Empirical studies of the determinants of contests have been attempting to unravel the complexity of animal contest behaviour for decades. This complexity requires that experiments incorporate multiple determinants into studies to tease apart their relative effects. In this study we examined the complex contest behaviour of the tawny dragon (Ctenophorus decresii), a territorial agamid lizard, with the specific aim of defining the factors that determine contest outcome. We manipulated the relative size and residency status of lizards in contests to weight their importance in determining contest outcome. We found that size, residency and initiating a fight were all important in determining outcomes of fights. We also tested whether residency or size was important in predicting the status of lizard that initiated a fight. We found that residency was the most important factor in predicting fight initiation. We discuss the effects of size and residency status in context of previous studies on contests in tawny dragons and other animals. Our study provides manipulative behavioural data in support of the overriding effects of residency on initiation fights and winning them.