UFC 225 goes down Saturday night in Chicago and the fight computer has seven fights (*fingers crossed*) with good data to crunch. Win probabilities will go up later. Today’s about alternative stats previews of three key bouts: Whittaker-Romero 2, dos Anjos-Covington, and, of course, Punk-Jackson. I would’ve loved to analyze Holm-Anderson, but Anderson’s lack of Zuffa data put the kibosh on that.
As for Arlovski-Tuivasa in the #4 hole, well:
Remember, what you’re about to read are not official UFC statistics. They’re alternative stats generated from the official statistics and 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.
Quick-turnaround rematches are always interesting from a statistical preview perspective since we’ve already seen the two fighters attempt to impose their strengths and avoid their weaknesses inside the cage. Do you focus more on the fight that already happened or their general statistical tendencies? I like to do a little of both.
Whittaker’s been sidelined since snatching the UFC interim middleweight title from Romero in the last three rounds of UFC 213, while Romero recently reminded us – and definitely Luke Rockhold – that he’s still a bad, bad dude.
In the first matchup, Romero attempted 18 takedowns spaced out as four, six, three, four, and one attempts in each respective round. While he went 4-of-18 overall, the most significant ground time from a Romero perspective was roughly 1:20 in the 2nd round where he connected with two power shots and 42 strikes of the more annoying variety from guard.
Romero experienced Whittaker’s excellent standup rate that’s 249% better than the typical middleweight in two of his four completed takedowns (with one of the other takedowns at the very end of a round). Add in that Romero’s rate of keeping opponents from standing back up is 225% worse than average, and there’s a good chance we see a mostly standup affair in the rematch tomorrow.
If we assume it’s unlikely Romero will “grade two” Whittaker’s knee ligament again, we’re left with Whittaker’s striking and takedown defense against Romero’s power, right?
Not so fast.
While Romero’s knockdown percentage of 5.0% is more than double Whittaker’s 2.3%, Whittaker’s alternative stats knockdown rate more than doubles Romero as the sculpted Cuban isn’t a huge fan of activity at distance.
Whittaker outworks his opponents by 5.7 head jab attempts and 14.0 power attempts per five minutes (P5M) at distance while Romero gets outworked by 5.8 and 9.1, respectively. Since it also helps to land one’s attempts, Whittaker’s accuracy trumps Romero’s with head jabs and power to the head and legs, only falling behind in power body shots.
If Romero can clinch up, he has control against the cage 70% of the time, throws 31.2 power strikes P5M (23.1 average), and is at his statistical best for takedown completion – even though 44% is a relatively underwhelming number and Whittaker defends takedowns in the clinch at a 75% clip.
Neither fighter has ever even attempted a submission, so let’s kick back Saturday night and enjoy 16 limbs flying in a likely medium-paced affair that still somehow feels really exciting. Perhaps it’s because these are two dangerous middleweights, or maybe because it seems anything can happen when Romero gets locked in a cage.
Plus it’s always fun to be on the edge of your seat in the rest periods.
It was incredibly tempting to refer to Covington as “Ogre” for this entire segment since I love the ‘80s and, well, nerds!
But, oh well.
The first thing that stands out in the massive alternative stat sheet is Covington’s minimal time spent at distance – with only 1:41 of every 5 minutes spent in the position. The rest of his time is 1:02 in the clinch (controlling against the cage for 80% and basically never being controlled) and 2:18 on the ground, with 95% top position mostly spent in guard.
Both men are reasonably active head jabbers at distance yet tend to get out jabbed at a 0.8-1.8 rate P5M at the end of the day, more using their jabs to setup or disguise other things. One of RDA’s key other things is his power shots to the legs which he lands at a 94% clip, connecting with almost twice as many as Covington P5M and roughly 2 ½ times as many as he absorbs himself.
While Covington’s the more active power striker at distance, RDA lands 4.8 more P5M due to an impressive 56% alternative stats accuracy rate. Both men mix in body shots nicely, and on the defensive end Covington’s had more success lately defending his head from power blows (21% absorbed vs. 29% for RDA).
In the takedown department, Covington’s been incredibly active from distance and the clinch. At distance, he shoots 5.6 times as often as a typical welterweight and lands an impressive 69% (30% average). In the clinch, he attempts 74% more takedowns than average, landing 58%. But if they clinch and the takedown doesn’t come, RDA’s been one of the relatively rare fighters to target the body more than the head, throwing 19.1 and 12.1 power body and head shots, respectively, whereas a normal welterweight throws 8.1 and 13.4.
Should he try to take things to the ground, Covington had better mind his Warlley Alves-y P’s and Q’s as RDA’s either completed or been extremely threatening (i.e., tight submission) in almost half of his 14 submission attempts. And 90% of his sub attempts have been dominant in the sense that they’re likely to keep or end up in a dominant position should he fail.
As much as I’m looking forward to seeing Whittaker and Romero throw down again, this is my main event of the night.
The fight computer doesn’t know or care that Covington’s the UFC’s new villain and many fans would be thrilled to see him get lit up. We’ll see what it thinks about the matchup on Saturday at 3pm ET.
There certainly won’t be a model prediction for this fight, but it seemed like fun to run some of their numbers anyway. What follows isn’t alternative stats since that wouldn’t make any sense. These are lifetime statistics – from one documented fight each.
Punk is an absolute ground warrior, spending 4:49 of every five minutes working on the canvas. The problem is he’s always on bottom, and his opponent has half guard or better in 80% of his ground time.
Luckily for Punk, Jackson’s also always on bottom on the ground and I’m pretty sure bottom-bottom positioning can’t happen by the laws of physics (even 50/50 would be considered neutral). Neither has landed a single power strike from the ground, but Punk ate them at a much higher rate of 46.5 P5M (14.4 average) to Jackson’s 20.0. On the defensive end, Jackson’s evaded a terrible 0% of ground power shots while Punk at least stealthily made his opponent miss 36% of the time.
If Jackson does end up on top, he better watch out. Punk skillfully landed 6-of-7 jabs during his short time on bottom and eating your opponent’s bottom-position jabby jabs can be really annoying.
If the fight stays at distance where Jackson spends 3:20 of every 5 minutes, he’d seem to have a clear offensive advantage while defense is a little more uncertain. Jackson throws head jabs and power strikes at roughly an average rate of 20.0 and 30.0 P5M, respectively (2 total head jabs and 3 total power strikes), and he connects with stellar 50% and 67% accuracy (1 head jab and 2 power shots landed). Punk, meanwhile, whiffed on his one monster power attempt at distance for a pathetic 0% accuracy rate.
The big problem for Jackson is that while he’s a ninja with 100% head jab defense (2 opponent attempts), he eats every single distance power shot he’s ever seen (1 attempt). Imagine if Punk’s monster power strike connects to Jackson’s skull. We could have ourselves a fight, people!
Meanwhile Punk’s defense at distance is a complete statistical unknown. A black hole. It could be a portal to a new and amazing fight universe or it could be this. I can’t wait to find out.
Punk vs. Jackson to open the PPV main card!
Bring. It. On.
Predictions can be made for seven of the 13 scheduled bouts. Be sure to return to Bloody Elbow this Saturday at 6pm ET for precise win probabilities and possible bets shortly before UFC 225 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.