Three belts will on the line this Saturday night at UFC 259 – COVID willing – for just the seventh time in the UFC’s 20-year history under the Zuffa banner.
In the main event, middleweight champion Israel Adesanya moves up 20 pounds to challenge Jan Blachowicz in the first defense of his light heavyweight strap. In the co-main event, women’s GOAT Amanda Nunes looks to put on yet another show defending the weightier of her two belts against a +750 underdog in Megan Anderson. And in a pick’em co-co-main event as of this writing, the UFC’s newest bantamweight champ Petr Yan looks to kick off his title reign the right way against the surging “Funk Master,” Aljamain Sterling.
There are other fun fights on what’s a pretty stacked 15-fight event card as of this writing. Hopefully it’ll stay that way, especially in the three title fights we’ll focus on today. 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.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Israel Adesanya
Middleweight champ Adesanya is riding high after a flawless victory against Paulo Costa five months ago in Abu Dhabi, while Blachowicz won his light heavyweight strap on that same card, doing to Dominick Reyes in two rounds what Jon Jones couldn’t in five.
It’s not always easy to statistically size up fighters from two different weight classes, but if we say screw it and do it anyway, this fight looks to be one of many small advantages.
Both fighters bust opponents’ faces up more than average with a slight edge to Adesanya who bloodies faces with a 1.5% damage percentage to Blachowicz’s 1.2% and a typical light heavyweight’s 0.8%.
At distance – a position where Blachowicz and Adesanya each spend 3:39 or more of every five minutes – their head jab volume is pretty similar with 12.1 - 13.8 attempts per five minutes in the position (P5M), but Adesanya lands at 41% to Blachowicz’s 29%. When it comes to the head and legs, both fighters connect with strikingly similar percentages, but Adesanya mixes things up with a bit more volume to the legs. And while their volume to the body is pretty similar, Adesanya’s been a little more effective connecting with 73% to Blachowicz’s 64%. The end result is that Adesanya tends to show a bit better power strike differential (+9.7 P5M to +6.4 for Blachowicz) while fighting in open space.
In the knockdown department, Adesanya edges out Blachowicz in all three metrics (granted, against smaller opponents), but his margins are substantially smaller with alternative stats – when things are weighted towards more recent appearances – as opposed to lifetime statistics since Blachowicz kicked off his UFC tenure with a 2-4 record.
Even though takedowns wouldn’t seem to be much of an issue in this matchup, Blachowicz has been pretty effective when he’s decided to put them to use. He completes 49% and 61% of his respective distance and clinch attempts, well above the light heavyweight average of 31% and 46%. The problem is he just doesn’t try them very often. With 0.4 and 0.7 attempts P5M in each position, Blachowicz attempts 67% and 84% fewer takedowns than that same average light heavyweight.
If Blachowicz does get the fight to the ground, he better be well-prepared to maintain the position and be effective against someone of Adesanya’s caliber because Stylebender spends an average of four seconds of every five minutes on his back. His standup rate is an incredible 16.2 P5M being controlled (2.5 average). While Adesanya has never been knocked down, he’s been taken down seven times and also happens to have seven standups. In 135 total UFC minutes, the middleweight champ has been controlled on the ground for only 3 ½ minutes, and more than two of those minutes came in Adesanya’s second promotional appearance almost three years ago against Marvin Vettori.
Amanda Nunes vs. Megan Anderson
There’s a game I like to play with certain Nunes matchups and almost every Valentina Shevchenko title defense: Can I find a statistical way for the opponent to win? It’s a dangerous game since everyone has weaknesses and everyone is beatable, especially in MMA, but stats don’t lie and betting lines get lopsided for a reason: The likelihood of finding and exploiting those weaknesses can be really small for certain opponents.
So let’s see what this matchup looks like.
Nunes busts up opponent faces in 26.2% of her rounds, Anderson zero. Nunes lands 56% of her total power strikes at distance including 51% to the head. Anderson runs 32% and 29% with those same stats and mostly headhunts, having not yet attempted a single power strike to the legs in the UFC. And when it comes to power strike differential, Nunes comes in at an impressive +20.0 P5M at distance while Anderson’s looking at a -2.3 margin.
But Anderson only spends 1:24 of every five minutes at distance. For the rest of the time she’s clinched up for 1:37, being controlled against the cage for 89% of it (thanks Holly Holm and Norma Dumont), and on the ground for 1:59 where she gets controlled there as well for 86% of the time. Lack of control by no means guarantees a losing outcome in MMA, but can you think of a fighter who, if given a choice, would choose to be on bottom when on the ground or with their back to the fence in the clinch?
Should Nunes want to change the position of the fight, she’s been successful with her takedown shots from distance, completing 48% and with nice volume. Meanwhile Anderson’s only defended 60% (82% average). If Nunes transitions into the clinch, she’s known to throw more striking volume than a typical women’s featherweight, but it’s her takedown volume that’s prolific. Not only does she make 14.9 attempts P5M, 427% more than average, but she completes an exceptional 63% (23% average). And then comes the nasty ground and pound or sub attempts with her 94% control time, 30% of it in half guard or better.
It’s MMA and there’s always a chance. Although this one certainly looks pretty slim.
Petr Yan vs. Aljamain Sterling
According to Sterling, he only needs “one takedown,” for Yan to have a long night. While Sterling may not see many gains in Yan’s defensive takedown game, Yan’s gone 7-of-7 defensively in his last three fights while Sterling’s been 0-for-15 on the offensive end. But Sterling’s still a surging veteran on a five-fight win streak, well rounded, and dangerous everywhere.
I was a bit surprised to see that Sterling takes the volume edge in power strikes and head jabs from distance. He isn’t as effective at connecting with that power to the head (35% to Yan’s 40%), but he does a much better job mixing up his attacks, targeting more surface area of the body, and with less predictability. Yan throws 80% of his distance power strikes to the head and only 2.6% to the legs. Meanwhile Funk Master throws just 52% to the head, 18% to the body, and tenderizes the legs with the remaining 30%.
While they each have possible advantages in distance striking, one area with a clear edge is knockdown power. In 118 standing minutes inside the Octagon, Sterling still hasn’t dropped a single opponent, while Yan, in just seven fights and 80 standing minutes, has sent four different opponents crashing to the canvas, eight total times, and in six different rounds. In other words, his knockdown metrics are huge.
While Sterling may feel he just needs one takedown, he’s one of those fighters who puts out more takedown attempt volume from distance rather than the clinch. This is also an area where Yan’s defensive metrics have been improving. Lifetime, Yan’s at 84% defending takedown shots, but with alternative stats, that number jumps up to 93%. From the clinch, Yan has never been taken down. Meanwhile, Sterling’s takedown metrics are all below average, except for his distance volume which comes in 132% higher than the bantamweight average.
If these guys do clinch up, watch out for their positioning. While Sterling splits his time almost 50/50 controlling against the cage and being controlled, Yan spends the majority of his clinch time (54%) off the cage completely. This allows him to blast power volume, connect at an impressive 82% (66% average, 70% Sterling), and ultimately land 43.3 of these blows P5M (15.8 average, 17.9 Sterling).
If the fight goes to the ground, both guys get back to their feet quicker than average when on their back (91% quicker for Yan, 35% for Sterling), but we know Sterling’s dangerous from anywhere. While Yan tends to have top control 88% of the time to Sterling’s 62%, Funk Master’s four UFC submissions, 40% sub finishing rate (26% average), “Funk Strudel” against Cody Stamann, and his arm triangle from bottom versus Takeya Mizugaki all say this fight could get real interesting really quick. Can’t wait.
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.