Wouldn’t you know it, UFC 174 marks the debut event for BE Analytics previews and predictions and we’ve got the closest fight card I’ve ever analyzed. This should be interesting. We’ll see how things go tonight but if you read the intro piece earlier this week, you know statistical modeling is dispassionate with an eye on long-term results.
The fight card itself isn’t exactly en fuego, but you never know with MMA. Perhaps we’ll get a diamond in the rough. My Amex sure hopes so. At least we get a real-world test of Mighty Mouse’s pay-per-view pull. It’s a shame more people don’t love the little guys although I’m not gonna lie, MacDonald vs. Woodley is my "Main event of the evening!"
Let’s dive right in. On Monday, I forgot to mention that my analyses of striking focus on the key areas that have been documented to lead to judges’ decisions and knockouts: landing jabs to the head and power shots anywhere. Swinging and missing sometimes helps win judges’ decisions through activity and control of the fighting area, but outside of that the only value is as part of a combination that ultimately lands one of the key strikes. I oftentimes describe the landing of strikes through the interplay of activity and accuracy.
Be sure to review the notes at the end for exact definitions of some of the fight statistics you’ll see. If you think a statistic should be calculated a different way or think something else should be examined, shoot me an e-mail or leave a comment. I’m always looking to make things better.
DJ’s defending the flyweight strap for the fourth time. After pretty much clearing out the top players in the division during his reign and run-up to the title, we’ve got a contender with only three statistically-documented fights – the absolute minimum to be eligible for a prediction. It’d be nice for Bagautinov to have more documented fights in the bag, but that’s life. We’re going with it anyway.
Mighty Mouse may be the fastest UFC fighter, but he isn’t the most active at distance. He throws 23.8 power strikes per five minutes (P5M) compared to 35.9 for an average flyweight, while his head jab numbers are about average. He’s more accurate than Bagautinov in power but less accurate in jabs, probably because of the way he uses jabs to setup power strikes. The flipside of DJ’s lower volume is that his opponents also throw and land less, suggesting DJ’s footwork and distance control play a huge role.
DJ’s defense at distance has been outstanding, particularly in dodging the most important blow – a power shot to the head. His opponents only land 14% of these shots, but the exact same stat holds for Bagautinov as well. On offense, Bagautinov throws bombs with 35.8 power shots P5M to only 5.9 head jabs. He effectively lands his jabs while whiffing a bit more than usual on power shots.
DJ has the edge dishing out damage while Bagautinov has twice the knockdown rate of an average flyweight and four times that of DJ, but neither fighter has ever been damaged or knocked down.
Interesting Stat: In 25 minutes of fight time at distance, Bagautinov has attempted exactly one power leg strike. DJ is twice as active as the average featherweight in takedown attempts at distance and he lands 50 percent more frequently. So while not attacking the legs may make Bagautinov more predictable, it also may help negate some of DJ’s distance takedown attempts.
As mentioned in the staff picks by my illustrious colleague, Patrick, the clinch and control game is where things could get interesting. At distance, DJ’s takedown defense and Bagautinov’s takedown offense are both about average. Things definitely change in the clinch. DJ’s spent about 20 percent of his fight time in the clinch, 1/3 of that time in control, 1/3 being controlled and 1/3 off the fence. On the other hand, Bagautinov has control 70 percent of the time he’s in the clinch and has been pressed against the cage for only one percent. DJ’s clinch takedown defense is better than average for both upper body and lower body takedowns. Bagautinov, however, has never missed a clinch takedown, going 5-for-5.
To date, neither has been submitted. When on top on the ground, DJ hasn’t been very active at all (10.7 power strikes P5M) while Bagautinov goes to town (33.8 power strikes P5M). But the real issue on the ground is who ends up with control and if the guy on bottom can standup or reverse. DJ stands up at a rate of 3.7 P5M compared to Bagautinov’s 2.5. However, fighters standup on DJ at 4.7 P5M compared to 3.4 for Bagautinov. DJ’s about average at sweeps while Bagautinov has never reversed position.
I wouldn’t call this the classic striker versus grappler matchup but maybe it’s striker-grapple-ish versus grappler-power-ish. Or maybe the whole thing’s just "ish." The model's giving an ever so slight edge to Bags skills but you might as well flip a coin.
Prediction: Ali Bagautinov by a whisker at 53.4%.
Am I personally very comfortable with Bagautinov at 53.4 percent? Not at all. But I think he’s much more interested in making this a full-blown grappling match than someone like Joseph Benavidez, who had wrestling skills but also wanted stand and bang. Even if there’s error in Bagautinov’s odds due to having only three major fights, his betting line is pretty crazy. The model recommends a bet of two units at the current +500 line as of this writing. Hitting a bet like that even 1-of-4 times gives a great long-run return. This is the only bet recommendation of the night.
I’m so pumped for this fight! It seems like just yesterday Woodley’s mom was yelling throughout the whole broadcast of his Marquardt fight (or was it the Mein fight, can’t remember?). Woodley’s come on strong since his garbage loss to Jake Shields while MacDonald hasn’t been too terribly exciting recently until desperation set in against Damian Maia.
All fights start standing up and this one may not go to the ground. At distance, Woodley isn’t an active striker with 6.6 head jabs P5M and 20.8 power strikes compared to MacDonald’s 30.6 head jabs and 29.8 power strikes. Woodley’s power shots are bombs and he lands them 20 percent more accurately than average. His knockdown rate is three times that of the average welterweight and, while his cardio has been questioned, it doesn’t appear to be that bad.
MacDonald is generally the more active fighter. He’s accurate, landing 40 percent of his head jabs and power shots, and mixes things up with more than twice the body attempts of a typical welterweight and three times that of Woodley. He’s never knocked anyone down but you don’t need to knock people down to do damage and MacDonald busts up people’s faces at more than twice the rate and twice the percent as Woodley.
MacDonald’s defense is excellent, both in terms of the number of strike attempts against him and their success rate. He’s been knocked down only once and has a rate and percent half that of the welterweight average.
Woodley’s never been taken down at distance while MacDonald’s defended 27 of 29 distance takedown attempts. MacDonald’s more susceptible to takedowns in the clinch where opponents have completed 1-of-2 to the upper body and 2-of-12 to the lower body. While these are still solid numbers, they’re not as solid as his skills at distance.
But Woodley’s not an effective takedown artist at distance or in the clinch. He’s average to below average at best. You might be tempted to think he’s the controlling fighter in the clinch, but it’s not as lopsided as you might suspect. Woodley controls 47 percent of the time and gets controlled for 39 percent. He’s been taken down one time in the clinch and that was a lower body takedown. MacDonald’s clinch takedowns are exceptional, so let’s not toss out the idea of him putting Woodley on his back just yet, especially if he can get in good position.
It looks like we’re shaping up for a standup battle but don’t completely write-off the possibility of some ground time coming from the clinch. If things ends up on the canvas, both guys are better than average at standing up and worse than average at holding people down, so they may not be there for long.
The model gives more weight to recent events in an attempt to account for improvements fighters may make over time and the effects of age and declining skills. In this case, I’m still not sure it fully captures Woodley’s recent rocket ship-like growth. It successfully predicted Woodley over Condit, but this time it’s going with Rory Mac by a slim margin.
Prediction: Rory MacDonald at 55.7%.
Ryan Bader (64.1%) over Rafael Cavalcante (35.9%)
Quick comment. People talk about Feijao’s power, and rightfully so. His knockdown rate is almost four times that of an average light heavyweight (1.1 versus 0.3) and his knockdown percent is double (9% versus 4%). Little mentioned is that Bader’s knockdown percent is even better (10%). Although, the bulk of both their knockdowns came relatively early in their careers.
Both have enough fights to analyze but the model thinks Arlovski’s last fight was a loss to Sergei Kharitonov in Feb. 2011 in Strikeforce. It puts Schaub at 79.4 percent, but I’m not making an official pick here because the data isn’t sound.
There you have it, four fights at 56 percent or less and one at 64. By the data, we’ve essentially got three coin flips, one AK/QQ race (55/45), and one all-in flush draw on the flop (65/35).
Enjoy the fights!
Notes: Strike attempts are for an entire five minute round in each position (P5M) and are categorized as jab or power. A jab is just a non-power strike. Strikes are documented based on where they land or are targeted (head, body, legs), not the type that is thrown (punch, elbow, kick, knee). Visible damage rate is per five minutes the fighter is not on his back. It’s hard to bust up someone’s face while lying on your back. Damage percent is per power head strike landed. Knockdown rate is per five minutes at distance or in the clinch off the cage. Knockdown percent is per power head strike landed while standing. It’s really hard to knock someone down if they’re already on the ground. Clinch control is having the opponent pressed against the cage. Ground control is having top position. Submission attempts are per five minutes of ground control minus time spent in the opponent’s guard plus time spent with the opponent in guard.