UFC 248 goes down Saturday night in Las Vegas and with it the first title defenses for two of the promotion’s newer champions.
With four fights in 2018 and three in 2019, undefeated middleweight champ Israel Adesanya continues his busy schedule by welcoming the “Soldier of God” Yoel Romero into the Octagon. And with only four fights in her entire UFC career, but all dominant performances, the strawweight queen Weili Zhang looks to keep her crown from going to former division great Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Let’s dive into the stats in what looks to be a fun card.
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.
Israel Adesanya vs. Yoel Romero
I’m having a bit of deja vu studying the statsheet for this matchup.
In the statistical preview for Shevchenko vs. Chookagian at UFC 247, it was hard to find a single metric which swung Chookagian’s way. And about a month later, here we are yet again... sort of. Outside of the clinch, it’s hard to find a single, meaningful statistic that edges Romero’s way, and my statsheet is massive.
You think Romero’s the power striker? That’s very true when compared to an average middleweight, but not against the champ. Adesanya drops opponents in 38.5% of his rounds (25.6% for Romero), has a knockdown rate of 0.72 (0.35 for Romero), and a knockdown percentage of 6.5% (3.4% for Romero).
You think Romero’s the volume striker? Ha! Just kidding. We all know that’s not true.
You think Romero and his Olympic silver medal have a wrestling advantage? At distance, he shoots for takedowns an average amount and lands a subpar 22% while Adesanya defends at 88%. But the clinch is a different story.
Romero spends 32 seconds of every five minutes clinched up and he controls against the cage 72% of the time while Adesanya gets controlled 79% of the time. Romero actually becomes a volume power striker in the clinch (39.1 attempts per five minutes in the position, P5M, to 23.0 average) and he attempts 71% more clinch takedowns than average while landing at an improved, yet still subpar, 35%.
However, there are two problems for Romero here. The first is that Adesanya’s clinch takedown defense is a solid 82%. Second is Romero only spends 13 seconds of every five minutes with top control on the ground, and Adesanya is only on his back for six seconds of every five minutes. The sequence of takedowns landed against the champ has gone 3, 2, 1, 0, 0, 1, 0 (Kelvin Gastelum was the latest “1”). Perhaps more impressively, the sequence of Adesanya standing back up is exactly the same: 3, 2, 1, 0, 0, 1, 0. He gets back to his feet every single time, and it doesn’t take him long to get there where he might be taking damage along the way. The only opponent to have ground control on Adesanya for more than a minute was Marvin Vettori in Stylebender’s second UFC appearance.
Adesanya’s ability to get back to his feet has been exceptional so far with 16.2 standups P5M being controlled (2.2 average). Throw in that opponents get up on Romero at a 10.4 clip and we’ve got a recipe for a standup affair. The big question is how much will take place at distance and how much in the clinch?
At distance, the alternative stats are all Adesanya. He’s either knocked down or busted up the face of every single one of his opponents except Anderson Silva. He and Romero are similar with their head jab volume, but Adesanya lands 45% to Romero’s 35%. The champ throws 8.1 more distance power strikes than Romero P5M and lands at 51% to Romero’s 42%. When it comes to defense, Adesanya only absorbs 16% of power shots to his head while Romero eats 28%. The net effect is that Adesanya runs +1.7 and +11.5 in head jab and overall power strike differentials P5M while Romero checks in at an unimpressive -0.3 and -2.4.
Normally those poor distance differentials can be overcome with power (which Romero has) or excellent grappling, but as we’ve already seen Adesanya’s power metrics are even better, he’s never been knocked down, and if Romero is able to take Adesanya down, he’s probably popping back up to his feet before you can chug your beer.
The clinch is where the alternative stats give an edge to Romero. And while he certainly has the ability to end the fight with a single strike (he’s never even attempted a submission), Adesanya’s statistical ability to do so is even greater. And Romero falls to the canvas a decent amount (in 7.9% of his alterantive stats rounds, 9.6% average).
This may not end up a barn-burner, but it should be fun nonetheless. And hey, at least the rest periods will be can’t miss television with the whole “What might Romero try next?” thing going on.
Weili Zhang vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
It’s never fun doing a statistical preview from just four prior documented fights, which is Zhang’s UFC career so far, but you go with what you got in this sport sometimes.
In her four documented UFC fights, Zhang has largely dominated, leading to a bout closeness measure of only 13 (0 = blowouts, 100 = very close fights, 41 = strawweight average, 38 = Joanna’s measure).
Like Joanna, Zhang tends to spend around 3 ½ of every five-minute round at distance, a position where both fighters have excelled. Both throw solid volume, but with 30.2 head jab attempts and 68.2 power attempts P5M, Zhang has been more active (25.4 and 47.0 for Joanna) and more accurate (23% and 55% accuracy to Joanna’s 16% and 44%). In alternative stats world, Zhang loves to attack the legs with power, so watch out for that as the title fight progresses.
In addition to activity and accuracy edges, Zhang has the power edge on all three knockdown metrics and all are between 175-300% better than the strawweight average. And Joanna’s chin has shown some sensitivity as she’s been dropped twice and has two knockdown defense metrics below average (the other’s exactly average).
While Joanna’s power stats on the offensive end don’t look good at all, having only knocked down Claudia Gadelha a little over five years ago, she’s basically been 100% better than average at the FightMetric category of Damage; i.e., busting up opponents’ faces “Just Bleed!” style. But it might not be that easy to touch Zhang up since she only eats 16% and 19% of opponent head jabs and head power shots, respectively (20% and 28% for Joanna).
When they fight at distance, neither fighter ever takes things to the ground. Joanna has never even attempted a distance takedown and Zhang is 0-for-1. But the clinch is a different story.
Neither fighter is usually the controlling one in the clinch, so it’ll be interesting to see how the fight unfolds here. Joanna is pressed against the cage 60% of the time while she presses for 31%. Meanwhile Zhang clinches in open space off the cage almost half the time (48%). And when she clinches, Zhang explodes with activity. She blasts opponents with power in these situations to the tune of 87.6 strikes P5M (31.1 average, 29.0 for Joanna) and attempts a massive 28.2 takedowns P5M (3.7 average, 1.0 for Joanna) while completing them at an average rate. Basically, Zhang has spent a little over two minutes in the clinch and has gone 4-for-12 on takedown attempts in that time.
If things go to the ground, Zhang has control 80% of the time and Joanna has been on bottom 86% of the time. But we know the drill for Joanna, she’s trying to get the hell out of there. Not quite at Adesanya’s standup rate, Joanna gets back to her feet almost 240% better than the strawweight average, although Zhang has been just about average at keeping opponents down. And while she has them there, she almost doubles the strawweight average by landing 32.1 power shots P5M (think of those nasty elbows in the mauling of Jessica Aguilar), throws up submissions at a solid clip, and has finished 50% (1-of-2) of her sub attempts.
This will be Zhang’s third scheduled five-round fight of her entire career. The other two, she’s taken in the first or second round, but the opponent has yet to be the caliber of Joanna.
Can’t wait to see how this one goes down.
Sean O’Malley’s fight isn’t on this list since he only has two UFC appearances. But his activity level at distance has been exceptional so far and he’s been accurate, landing an impressive 44% of his head jab attempts and 61% of his power strikes.
Beneil Dariush vs. Drakkar Klose
Neil Magny vs. Li Jingliang
Alex Oliveira vs. Max Griffin
Emily Whitmire vs. Polyana Viana
Predictions can be made for six of the 13 scheduled bouts. Be sure to return to Bloody Elbow on Saturday for precise win probabilities and possible bets before UFC 248 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.