Jon Jones, the arguable MMA GOAT, is back!
If he didn’t screw anything up overnight, he’s got three more long days to go. Do not let this statistical breakdown be in vain, Mr. Jones.
The entire UFC 232 main card has good data, but with two amazing fights at the top of the card, that’s of course where the focus will be. The former longtime UFC light heavyweight champion rematches Alexander Gustafsson, the man who gave Jones his closest title defense ever by the scorecards. And in what I’d call the real main event of the night, the women get in on the champ-champ superfight action as featherweight strap-holder Cris Cyborg throws down against bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes. At -250 as of this writing, Cyborg hasn’t been this small a favorite since her Gina Carano days some nine years ago.
Remember, what you’re about to read are not official UFC statistics. They’re alternative stats generated from official statistics designed to (1) give more weight to the recent present than the distant past and (2) not let one huge or horrible performance dominate the data.
See the notes at the bottom for definitions of certain statistics and check out an earlier piece for an explanation of how this works.
Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson
Jones and Gustafsson each generally spend around 65% of their fight time – or a little more than three minutes per round – fighting at distance. But their first meeting back in 2013 was almost entirely a standup affair, mostly contested in open space. Of their 25 minutes of fight time, 22:40 were fought at distance, 1:51 was spent in the clinch, and a measly 29 seconds took place on the ground.
It’s not like there was a lack of effort to move things to the ground, either. With 19 takedown attempts between them (11 for Jones and eight for Gustafsson), Jones and Gustafsson each only landed one and essentially did no damage for 12-15 seconds before the other sprung to their feet.
With no knockdowns between them and a 1-1 tie in the face bloodying department in the first matchup, the effective statistical difference came down to Gustafsson’s jabs (a jab is a non-power strike, it doesn’t have to be an actual jab) and Jones’ power shots. When a fight’s mostly contested at distance, everything’s basically a significant strike, so that metric may not do the best job distinguishing between more and less damaging blows.
Jones’ differentials with power shots to the head, body, and legs were +11, +9, and +13, respectively, while Gustafsson peppered in larger differentials with the less heavy stuff at +26, +14, and -26 (lighter stuff to the legs went to Jones). From the first to the fifth rounds, Jones edged out the power shot differentials pretty consistently. But when it came to tagging the all-important head, there was a clear change in magnitudes. Jones’ distance head power differential went from +1, +1, and +1 in the first through third rounds to +6 and +7 in the fourth and fifth. Statistically, this is where Jones’ infamous spinning back elbow may have changed the game.
Examination of their overall alternative stats tends to tell a similar story. At distance, Gustafsson out-works and out-lands opponents with head jabs (+13.9 volume, +4.0 landed per five minutes in the position (P5M)), but tends to get out-worked and out-landed with power shots (-3.5 differential). Jones tends to get out-worked at head jabs and has similar power shot volume to his opponents, but he’s far more efficient. Landing an impressive 47% of his distance power shots overall, Jones tags opponents with +5.5 more power strikes P5M and, similar to his first fight with Gustafsson, does an excellent job remaining unpredictable and spreading the pain all over the opponent’s body (35.1% to the head, 36.2% to the body, and 28.7% to the legs).
With four knockdowns in his last five fights and seven in his last ten, Gustafsson gets the better of Jones in all three knockdown metrics, but Jones is yet to be knocked down himself. And it took the unholy power of Anthony Johnson to send Gustafsson crashing to the mat his only time.
Both Jones and Gustafsson shoot for an above average number of takedowns at distance and have excellent alternative stats success rates (47% Jones, 51% Gustafsson, 32% average), but Jones defends 97% and Gustafsson ain’t to shabby himself at 94%. Gustafsson’s been more vulnerable to the takedown in the clinch with only 71% defended, but he successfully fought off all three of Jones’ attempts in their first meeting.
It might be a good idea to prepare for another affair on the feet as both fighters have strong standup rates when being controlled on the ground, with Jones being an absolute monster. Gustafsson gets back to his feet 75% better than the typical light heavyweight while Jones, based on the two times he’s been taken down, pops back up 909% better.
If Jones can successfully make it to Saturday, we should be in for a treat once again. Jonny, be good.
Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes
If statistical domination is put on a 0-100% scale, Cyborg has dominated every single one of her documented UFC and Strikeforce opponents at 96.9% or more except one – an 81.2% domination outing against Holly Holm at UFC 219. Meanwhile Nunes hasn’t been a slouch herself during her title run when her opponent isn’t last named Shevchenko.
While Cyborg has a wide knockdown power advantage, dropping opponents with 1-of-20 standing power head strikes landed, Nunes has the damage (a.k.a. busting up the opponent’s face) advantage. Nunes has busted up 4x as many faces as Cyborg and does so at a 5.1x rate.
Both fighters are statistical monsters at distance, with Cyborg the more effective one. Since there haven’t been many UFC women’s featherweight bouts, a typical women’s bantamweight throws around 38 power strikes P5M at distance, landing 37%. Cyborg and Nunes are each over 68 attempts P5M with Cyborg landing at 71% or higher to the head, body, and legs and Nunes 50% or better. Each out-jabs opponents to the head and significantly out-lands with power, but Cyborg statistically does it better.
Defensively at distance, Cyborg’s also done a much better job keeping her head from taking too much damage. Only 8% of opponents’ head power strikes have impacted Cyborg’s brain compared to 32% for Nunes. The flip side is she absorbs almost everything to the body and legs (85% plus).
When clinched up – where each fighter spends 40 seconds to a minute of a typical round – neither Nunes (28%) nor Cyborg (31%) has tended to be the one spending most of their time doing the cage pressing so we’ll have to see who does the controlling on Saturday. Nunes targets the head more with power but tends to get out-struck in the clinch. Cyborg, on the other hand, drives punishing power shots into the opponent’s body 138% more than average, and out-lands her opponents by a +16.7 margin.
Neither Nunes nor Cyborg is much of a takedown artist at distance. The clinch is where Nunes does most of her takedown legwork and at 38% landed, she’s respectable. She has good volume, attempting more than twice the average number of clinch takedowns P5M, but Cyborg’s only failed on 1-of-6 Zuffa clinch takedown defenses – to Tanya Evinger at UFC 214.
When they go to the ground, both tend to be on top with control about ¾ of the time. Cyborg drops bombs at an ungodly rate of 149.2 power shots P5M (lifetime stats) and 169.3 (alternative stats). For perspective, Nunes’ bomb-dropping rate is 29.4 power strikes P5M and a typical women’s bantamweight does 20.3. Nunes is 50% on her submission attempts, but no one’s even attempted a sub on Cyborg in her documented fight career (does not include Invicta) since Shayna Baszler way back before the financial crisis.
If one ends up on bottom, Cyborg’s a lot like Jon Jones, springing back up to her feet at an incredible 970% better than average rate. Nunes stands up 55% better than average and Cyborg’s been 318% worse than average at keeping opponents down, when she’s not beating the living hell out of them.
There’s always an extra layer of uncertainty when fighters from different weight classes meet. And Saturday can’t get here fast enough to see how this one goes down.
Carlos Condit vs. Michael Chiesa
Ilir Latifi vs. Corey Anderson
Chad Mendes vs. Alex Volkanovski
Predictions can be made for five of the 13 scheduled bouts. Be sure to return to Bloody Elbow on Saturday at 6pm ET for precise win probabilities and possible bets shortly before UFC 232 starts.
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 and distance head jab 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 or the opponent’s back. 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.
Paul writes about MMA analytics and officiating at Bloody Elbow and MMA business at Forbes. He’s also a licensed referee and judge for the California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Organization (CAMO). Follow him @MMAanalytics. Fight data provided by FightMetric.