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UFC 241: Nate Diaz vs. Anthony Pettis alternative stats

A detailed breakdown of the position-by-position statistics to watch out for in Saturday’s UFC 241 fight card from Anaheim.

UFC 241 heads to Anaheim on Saturday back to the same building where Daniel Cormier took a head kick KO no contest just two short years ago.

With Cormier running it back with former heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic in the main event and only one subsequent fight between the two of them, this piece will focus on the matchups of the co-main and co-co-main events and direct people to the UFC 226 alternative stats breakdown for more on DC-Miocic. Since the fight computer doesn’t predict heavyweight bouts, they won’t be in Saturday’s win probability piece either.

The co-main event sees the glorious return of Nate Diaz after a three-year absence following the McGregor chronicles while the co-co-main has power bombers Yoel Romero and Paulo Costa in what could be a scene from a movie: Which bodybuilder-looking dude will knock the other’s block off first (only to lose in the tournament finals to the unheralded yet scrappy protagonist)?

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.

Nate Diaz vs. Anthony Pettis

One has 23 documented Zuffa bouts, the other 22. One has 57 rounds, 55 for the other. One has 264 total minutes, the other 245. Both mostly win by submission, have never been submitted, and mostly lose by decision.

Those are the outcome-based similarities between these two veteran cage fighters. And since all fights start standing, they each spend about 3:15 of every five minutes fighting in space at distance. But that’s where a lot of statistical similarities end.

Diaz is a volume head-jabber at distance, throwing almost 2x the average welterweight output with 37.3 head jabs attempted per five minutes in the position (P5M). Landing an above-average 34%, in net Diaz outlands his opponents by 8.9 head jabs P5M while Pettis is a net absorber of 0.8.

In the power department at distance, both men throw similar volume of between 36-39 power strikes P5M. Pettis lands at 50% to Diaz’s 41% largely because he mixes in more body and leg strikes (8.8 vs. 2.3 body attempts, 3.0 vs. 1.1 leg attempts P5M) which typically land at much higher rates. When striking the head with power, Diaz and Pettis are both at 40-41%.

Defensively, neither fighter has looked exceptionally strong as of late. Opponents know to attack Diaz’s legs and they try to tenderize them with 9.4 power leg attempts P5M (landing 80%) to only 4.8 on Pettis. The result is Diaz absorbs 6.9 more power strikes to the legs P5M than his opponents. His overall power differential at distance is -5.1, so the leg strike differential is the key to him being a net absorber instead of a net lander. When it comes to power to the head, Diaz’s differential is +3.2.

Pettis is also a net power absorber at distance with a differential of -3.0 P5M, although Pettis doesn’t have a glaring locational deficiency like Diaz. When he’s not “Showtime-ing” it up, Pettis is a net absorber of power to the head, body, and legs.

Pettis’ distinct advantage on the feet is power. He bloodies up faces in 12.4% of his rounds (6.3% average, 0.5% Diaz), gets knockdowns in 16.2% of his rounds (9.5% average, 1.3% Diaz), and he’s only been knocked down once compared to six different rounds being knocked down for Diaz (McGregor had two of those rounds in the rematch). Even if Pettis doesn’t drop Diaz, judges look for damage, and more impactful punches, kicks, and knees could swing rounds in what may very easily be a decision finish.

Neither fighter is much of a clincher or takedown artist. At 0.1 and 0.2 P5M at distance, they hardly ever shoot for takedowns. If clinched up, Pettis is usually being pressed into the cage while Diaz spends about an average amount of time in the clinch and is cage controlling 53% of it. He attempts a below average rate of clinch takedowns and is really bad at completing them (16%). Pettis attempts even fewer but has at least completed a solid 56%.

What Diaz does in the clinch is not let you breathe. A typical welterweight throws 23.3 power shots P5M clinched up and Pettis only throws 9.7. Meanwhile, Diaz utilizes that triathlon cardio to keep bringing the attack with 53.6 power strikes P5M, mostly to the head but a good chunk to the body as well.

If they somehow end up on the ground (a position I’d absolutely love to see from these two BJJ black belts), who will be on top? Diaz tends to have top position only 10% of the time while Pettis isn’t too much better at 28%. They both attempt submissions at over 3x the welterweight rate, finishing above average at 35% (Diaz) and 29% (Pettis), and have never been submitted, yet neither fighter is terribly good at keeping opponents down. So they might not be there long if the ground game somehow comes to fruition.

While Pettis has the power edge, another thing that helps with both the judges and finishing the fight is making your opponent shut down and then touching them up. Even though it’s a three-rounder, if one was to have the cardio edge, the stats say Diaz. In an apples-to-apples comparison from rounds 1 to 2, Diaz tends to land 45.5% more distance power strikes while Pettis’ output increases only 5.2%. Then from rounds 2 to 3, Diaz’s landed power output continues to increase (29.8%) while Pettis’ declines by 6.0%.

So bring it, let’s do this! Cannot wait to see how this battle plays out over (hopefully) all three rounds.

Yoel Romero vs. Paulo Costa

Romero has 12 prior fights of data while Costa has the absolute minimum for prediction at four, with none of those four bouts going much past the midway point of the second round.

Both men spend the vast majority of their fight time at distance (4 – 4 ½ minutes) where Costa’s been a pressure and volume machine throwing 79.8 power strikes P5M and landing an enormous 59%. Meanwhile Romero’s been far more patient: waiting, feinting, bursting, and countering to the tune of 21.0 power strikes and 41% landed.

Romero’s distance accuracy percentages are closer to numbers we traditionally see from high level fighters. Costa, on the other hand, has landed 50%, 93%, and 96% of his power head, body, and leg strikes, respectively. Those numbers are pretty insane and you shouldn’t expect them to last in the upper echelon of the UFC, but they certainly speak to the damage he’s been able to do along his short path of destruction to challenge the #2 ranked middleweight.

In the power department, both fighters have shown some serious numbers with Romero getting a knockdown in 24.0% of his rounds and with 4.5% of his standing power head strikes landed (2.8% average) while Costa’s dropped foes to the canvas in almost 50% of his rounds and with a 5.5% knockdown percentage. And on the defensive end, Costa’s yet to be dropped while Romero’s only tasted the canvas eight long years ago against Rafael Cavalcante in his Strikeforce debut (although he’s been wobbled at times since then).

With his Olympic wrestling pedigree, Romero shoots for takedowns at distance an average rate but hasn’t been too adept at finishing them inside a cage (20%). Meanwhile Costa is 9-for-9 thus far with his distance takedown defense.

If things move to the clinch, Costa has only spent 17 seconds of every five minutes there and 80% of it either off the cage or being pressed against it. Even so, his clinch game thus far has been blasting power strikes at more than 5x the middleweight average rate from those positions. Romero only spends 37 seconds of every round in the clinch, 78% of the time with control, but he’s still an active clinch takedown artist, hits the majority of his takedowns from that position, and has a respectable 38% completion rate.

If Costa goes to the ground where he’s been on his back 61% of the time, look for him to pop back up ASAP. He has two standups in just 43 seconds for a standup rate more than 6x the middleweight average. Combine that with the fact that Romero’s been pretty dreadful at keeping opponents down, 4.5x worse than average, and we may not see much groundwork.

In only 19 seconds, we haven’t really seen what Costa’s got in top position. So far he’s continued his high volume game and landed 21 power strikes, more than one per second.

Buckle up! Or maybe don’t buckle up. This could be a fun one! Or maybe a very patient one. Just watch it. The chess match should be enjoyable either way.

Raphael Assuncao vs. Cory Sandhagen

Predictions can be made for three of the 12 scheduled bouts. Be sure to return to Bloody Elbow on Saturday for precise win probabilities and possible bets before UFC 241 starts.

Statistical Notes: A bout closeness measure towards zero means a fighter tends to be in blowouts (win or lose) and towards 100 means they tend to be in very close fights. Strike attempts are per 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. Knockdown/Damage round percentage is the percentage of rounds with at least one knockdown or busted up face, respectively. 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.

Paul writes about MMA analytics and officiating at Bloody Elbow and MMA business at Forbes. He’s also an ABC-certified referee and judge. Follow him @MMAanalytics. Fight data provided by FightMetric.