UFC 181 goes down Saturday night with what's also known as the Thank-God-We-Finally-Have-a-PPV-We-Can-Really-Get-Behind card. Even though I'd personally watch Fabricio Werdum fight anywhere anytime, we haven't had a rock solid pay-per-view since way back yonder over 4th of July weekend.
And boy do we need it. Reebok's been on the brain way too much this week. If you're not a CrossFit disciple, have you thought about Reebok this much since you were a kid? We need a welcome distraction from "that brand we remember our mom wearing to aerobics class" in the ‘80s and Dee Brown pumping up for the dunk contest in the ‘90s, and there's nothing like a solid fight card to fit the bill. Two belts are up for grabs and we finally get to see Anthony Pettis defend a title! ... If he can stay healthy for one more day [fingers crossed].
Let's dive right into the numbers. Five bouts have good data, meaning both fighters have at least three prior fights in major MMA. As always, see the notes at the bottom for precise definitions of the statistics employed and read the introductory article for an explanation/reminder of how this works.
Since beating Georges St-Pierre last year to win the welterweight strap - we don't count judging traveshamockeries here at BE Analytics - it's been all Robbie Lawler for "Bigg Rigg" Hendricks with a narrow but solid 3-2 victory in March and the run-it-back rematch tomorrow night. Meanwhile, with Hendricks on the mend from a biceps injury, Lawler tore through Jake Ellenberger and, to a lesser extent, Matt Brown to rightfully earn his second UFC title shot.
For all the talk of Hendricks' power, he hasn't scored a knockdown since stepping up to ultra-elite competition in his last three fights. Overall, Hendricks' and Lawler's knockdown rates are virtually identical at .35-.36 per five minutes (P5M) at distance or in the clinch off the cage. But Lawler's been more efficient with a 42% higher knockdown percentage (per power head strike landed while standing).
Both guys have similar striking efficiency at distance but Hendricks attempts 36.2 power strikes P5M to Lawler's 28.3, landing 12.7 shots to Lawler's 9.8. Hendricks throws and lands more power shots to the head and legs, but he also eats more power shots to the head and body. Opponents attack Lawler's legs 29% more than an average welterweight and 110% more than they do Hendricks, partially because they know Lawler won't use the opportunity to shoot a takedown. Lawler attempts only 0.2 takedowns P5M at distance compared to Hendricks' 2.0. Perhaps surprisingly, their distance takedown defense is the same at around 84% - although GSP had a hand in lowering Hendricks' number. Opponents shoot more often against Lawler and therefore end up completing more takedowns.
We all know Lawler likes to stand and bang. He's allergic to throwing leg kicks and he spends 3:14 of every five minutes at distance as compared to 2:26 for Hendricks' and 2:02 for an average welterweight. The clinch and ground games are where things get interesting and are something we may not have fully been exposed to in the first fight thanks to the Hendricks injury. Bigg Rigg took the 1st, 2nd and 5th rounds and just so happened to have over a minute of clinch control in two of them (as well as a minute of ground control in one). The two rounds he lost were almost entirely contested at distance.
While not crazy-huge numbers, Hendricks outlanded Lawler with power in the clinch in every round except the 4th. In the two rounds with significant clinch time, Lawler was pressed against the cage where it's harder to land with power. Hendricks lands more and eats fewer power shots in the clinch, partly because he spends less time with his back to the cage and partly because of his style of wrestle-boxing.
Lower body clinch takedowns are where Hendricks excels - although not as much as you might think - and he landed exactly zero in the first fight. He attempts 5.6 P5M and completes 59% compared to 4.0 and 44% for an average welterweight. On the ground, he's got control 74% of the time to Lawler's 45%. But if Lawler gets on top, watch out. He drops bombs almost exclusively to your skull and at a rate almost 300% more than Hendricks. He ends up landing 21.7 power head strikes P5M to Hendricks' 7.3, but he's first got to get on top to do it. Neither guy's a submission artist. In fact, Lawler hasn't attempted a single documented submission in his entire career (King of the Cage isn't documented by FightMetric, although it is fun to look back and see Akira Shoji earning $25 show money in 2002 while also being charged $25 for his Nevada license). When on bottom, both guys just try to get the hell out of there with Hendricks standing up 115% more than average and Lawler 65% more, and neither's good at keeping opponents down.
Hendricks should have an advantage in the clinch, on the ground and in the takedown department. Their power is similar and Hendricks may even have a slight statistical edge at distance, especially having never been knocked down before.
In the words of Shark Tank: For those reasons, Lawler should be out. We're going with Hendricks at almost 60/40, most likely by decision.
Gilbert Melendez (58.8%) over Anthony Pettis (41.2%)
Just as Rory MacDonald showed us the formula to dismantle Nate Diaz, we know the formula for beating Anthony "Showtime" Pettis. It was brilliantly executed three years ago by Clay Guida while welcoming the terminal WEC lightweight champ to the UFC.
In Pettis' only two losses (to Guida and to Bart Palaszewski five years ago), his opponents spent a big chunk of fight time up-close and personal controlling Pettis on the ground or against the cage. Palaszewski was able to get about 3 ½ minutes of ground control and 3 minutes of clinch control while Guida had a whopping 8:50 with ground control and almost 1 ½ minutes of control against the cage. Neither guy "beat" Pettis in the distance fight game - only Bendo and Jeremy Stephens have come close - but both took him away from his advantages, made him less comfortable and avoided any submission attempts. Melendez is more than able to do the same to Pettis. The big question is will he?
Pettis' bout closeness measure is twice that of Melendez meaning, win or lose, he's involved in much closer scraps than Gil. Melendez busts up more faces and hasn't once ever been officially damaged, but Pettis' power advantage is still ginormous. His knockdown rate and percentage are 0.55 and 7.7%, respectively, compared to Melendez's 0.10 and 1.2%. That's only a difference of 450% and 542%. This Showtime power isn't necessarily packed in his punches but, hey, why mess up your hands when your shins will do the job just fine.
While Pettis' distance control game may make it seem like his output is low - and it is slightly below average - he ends up landing head jabs and overall power strikes at an average to above average clip due to his accuracy. Melendez's offensive striking statistics aren't exceptional. In fact, they're very close to average. He throws his jab about 50% more than an average lightweight and, at 19% accuracy, rarely lands it, instead using it to gauge distance, study reactions and set up future power shots and combos. But he excels on defense, particularly power defense to the dome. Through reduced activity and effectiveness, opponents land only 3.4 power shots to Melendez's cranium P5M versus 5.9 for an average lightweight. The only problem here is Pettis is even better, absorbing only 2.3 power shots to the dome P5M.
Neither guy shoots for many takedowns at distance, meaning Melendez spends 3:45 of every five minutes in this position versus 2:06 for Pettis. This is because Melendez's takedown defense is solid while Pettis is below average at distance (63% defended versus 71% lightweight average), slightly better than average in the clinch but his opponents attempt a ton (7.9 attempts P5M versus 5.4 average) and Melendez stands the hell up when on his back while Pettis is more content to play guard and look for submissions (5.3 standups and 1.0 sub attempts P5M for Melendez to Pettis' 2.4 and 3.1).
So Gil tends to spend most of his time in Pettis' comfort zone. The striking statistics at distance don't show any glaring Melendez deficiencies other than knockdown power, but his advantages in the clinch and on the ground are substantial.
Pettis spends 1:09 of every five minutes in the clinch compared to Melendez's 0:16. In that time, Pettis is throwing 7.3 power strikes P5M and landing 6.0 while Melendez throws 74.8 and lands 42.5! Pettis partly isn't as active but he's also spending 58% of the time with his back to the cage and defending 6.9 takedown attempts P5M. Melendez spends almost an even split (1/3, 1/3, 1/3) off the cage, with his back against the cage and with his opponent's back to the cage. He has to defend 8.4 takedowns P5M and is successful doing so. The rest of the time he's either blasting power shots or taking you down (5.1 lower body takedown attempts P5M with 73% success versus 4.4 and 44% lightweight averages).
Pettis spends 1:45 of every five minutes on the ground compared to 0:58 for Melendez. Once again, when in control Pettis has low output but is efficient so he lands shots slightly above average while Melendez goes to work and has average efficiency so he lands 23.9 power shots P5M to Pettis' 13.5. The key difference, of course, is control. Melendez has control 78% of his time on the ground while Pettis is the controlling fighter only 30%. He spends 70% of the time on his back looking for subs at a very high rate and more successfully than an average fighter but opponents are 0-for-6 on submission attempts against Melendez with tries coming from Shinya Aoki, Josh Thomson, Diego Sanchez and Clay Guida.
Melendez has the tools to dethrone the champ and take what some would argue was rightfully his anyway. Will he use them? That's why they play the game...fights...whatever. We're going with Melendez at 58.8% for the upset, very likely by decision. If Pettis wins, his most likely method is a TKO with a decision victory a very close second.
How are Schaub's numbers so high if he can't fight for s**t?!? What's going on here? This one surprised me a bit but if we never get thought-provoking numbers then what's the point of this exercise? As it stands, the model picks about 2/3 favorites and 1/3 upsets on average.
I think what it sees here is that Schaub's distance takedown game is active and very effective at 53% (27% average). Both guys spend decent time in the clinch where Browne usually has his back against the cage and Schaub is an active striker. Browne hasn't meaningfully out clinch-controlled an opponent since Rob Broughton back at UFC 135 and he's only meaningfully out clinch-struck Gabriel Gonzaga and Broughton. Yes, he throws skull-crushing elbows, but all Schaub has to do is avoid sticking his head in the skull-crushing zone around Hapa's hips for any significant period of time. The statistics say Browne gets tagged in the clinch but most of those numbers come from two fights - Alistair Overeem and Cheick Kongo.
Browne's distance striking defense also appears to be horrible but is heavily influenced by the 18 ½ minute distance-shellacking last April at the hands of Fabricio Werdum. What he's really been is inconsistent/exploited in certain areas by different fighters.
The ground is likely Schaub's world, too, if it gets there. But the pick is a more distance-centric fight won by Browne, even though the numbers say Schaub can fight just a wee bit better than s**t.
Interesting stat: Schaub might be the Darrin Elkins of the heavyweight division. His face gets busted up at twice the average rate and 2 ½ times the average percentage (per power head strike landed). Also, Schaub's knockdown rate is actually better than Browne's (not his percentage) while his rate of getting knocked down is only slightly worse.
Khabib Nurmagomedov has forever ruined Trujillo's clinch takedown defense statistics! Thanks a lot, Nurmy. Khabib landed 21 of 27 takedown attempts in their 2013 encounter.
If Rivera has an advantage it's his activity and power, but they're also his disadvantages, too. This one should be Faber by submission or decision. Now watch him knock Rivera out.
Have a different opinion? Make it known in the comments below and 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 percentage is per power head strike landed. Knockdown rate is per five minutes at distance or in the clinch off the cage. Knockdown percentage 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. A bout closeness measure towards zero means a fighter is in blowouts (win or lose) and towards 100 means he is in very close fights.