Fight Island time is almost upon us. Please face-punching gods, throw us a bone in these trying coronavirus times and let this lovely UFC 251 main card stay intact. I love a good deal and the value per dollar of this PPV show, on paper, is impressive.
We’ve got three… err… four belts on the line (BMF) on Saturday night in the UFC’s return to Abu Dhabi, but its first time running the fights basically in the middle of the night local time. But hey, if you haven’t got used to strange things happening, I’d love to know where you’ve been living the past few months.
Let’s jump into the numbers on Saturday’s three title fights.
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.
Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal
It was a long, winding road but we finally got – check that – hopefully will get the BMF battle we’ve all wanted to see on Saturday.
According to the fight computer, out of his 11 UFC fights, Usman had his statistically least dominant performance in his latest outing against Colby Covington – a fight where Usman still ended up making Covington’s jaw great again and pulverizing his face. Usman chose to stand and bang, not attempting a single takedown the entire fight. The only other times Usman’s utilized such a strategy has been against jiu-jitsu aces Demian Maia and Sergio Moraes.
If Usman truly wants to “ragdoll” Masvidal on Saturday, we might be looking at something closer to his 18 takedown attempts (and 12 completed) versus RDA back in 2018. Masvidal’s takedown defense is decidedly average at distance where he succumbs to 28% of attempts (30% average). In the clinch, that number falls to 26% and it’s more respectable, relatively speaking, since the typical welterweight gets taken down 47% of the time from that position. But Masvidal can be as respectable as he wants with his clinch takedown D. Usman’s been a machine from that position, making 6.9 takedown attempts per five minutes in the position (P5M) and completing 63%.
On the plus side for Masvidal, he stands up at a rate 136% better than the typical welterweight. But if Usman can just plop him right back down on the canvas, Masvidal might be in for a long night against Usman’s 100% ground control time, 34% of which is with half guard or better, and 20.0 power strikes landed P5M on top.
With eight decisions in 11 UFC victories, Usman hasn’t been much of a finisher, but he’s busted up his opponent’s face in over 10% of his rounds and, as previously mentioned, tends to statistically dominate.
If Masvidal can keep the fight at distance, where he tends to spend 3:20 of every five minutes, this fight starts to look much more competitive, and Masvidal’s alternative stats (i.e., more recent performances) look dramatically better than his lifetime stats over a 21-fight Zuffa career.
While Masvidal and Usman throw similar power volume P5M at distance, Usman’s been landing under 40% while Masvidal’s running over 60%. Masvidal mixes up his strikes better and has an enormous power strike differential, while Usman’s is just +0.8 P5M (he also pops in +4.2 head jabs as well).
With four knockdowns in his last three fights (and six in his last seven), Masvidal easily wins the knockdown metric battle, but don’t sleep on Usman. He has a knockdown rate that’s 40% better than average and has never been dropped to the canvas himself.
When Usman’s been on the ground, he’s always been on top and working to do damage. And that might just be the key factor in this fight.
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway
Just eight months and one pandemic removed from his first featherweight loss since locking horns with Conor McGregor back in 2013, can Max Holloway rediscover his mojo and take the featherweight strap back to Hawaii?
When Volkanovski and Holloway last met, their entire fight pretty much took place at distance (24 minutes). They spent one minute in the clinch – where Volkanovski unsuccessfully attempted four takedowns – and didn’t spend a single second on the ground.
That last part wasn’t too surprising as Holloway’s takedown defense (95% at distance, 82% in the clinch) is outstanding. More surprising was Holloway getting thoroughly out-worked, not in total striking output (304 for Holloway, 303 for Volkanovski), but getting out-worked with power. Volkanovski attempted 210 power strikes to Holloway’s 112, and he landed 108 to Holloway’s 63. That was a big differential and while every nuance of a strike isn’t necessarily captured when it’s categorized as “power,” it sure is going to be difficult for Holloway to win on Saturday if history repeats itself and Volkanovski once again drops an extra 45 hard shots somewhere to Holloway’s body.
When reviewing the mega stat sheet, the statistical story of this fight still looks remarkably similar to my UFC 245 preview last December. At distance, Holloway has the volume edge in head jabs and power strikes, on paper. He also has the advantage in striking differentials in those same categories. Volkanovski still has the knockdown edge and a slight edge in damage. Then there’s the takedown game, but that was largely nullified in their last meeting.
With 33% and 37% of opponents’ power head strikes landing, neither fighter has shown impressive elusiveness in their documented careers so far. And when strikes were landing last December, the ones coming from Volkanovski seemed to consistently be the harder and cleaner blows.
And Volkanovski didn’t fade. His cardio was strong, just as Holloway’s always is.
Can Holloway once again keep the fight largely at distance, tap into his volume edges on paper, and this time implement them in Saturday’s rematch?
As always, I can’t wait to find out.
Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo
In six documented fights, Yan has looked pretty damn impressive. His closest statistical bout was his unanimous decision win over Jimmie Rivera, and other than that, he’s mostly had dominance on display. But former featherweight champion Jose Aldo still has a lot of fight in him and probably would’ve won his bantamweight debut against Marlon Moraes if he hadn’t taken his foot off the gas in the third.
Both fighters spend more than four of every five Octagon minutes at distance. They almost never shoot for takedowns (0.3 and 0.1 attempts P5M for Yan and Aldo, respectively) and only Yan is relatively active and successful on takedowns from the clinch (5.8 attempts P5M with 64% success). The problem for Yan, of course, is that Aldo has solid 81% clinch takedown defense.
If they end up standing and trading at distance, the numbers pretty clearly push for Yan. Neither fighter tends to out-jab their opponents, but Yan throws his power with more accuracy to every target zone (head, body, legs) and is more active everywhere except to the legs. While Yan’s rate of busting up faces is double that of Aldo (and 180% higher than average), his knockdown percentage is a whopping 595% higher.
That’s a lot.
Basically, Yan drops opponents with 1-of-every-17 standing power head strike he lands.
On the defensive end, Yan protects his head and body from the damage of power shots far better than Aldo, only letting 22% and 39% of those respective strikes land versus Aldo’s 37% and 61%. He’s only been dropped once (by John Dodson), but his defensive knockdown metrics are actually all worse than Aldo who’s fallen to the canvas twice in his documented career, once from Conor McGregor and the other from Max Holloway.
If they clinch up, Yan’s usually in the middle of the cage throwing almost double the power volume of a typical bantamweight and landing at 83%. Aldo’s usually being pressed against the cage, working to break away and get back to distance.
Neither fighter spends much time on the ground, so we can probably expect a mostly standup affair.
Will the fight mostly be Yan applying his statistical edges or will Aldo show, yet again, why he’s a legend of this beautiful fight game?
Bring on the glorious fights!
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.