UFC 264 brings a capacity MMA crowd back to Las Vegas for the first time since Joanna and Weili put on a fight-of-the-year performance right before we all started learning about lockdowns, r-naught, and respiratory droplets. With an immediate rematch in the main event (even though it’s a McGregor fight), our focus will shift to the intriguing welterweight co-main event between kickboxing sensation Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and grappling aficionado Gilbert Burns.
Wonderboy is now a nine-year, 16-fight veteran of the UFC. He comes in on a two-fight win streak after previously getting caught by Anthony Pettis and dropping a decision to Darren Till most top officials thought he should’ve won.
Burns will try to right the ship of what was an impressive start to his welterweight career and first round against champ Kamaru Usman before the head jabs caught up with him and the rails fell off.
For a statistical analysis of the Poirier-McGregor main event that should be mostly as relevant today, see the alternative stats for UFC 257. One big difference is Poirier now smashes 6.6 power strikes into opponents’ legs per five minutes (P5M) at distance to McGregor’s 1.9.
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.
Gilbert Burns vs. Stephen Thompson
A fighter like Burns is where I like alternative stats, where we don’t care too much about what happened when he was a lightweight but there could also still be some valuable information in there.
When the two fighters dance at distance – where Burns spends at least three minutes of every round and Wonderboy over four minutes – Burns throws almost all power strikes while Wonderboy throws a roughly 2:1 mix of power strikes to head jabs. When Wonderboy pops those jabs, he lands at 40% and tends to out-strike his opponents with a +5.1 differential P5M in the position.
When Wonderboy transitions to power, you never know which of his eight limbs will make the attack, but his targeting is largely that of a headhunter with only 13% and 3% of those strikes going to the body and legs, respectively. Burns has been better at mixing up the targets of his power (66%, 15%, and 19% to the head, body, and legs) but is substantially less accurate than Wonderboy to everywhere except the body. The net result is that while Burns tends to out-strike his opponents with power, his +2.6 differential P5M is significantly smaller than Wonderboy’s +7.3. The protection of their heads also plays a role here as Wonderboy only lets 28% of opponent power strikes crack his skull while 41% make it through on Burns.
When it comes to knockdown power, the two fighters are pretty even, and on the defensive end they both eat the canvas with regularity. But Burns stands out, though, with defensive knockdown metrics that are all roughly 50% worse than a typical welterweight.
If someone decides to change things up from a distance kickboxing affair, it’s likely to be Burns as Wonderboy’s only attempted 11 takedowns in 200+ standing minutes and he cage presses in the clinch for just 3 seconds per round.
If Burns does change things up, he shoots for 1.5 distance takedowns P5M, a little more often than an average welterweight and with about the same success rate. The problem is Wonderboy defends those all day long with 96% accuracy. If Burns can transition to the clinch, he spends about 20 seconds of each round with cage control. While Wonderboy’s usually defending and getting out-struck in the clinch (-6.4 power differential P5M) and Burns doesn’t put on crazy volume, he still has a positive power differential and tends to work for one of his 5.1 takedown attempts P5M. While his success rate is below the welterweight average, Wonderboy’s been much more susceptible to takedowns from the clinch where his defense drops from a stellar 96% to a much more human 53%.
If they end up on the ground, Burns is able to get to half guard or better a super impressive 45% of the time he has top control. Wonderboy still gets back to his feet more than twice as fast as a typical welterweight, but Burns is no slouch at keeping people on their back. And if he’s got you in a vulnerable position, that 4-of-8 submission rate could easily kick in.
While tomorrow’s certainly about the Poirier-McGregor rubber match, Burns and Wonderboy should be a nice little appetizer before the main course. Bring it on, fellas!
Ryan Hall vs. Ilia Topuria
Hall’s officially been in the Octagon now for four fights, 10 rounds, and 48 minutes. In that time, he’s only eaten six power strikes to the head at distance and six more from the clinch or the ground. So on average, he only gets tagged to the head three times per fight and just once every four minutes. The man’s truly become a wizard at ½ of fighting: the avoidance of damage.
Meanwhile, don’t look now but Hall’s knockdown metrics are all significantly above average following his scrap with Darren Elkins. Knockdown round percentage: 86% better than the average featherweight. Knockdown rate: 131% better. Knockdown percentage: 592% better. The last one’s so large because Hall throws and lands so few standing power head strikes to begin with.
This isn’t to say Hall’s crazy power metrics will continue, but did you ever think they’d get that high in the first place? God, I love watching him do his thing.
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.