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UFC 242: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Dustin Poirier alternative stats and win probabilities

A detailed breakdown of the position-by-position statistics to watch out for in Saturday’s UFC 242 fight card from Abu Dhabi.

UFC 242 goes down Saturday… afternoon… with an early PPV start time we haven’t seen since the last promotional visit to Abu Dhabi over nine years ago for UFC 112.

Saturday’s main card is not the world’s most provocative for a PPV, but the main and co-main events are legit. So legit is the Khabib-Poirier main event title scrap that it’s the only bout being analyzed in this piece.

I’m starting to get excited just thinking about it, so let’s jump into the numbers.

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.

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Dustin Poirier

The good news for Poirier: While Khabib used to spend nearly half of his fight time on the ground with top control, that stat is now down to 41% after more recent performances.

The bad news of course: Khabib is still Khabib.

Yet the evolution of Poirier from Fightville to WEC to UFC to interim lightweight champion has certainly been a thing to behold. And since knocking out Diego Brandao at UFC 168 almost six years ago, Poirier’s statistical dominance when he doesn’t get KO/TKO’d in the first-round has actually been in the general neighborhood of Khabib’s – although not exactly next-door neighbors.

Both guys are known to bust up a face or two. Poirier will make you “just bleed” in any position, and does so in almost ¼ of his alternative stats rounds, while Khabib’s usually wrecking your face from top control in 17% of his rounds, both well above the 6% lightweight average.

When operating at distance, Poirier’s volume edge comes mostly from power strikes. Both guys tend to attempt 27-28 head jabs per five minutes in the position (P5M) and land 33-34%, but Poirier’s edge in power strike volume comes from 57.7 attempts P5M to Khabib’s 31.3 with Poirier landing an outstanding 51% to Khabib’s 36%. If focusing solely on power shots to the head – where both tend to disproportionately target – Poirier lands a still-exceptional 47% to Khabib’s 32% and 28% lightweight average.

At the end of the day at distance, both men tend to have positive differentials with head jabs while Khabib absorbs 2.3 more power shots P5M and Poirier dishes out 8.3 more. The knockdown advantage goes to Poirier at well. His knockdown percentage is pretty low, but he makes up for it with volume. The end result is Poirier’s knockdown rate is 4x that of an average lightweight while Khabib’s is slightly over 1x thanks to his second-round crack on McGregor last year.

While it’s up in the air as to whether Poirier will shoot a takedown on Khabib, it’s a lock that Khabib will do so in as many opportunities as possible. When those opportunities come at distance, Khabib has attempted about 2.5x the takedown volume of a typical lightweight and completed a slightly above average 36%. Poirier’s alternative stats takedown defense has been outstanding at distance, shutting down 97%. Yet a potential problem could arise even if Khabib succeed from distance; he could push the position to the clinch and the cage where Poirier’s been much more vulnerable.

Everything so far has been at distance where Khabib tends to spend around two minutes of every round, often more so in the later rounds once he’s sapped much of his opponents’ energy.

Khabib tends to spend around 45 seconds of every round in the clinch, 83% with control against the cage, extremely inactive with strikes (5.7 power attempts P5M, 22.8 average) while incredibly active trying to take things to the canvas. With 11.5 clinch takedown attempts P5M (more than two per minute), Khabib’s volume is more than double the typical lightweight and he completes and above-average 50%.

While Poirier’s distance takedown defense has been excellent, he becomes human in the clinch, defending only 44% of the attempts against him. Poirier’s striking statistics are strong in the clinch with 40.7 power strike attempts P5M and a net-landed differential of +7.7, but those number come from 52% control time and 20% off the cage. He’s only had his back to the cage 28% of the time, where it can be harder to be aggressive and Khabib will certainly be forcing him to defend takedowns.

If Poirier’s butt hits the canvas where Khabib spends more than 2 minutes of every round – 99% with top position – Khabib does an excellent job of staying out of his opponents’ guard (only 16% of his ground control time) and having half guard or better a solid 30% of the time. The rest is what’s called “miscellaneous” ground control time, those positions where Khabib loves to figure four his opponents’ legs, make them work to get up, ground and pound, and move them towards a better position.

As a BJJ black belt, Poirier is certainly no slouch on the ground, having top control 67% of the time, throwing average power volume, finishing or threatening in 1/3 of his submission attempts, and standing up or sweeping at slightly above average rates.

If Poirier can keep things standing, he might not even need that ground game. If not, we’ll see how it matches up in Khabib’s world.

Bring on Saturday!

Instead of a separate win probability piece early Saturday morning, they’re going up right now.

The fight computer has Khabib at 64.6% to retain his lightweight title.

Paul Felder (55.1%) over Edson Barboza
Islam Makhachev (79.8%) over Davi Ramos
Mairbek Taisumov (50.9%) over Diego Ferreira
Omari Akhmedov (54.1%) over Zak Cummings

Current Bankroll: $10,427.10
No-Human-Error Bankroll: $10,824.47

The fight computer currently has a $26.07 bet on Felder at +135 but that could change as Saturday approaches. Follow me on Twitter for the exact final bet or non-bet.

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: 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.

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