Dilly and Barao opened up the summer and this weekend they're back to shut it down at UFC 177. I googled the weigh in yesterday thinking for some reason it was Friday. When I typed "ufc 177 we," the first auto-complete result was "ufc 177 weak card."
So maybe it's not the most amazing fight card in the world, but at least we get to see the UFC debut of Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo for free. We also get to see if one of the other three horsewomen can get a W. And of course we get to see a rematch of the upset of the year. Hopefully Dana White won't promote UFC 177 as the best card ever, but we may get to hear him call Barao/Dillashaw 1 the biggest upset in UFC history! Do it, Dana. Do it.
The market has been convinced by T.J. Dillashaw. Renan Barao was a -910 favorite in the first fight and as of this writing he sits as a +135 dog. He made me eat my words calling him the #1 pound-for-pound fighter prior to their first meeting at UFC 173, but even with Dillashaw's thorough ass-kicking I still think something wasn't right with Barao from the jump. However, the great thing about MMA analytics is that personal opinion doesn't matter; it's about cold, hard fight data.
Before getting into this week's fights, I need to note that I screwed something up last weekend. When a bout has good data for each fighter, I copy and paste the relevant FightMetric Fighter ID's into the prediction model. Last weekend I completely overlooked Carmont/Leites at UFC Fight Night 49 and, wouldn't you know it, the model had Leites at 64.1 percent to win and recommended a 2-unit bet at +190. Oops. That's life. Brain farting on new data entry is an additional human factor that doesn't exist when testing a model.
Back to UFC 177, which is a bona fide stinker when it comes to the number of fights with good data on a pay-per-view card. Only three bouts qualify for analysis, as opposed to seven at next weekend's UFC Fight Night 50. 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.
Renan Barao (50.7%) over T.J. Dillashaw (49.3%)
While the betting lines had Dillashaw as a prohibitive underdog at +710 coming into the first fight, he clearly wasn't given enough credit. He turned out to have it going on like Stacy's mom, knocking Barao down twice, out-landing him 94 to 28 in power strikes, 55 to 30 in head jabs, having almost 2 ½ minutes of ground control and never once being controlled himself.
Three months later and we've basically got a coin flip. Even with his rattled brain, Barao wasn't taken down in three Dillashaw attempts, and he still hasn't been taken down since his very first WEC fight.
Dillashaw's also still never been taken down. At distance, opponents barely even try, making just four attempts in 51 minutes. In the clinch, their rate is higher yet equally unsuccessful. What's more, Barao isn't a clinch control fighter. Both guys spend 30 seconds out of every five minutes in the clinch with Barao having control only 26 percent of the time to Dillashaw's 76 percent. Barao's been effective with clinch takedowns in the past, but it helps to have good positioning. In their first fight, Barao had zero clinch control and 13 seconds of neutral clinch. The rest of the clinch time saw Dillashaw pressing him against the cage.
With their defensive takedown skills, it's highly likely we're looking at another standup battle. At distance, Barao keeps a slightly higher pace than Dillashaw with 62.1 power strike and head jab attempts per five minutes (P5M) to Dillashaw's 61.1. The real difference is accuracy and the jab/power mix. 45.8 of Dillashaw's attempts are power shots which he lands at a 39 percent clip. 34.1 of Barao's attempts are power shots which he lands at only a 27 percent clip. In other words, Dillashaw destroys Barao at distance in power volume landed (17.8 to 9.3 P5M).
It also doesn't appear that Barao uses his jab, combination misses and activity to set up more effective power shots as his knockdown rate and percent are both average for the bantamweight division. Dillashaw, on the other hand, has a knockdown rate of 0.4, twice the bantamweight average of 0.2.
On defense, Dillashaw has the better percentages but Barao has been better able to control the action. Opponent's land 7.7 power shots P5M on Barao to Dillashaw's 9.3. Dillashaw's power head strike defense is outstanding with opponent's landing only 19 percent. His biggest weakness is his legs which Barao didn't capitalize on last time, attempting only 9 leg jabs and 4 power leg strikes (meanwhile Dillashaw threw 18 leg jabs and 18 power leg strikes).
How will Barao adjust? Did he even have time to adjust? Has Dillashaw improved even more since May? Did these statistics just convince us that Dillashaw should have the edge? The model has it as an effective coin flip but Barao's clearly got some serious work to do.
'Last Call' versus 'El Cucuy' in the co-main event of a pay-per-view show is less than thrilling. I'm still looking forward to the fight, but it shouldn't be in the #2 spot of a $55 pay-per-view. Not cool UFC.
Ferguson's looked impressive since his loss to Michael Johnson. Meanwhile, Last Call is statistically more like Close Call. He doesn't have a lot of split decisions, but his bout closeness measure is a 50 compared to a lightweight average of 41. Castillo's statistically dominant UFC victories have come against Shamar Bailey, John Cholish, and Paul Sass - not exactly Murderer's Row.
Fergusson spends 4:32 of every five minute round at distance. Yowza! On average, he spends only 10 seconds in the clinch and 18 seconds on the ground each round. This is because he's never been taken down and rarely shoots for takedowns, attempting 0.7 P5M at distance compared to a 1.6 lightweight average and Castillo's 3.7.
When Ferguson clinches up, it's usually off the cage. In 1:31 of overall clinch time, he's had control 17 percent of the time and been controlled only 9 percent, leaving 74 percent off the cage. Because of this, his opponents have never even attempted a clinch takedown and Ferguson has been able to blast power strikes at a rate of 69.5 P5M (compared to a 24.0 average and 22.3 for Castillo), landing 57 percent.
At distance, the striking game isn't as lopsided as one might think, but almost everything favors Ferguson. He's somewhat surprisingly inaccurate at punching people in the face with power (18% accuracy) but he makes a lot of attempts. Maybe he's the Carmelo Anthony of power face punching - although missing in MMA doesn't carry nearly the penalty as it does in the NBA. Ferguson lands 6.3 power head strikes P5M to Castillo's 3.9, 11.4 overall power strikes to Castillo's 6.9 and 9.2 head jabs to Castillo's 4.4. The flip side is that opponents throw and land more power strikes on Ferguson (12.3 P5M to Castillo's 7.4). Ferguson's better at mixing in power body and leg strikes but Castillo's more accurate in all power areas. Castillo has a better knockdown percent (4% to Ferguson's 3%) but also gets knocked down more frequently (6% to Ferguson's 2%).
Castillo wins the power accuracy battle for offense and defense at distance, but accuracy doesn't win fights. Landing strikes wins fights (and every once in a while missing can). Castillo's likely going to need to go to the ground and the big question is will he be able to get into position for a (clinch) takedown? His distance takedowns are average while his lower body clinch takedowns occur at an above average rate and with 33 percent more effectiveness.
If Castillo can get Ferguson to the ground, he's good at keeping opponents there and reasonably active with power. But Ferguson's a standup machine (8.3 P5M to a 2.4 average). If Castillo can't get Ferguson down or can't keep him there, it should be Ferguson's activity that rules the day.
My ribs hurt just thinking about Derek Brunson.
My ribs still hurt just thinking about Derek Brunson.
We last saw Brunson in the Octagon getting his innards pummeled by Yoel Romero's elbow while referee Blake Grice seemed to take a mental coffee break. In the 3rd round, Brunson got tagged with 13 power elbows to the ribs in 10 seconds after having already received five "fight back" warnings. While it probably hurt to breath for the next few months, a positive takeaway is that Brunson pretty much controlled the fight until the last 1:40.
Most people would probably agree that Larkin should be 2-2 in the UFC, but he's coming off of two clear defeats. So which Lorenz Larkin will we get tomorrow? The one who came to life in the 3rd round against Brad Tavares or the one who was pretty inactive in the first two rounds? The one who outperformed Francis Carmont at distance or the one who got grinded in the clinch and on the ground?
This is one of those situations where it's nice to separate distance and clinch takedowns. Larkin spends 1:11 of every five minute round in the clinch, partially because he's fought Carmont and King Mo and partially because his clinch takedown defense is solid. Opponents land 31 percent of their distance takedowns against him as opposed to 9 percent of their clinch takedowns, so distance is where Larkin's vulnerable. Brunson's a better takedown artist in the clinch but is still above average at distance and he attempts almost three times as many takedown shots as the average middleweight P5M.
In the clinch and on the ground, Brunson's a pretty inactive striker. But control matters in MMA and Larkin's not good at standing up (0.6 standups P5M to a 2.0 average). He's been good at reversing (1.2 sweeps P5M to a 0.4 average) but Brunson's never been swept.
At distance, Brunson's more active and accurate with power strikes but his opponents are also more accurate and active against him. He lands 12.2 power strikes P5M and also absorbs 12.2 shots. Larkin lands 7.5 power shots but absorbs 9.8. Brunson has a higher knockdown rate than Larkin but he also gets knocked down at a higher rate.
The raw stats seem to lean towards Brunson but the model is more than just raw stats and it's leaning towards Larkin. The real questions are which Larkin will step in the cage tomorrow and will Brunson keep things standing or go the Mo/Carmont route?
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. 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.