The second of two UFC numbered events in a row goes down this Saturday with UFC 268 offering an impressive main card we unfortunately have to start paying for again. Colby Covington enters the Octagon on an eight-fight win streak over everyone except the man standing across him. That man, defending welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, looks to extend his 14-fight UFC undefeated streak, eight of which he’s had a dominance rating over 90%.
The co-main event features a highly anticipated rematch. Weili Zhang is looking to reclaim her women’s strawweight crown, while “Thug” Rose Namajunas, the two-time title holder looking to dispatch Zhang yet again and start her second run of title defenses. Since it’s an immediate rematch, we’ll set this fight aside and recommend their alternative stats from UFC 261 in April for a statistical take on the matchup that should hold pretty well today – except Namajunas’ knockdown metrics are even more boosted now.
In the #3 hole is a fight I’d love to breakdown, two former UFC title challengers, former World Series of Fighting and Bellator kings Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler clash in an easy Fight of the Night contender on paper. The only problem for our purposes is Chandler enters the Octagon sitting on just two UFC fights, three rounds, and eight minutes of data. Forget the stats in this one, let’s just enjoy the show.
So we’ll focus on the main event. 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. Colby Covington
While we know that two fighters with impressive wrestling or jiu-jitsu skills will sometimes end up in full-on kickboxing battles, would you have ever guessed that out of 25 minutes of action two years ago, Usman and Covington would spend just six seconds in the clinch and 11 seconds on the ground. I could lose balance an accidentally lean on my opponent to achieve clinch for more than six seconds in a 25-minute fight.
It was an old fashioned distance throw down last time. And we know their typical games there. Usman outstrikes with head jabs and while he has a slightly positive power strike differential in his lifetime stats, with alternative stats he runs -4.9 per five minutes in the position (P5M). He still tends to outstrike opponents with power to the head, but eats significantly more shins to his legs. And he can drop his foes at any second. Usman’s knockdown rate and percentage of rounds with a knockdown are each more than twice the welterweight average.
While both fighters often work their distance time to a clinch and ultimate takedown, Covington gets there with volume. He doesn’t tend to outland his opponents with head jabs, but he attempts 5.4 more P5M and usually overwhelms them with power to the tune of +21.5 attempts P5M and +7.1 landed. Yet Covington doesn’t attack the legs much and only tends to show a little love to the body now and then.
Those have been their statistical tendencies. We also have data on what they actually did to each other when locked in a cage.
In their first matchup, Covington’s volume was largely negated. Both fighters spent almost the entire 25 minutes operating at distance, with zero takedown attempts, where Covington outpaced Usman in strike attempts every round except the fifth (including the round his jaw got busted). But when we look at what actually landed, Usman out-jabbed Covington in 3-of-5 rounds and their power strike differentials had a 2-2-1 split, with a tie coming in the fifth where Usman clobbered Covington with two knockdowns and a TKO finish.
Yet just like those numbers, the fight was being scored much more close than Covington’s face made it seem at the time. It was all tied up heading into the fifth and final round.
So will either fighter try to mix things up this time around?
While Covington has stellar distance takedown skills (63% completed), Usman’s defended all 17 shots he’s ever faced. Usman’s been better than average with distance takedowns (36%) but Covington defends at 86%, and Usman’s best work is in the clinch anyway.
The clinch is a curious place as both fighters tend to be the one with cage control 85-90% of the time. It’s here that Usman turns into the volume guy – power strike volume, in particular – with a +13.1 differential P5M (mostly to the body) helping to setup his 5.6 takedown attempts P5M and stellar 60% success rate. Covington, on the other hand, doesn’t strike nearly as much but still attempts 5.8 clinch takedowns P5M, completing 49%.
The thing that stands out most, though, is Covington’s defense from the position. He’s been vulnerable in the clinch. Opponents haven’t been able to exploit it too much yet, can Usman if he’s so inclined? In six clinch takedown attempts on Covington, four have been successful (Dong Hyun Kim got two and RDA and Tyron Woodley each hit one). Covington’s been excellent getting back to his feet, with a standup rate 5x the welterweight average, but this area stands out like a sore thumb in a stat sheet that’s pretty impressive most everywhere else. His clinch takedown defense is a glaring statistical deficiency – against a strong clinch opponent – and all of Covington’s failed defenses have come more recently within his last six fights.
Maybe they’ll just show us a version of “Kickboxer 2” Usman vs. Covington edition, but the stats suggest Usman has a potential area of larger advantage to possibly exploit if he can successfully work his way to the clinch and keep Covington there long enough to setup his takedown game. Easier said than done, for sure.
If they do keep it at distance again this weekend, there’s one area where Usman’s advantage is wide. He’s never been knocked down and we’ve already mention how much better he drops opponents than the average welterweight. Covington, on the other hand, has eaten the canvas twice (both from Usman) and his knockdown metrics are absolutely puny for a welterweight fighter.
Knockdown rounds percentage: 91% worse than average.
Knockdown rate: 93% worse than average.
Knockdown percentage (strikes): 96% worse than average.
The only fighter he’s ever knocked down in his UFC career is Jonathan Meunier and I’d bet most readers have to look up who that is. We’re in some serious “Hands of Pillow” territory here, although I’m guessing that nickname wasn’t up for serious consideration in the gym.
“Chaos” works better. Let’s see if he can create some on Saturday night.
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.
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