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UFC on ESPN+ 1: Henry Cejudo vs. T.J. Dillashaw alternative stats

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A detailed breakdown of the position-by-position statistics to watch out for in the main event of Saturday’s inaugural UFC on ESPN+ fight card in Brooklyn.

Alternative stats breakdowns are usually reserved for PPV events, but the UFC making its debut on ESPN (prelims) and ESPN+ (main card, early prelims) is kind of a big deal, worthy of an exception.

The fighters are ready. The judges are ready. ESPN viewers might not be making noise yet, but have been made readyyyy with at least 20 MMA moves in their sports-watching arsenal.

Saturday’s main event might’ve possibly been considered a super fight had the combined title defenses of the two champions heading into the night been a little bit more than one. Yet it’s an outstanding headliner to start to the ESPN relationship and is more than worthy of a numbers-galore breakdown.

There won’t be a win probability piece on Saturday. Instead, they’ll be at the end of the article. Three bouts have good data but the statistical breakdown will have one focus: Cejudo vs. Dillashaw.

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.

Henry Cejudo vs. T.J. Dillashaw

The first metric that stands out when looking at this fight is a simple one. These gentlemen tend to win their fights differently: Dillashaw with a 58.3% KO/TKO rate and Cejudo with an 85.7% decision rate. Yet when the closeness of their bouts is quantified, both fighters lean slightly towards being more involved in blowouts with an identical score of 36 (0-100 scale, see notes below) than the flyweight average of 41.

For fight positioning, both fighters are generally happy to stand and trade at distance for the majority of a 5-minute round (3:23 Cejudo, 3:59 Dillashaw) while Cejudo tends to spend a few more seconds clinched up and on the ground than Dillashaw.

Every fight starts at distance and since these two guys each have exceptional takedown defense, this one might just stay there. Dillashaw’s the volume striker at distance, throwing 11.3 more head jabs per five minutes in the position (P5M) than Cejudo and 4.5 more power strikes.

Cejudo barely jabs and when he does he lands at a paltry 13% rate. He’s mostly throwing power to the head with a roughly typical flyweight mix to the head, body, and legs (30.7, 5.3, and 2.8 respective attempts P5M). Dillashaw is more body- and leg-centric, and leg attacks are one area he takes a statistical edge against his opponents.

Dillashaw basically lands even with opponents in power to the head and body (9.3 and 3.9 P5M for Dillashaw, 9.4 and 3.8 for opponents). He gets his distance striking differential edge with +1.1 on head jabs and +1.8 on power to the legs P5M, but his biggest edge is that when he connects solid, opponents are likely to drop. His three knockdown metrics (percent rounds, rate, and percentage) are between 2.5-6.0x the featherweight average (yes, I know he’s a bantamweight) while Cejudo drops foes between 1.2-2.0x. Cejudo’s distance striking game tends to outland opponents with power to the head and body while absorbing more head jabs and power shots to the legs.

Distance striking seems to edge towards Dillashaw but the bantamweight champ’s also been vulnerable at times. His statistical head power defense hasn’t been quite as good as Cejudo (30% absorbed to Cejudo’s 24%) and his defensive knocked down metrics are all worse than Cejudo and 2-of-3 are worse than average (percent rounds and rate).

Neither fighter shoots many takedowns at distance, but at 47% (Dillashaw) and 42% (Cejudo), they’ve both been relatively successful when they have. The problem for each on Saturday will be that the other guy’s distance takedown defense is on point (87% defended for Dillashaw, 85% for Cejudo).

The clinch is a position where Cejudo tends to spend more time each round, but Dillashaw tends to be the one pressuring into the cage (74% to Cejudo’s 45%). They’re each high-volume clinch strikers with Dillashaw focusing mostly on the head while Cejudo mixes it up almost evenly between the head and body (24.4 and 23.5 power attempts to the head and body vs. 13.3 and 9.6 for the typical flyweight).

Should someone go for a clinch takedown, it’s usually Cejudo at 6.2 attempts P5M (5.4 average, 2.5 Dillashaw). His 42% success rate is slightly below average, but the former Olympic gold medalist Cejudo has a much better mix of volume and success than Dillashaw, with the bantamweight champ’s aforementioned clinch takedown volume relatively low and success rate coming in at only 22%. Oh yeah, and both champions have yet to be taken down from the clinch in the UFC.

On the ground, we’re dealing with two fighters who are almost always on top. Cejudo’s spent four seconds on bottom and almost 21 minutes on top while Dillashaw’s spent 96% of his 33 ground minutes in top position.

So who will be on top this time? It might be no one. But if it’s Cejudo, he’ll have to deal with a Dillashaw standup rate that’s 629% better than the flyweight average. For perspective, Cejudo noticeably focused on keeping Demetrious Johnson on the ground at UFC 227. It worked enough to nab the flyweight title from the long-time champ, but DJ’s standup rate was only 120% better than average.

If Dillashaw ends up on top, we don’t know much statistically about Cejudo’s bottom game. What we do know is that Dillashaw tends to have half guard or better 43% of his ground control time and lands an outstanding 39.2 power shots P5M (14.7 average).

All said, the fight computer has Dillashaw at 60.0% to become the UFC’s first champ-champ of 2019.

Gregor Gillespie (65.2%) over Yancy Medeiros

Joseph Benavidez (63.3%) over Dustin Ortiz

No bets on Saturday’s card unless the lines change dramatically. Enjoy the glorious fights!

Note: This is an experiment and entertainment. Do not bet on the fights using these numbers. Taking sensible gambles with an edge over time is similar to investing. But if I’ve made a mistake somewhere, those same gambles without an edge become sucker bets. Let me be the possible sucker. You’ve been warned.

Statistical 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.