the competitions around the world and their nationalities. The data was then combined to create a total list of athletes participating in the top tier of each sport, which allowed them to calculate the share of top level athletes that each country has in the different featured sports.
The data was drilled on a country-level basis by using it to calculate the odds of someone from each nation currently being a top level athlete in each sport. The odds were calculated as the ratio of athletes vs. the total number of males born in each country between 1991-2003 (inclusive) against the ratio of non-athletes born in the same period.
The index produced some interesting data:
- The USA produces the highest percentage of top tier MMA athletes globally (38.83%), followed by Brazil (13.83%) and Russia (13.56%).
- Men in Jamaica have the lowest odds of being a top tier MMA athlete (1:61493), ahead of Georgia (1:76555) and Moldova (1:89473).
- Players from the USA make up 26.42% of the top tier basketball players in the world, the highest percentage in the category, followed by China (3.92%) and Argentina.
- Men from Montenegro have the lowest odds of being a professional basketball player (1:79), followed by Luxembourg (1:210) and Slovenia (1:662).
- Men from Caribbean nations have the lowest odds of reaching top level athletics, led by Jamaica (1:286), Barbados (1:394) and the Bahamas (1:505).
- Italy produces the most elite cyclists (9.30%), ahead of France (7.65%) and Belgium (7.00%).
According to the data, Canada, known for its dominance and continued production of ice hockey players, came in at producing 11.36 per cent of pro ice hockey players with odds of 1:2036 for a Canadian make the professional grade, but makes up just 1.86 per cent of top tier MMA athletes with a 1:288,053.86 chance to go pro, a much lower probability in comparison.
However, the percentage of professional MMA fighters in Canada is still higher than in Soccer (0.69 per cent), Basketball (1.39 per cent), Tennis (1.37 per cent), Golf (1.21 per cent), and Cycling (0.70 per cent). Only Athletics matches it at 1.86 per cent, with the odds of making the pros in Athletics much better at 1:4802.
Meanwhile, Jamaica, an island nation of approximately three million people compared to Canada’s approximately 40 million, produces 0.53 per cent of pro MMA athletes and has the best odds of producing fighters at 1:61,493. The country also produces 1.90 per cent of athletic professionals which includes Track and Field with a whopping 1:286 chance to be an athletic professional.
“Men in Jamaica have the lowest odds of becoming professional MMA fighters,” Heidarson, noted. “Its national MMA body joined the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation in 2019 and is responsible for promoting the sport in the country, which is seen as having a role to play in the development of youngsters, particularly those born in impoverished communities with high levels of violence. This move should see Jamaica continue to establish itself in the MMA world. Georgia also has a large number of professional fighters per population and is one of a number of ex-Soviet states which has produced MMA talents in recent years. It’s interesting to note its geographical proximity to Dagestan, Russia’s MMA talent centre with which it shares a land border.
TUF middleweight finalist Uriah Hall, welterweight Randy Brown, and flyweight Ode’ Osbourne examples of Jamaican fighters currently in the UFC.
“The rise of MMA shows how fast a combat sport can grow and establish itself globally. It presents an excellent case study for other combat sports looking to expand, such as Muay Thai,” Heldarson continued. “Although Muay Thai has broken into new markets and established itself around the world, a lack of strategic planning has held its global development back and reduced the opportunity for monetisation through competitions and events. It can, however, use MMA’s example to understand what can be done with governmental support and a comprehensive expansion plan.”
Most of the Canadian public is aware of the runs of Canadian tennis players Leylah Fernandez, 19, and Felix Auger-Aliassime, 21, who have made history by making the U.S. Open semi-finals. According to the Index, Canada produces 1.37 per cent of male pro tennis players with a 1:51,703 chance for a Canadian to become a male pro tennis player.
Italy is another interesting case. The country produces over nine per cent of the world’s professional cyclists and seven per cent of male tennis players, but just 0.27 per cent of pro fighters.
“The study’s findings on MMA underline its global reach and show the journey the sport has been on since its formation in the U.S. in the 1990s,” Heidarson said. “Although heavily centred around the American market and based in Las Vegas, MMA training centres are prevalent worldwide.
“When tracing the history of MMA, the influence of fighting disciplines from around the world become apparent, including Vale Tudo (‘anything goes’), a Brazilian combat sport that originated in the 1920s. With this heritage and its large population, it’s therefore no surprise to see that Brazil provides over 13 per cent of professional MMA athletes.
“Elsewhere, MMA fighters from Russia have shown themselves to be fearsome opponents on the world stage, becoming world champions in multiple weight categories over recent years,” Heldarson continued. “Many of Russia’s fighters are from Dagestan, which has proven to be something of an MMA talent factory, something that, according to MMA fighter Magomed Magomedkerimov, is down to a culture of self-defence and combat that kids there learn from a young age.”
While the UFC, MMA’s biggest professional organization, effectively began in North America in 1993, MMA in Canada was not fully legalized and decriminalized across all provinces and territories until 2013.
Currently, the UFC has male champions from Cameroon (Francis Ngannou), Nigeria (Israel Adesanya, Kamaru Usman), Australia (Alexander Volkanovski), Mexico (Brandon Moreno), France (interim heavyweight champion Ciryl Gane), United States (Aljamain Sterling), Poland (Jan Blachowicz), and Brazil (Charles Oliveira)
Applying the Index results to the current UFC male champion landscape, Mexico (0.27 per cent), Nigeria (0.27 per cent), Australia (1.60 per cent), France (1.06 per cent), United States (38.83 per cent), Poland (3.19 per cent), and Brazil (13.83 per cent) are represented.
Cameroon, represented by heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou does not appear to be on the list. Neither do the South American countries of Guyana with UFC welterweight Carlston Harris, and neighbour Suriname with heavyweight Jairzinho Rozenstruik. The Crossfire has reached out for clarity on these countries and will update this story when we receive a response.
A similar study is currently underway for professional female athletes.