The Octagon revisits NYC this Saturday with their UFC 281 PPV (pay-per-view) event, with one hell of a headliner and #3 hole matchup. Israel Adesanya finally gets his chance for the MMA version of redemption against Alex Pereira, the only man to ever knock him out. And oh good lord we finally get to see Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler throw down.
I’m not spending an ounce of energy on the Esparza co-main event, so let’s jump right into the numbers.
Remember, what you’re about to read are not official UFC statistics. They’re weighted stats generated from official statistics designed to (1) put more emphasis on the recent present than the distant past and (2) minimize the effects of one huge or horrible performance more quickly as time goes by. See the notes at the bottom for definitions of certain statistics.
Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira
With only three previous UFC fights in the books, it’s not even worth weighting Pereira’s fight statistics towards his most recent bouts, so this will be a breakdown of Pereira’s 3-fight lifetime stats versus Izzy’s alternative stats from a 13-fight UFC career. Take Pereira’s numbers with a grain of salt. He’s only been in the Octagon against Sean Strickland and two other fighters whose names many fans wouldn’t even recognize, while Izzy’s last eight opponents have been killers (Cannonier, Whittaker x2, Vettori, Blachowicz, Costa, Romero, and Gastelum).
Given that warning, their fight stats each tend to show their kickboxing roots. Both prefer to fight at distance and when they go to the clinch, each spends 73-88% of that time being controlled against the cage. Likewise when they go to the ground, each is the bottom position fighter 82-84% of the time. Neither has ever even attempted a distance takedown and the only takedown work they’ve done from the clinch was Izzy going 0-for-3 in his second and third UFC bouts.
So it looks like we’ll have a distance striking affair unless Izzy gets frisky and tries to remind Pereira of the “mixed” in in their new sport with some wrestling to go along with his BJJ purple belt. Seems pretty unlikely but you never know in MMA. Sean Strickland tried to stand and trade with Pereira for god’s sake!
When Izzy and Pereira are in their comfort zone at distance, Pereira’s been the more active one to the tune of 63 head jabs or power strikes anywhere per five minutes in the position (p5m) while Izzy only throws 42. But the tradeoff is Pereira’s opponents are almost twice as active against him as they are Izzy.
Both men are pretty similar with head jab volume and accuracy so far. When it comes to power strikes, Pereira tends to be a bit more of a headhunter (76% mix vs. 62% for Izzy) but he’s also had a good reason to do it. Pereira lands 50% of those strikes while Izzy only connects with 32%. If ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But on the flipside, Izzy’s been better at protecting his head from those shots, only letting 26% get through for a total of 3.9 absorbed p5m while Pereira eats 30% and absorbs 10.9.
When they mix things up from targeting the head, Izzy tends to initiate power attacks to the legs (with 89% success) while Pereira focuses more on the body (with 70% success). The net effect is that Izzy tends to have a +7.5 overall power strike differential p5m, but Pereira’s has so far been even better at +11.3.
Take that as you will relative to his level of competition.
As we’d expect, both fighters tend to out-strike their opponents’ to every single distance target – head, body, and legs – so something will have to give on Saturday night. And either could drop the other at any moment, which is what makes this fight so suspenseful. While neither has been dropped yet in the UFC, they both have above average knockdown power across all three metrics. Pereira’s knockdown rounds and rate both more than double Izzy’s, but remember, they’re based off only three fights.
In the unlikely event a takedown attempt does come into play, and it’s not someone reacting on autopilot after getting rocked, it would probably be Izzy from the clinch. Pereira’s defense from there has been solid with 70% defended (55% middleweight average), but again, that’s based off him only having to defend 10 attempts so far.
Hopefully this will be one of those fun fights between extremely technical fighters instead of a slow, methodical chess match. But whether it’s strategic or a barnburner, bring on the show!
Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler
Like Pereira, Michael Chandler also still has a very limited number of UFC data points to work with. Unlike Pereira, all four of Chandler’s Octagon appearances have been against top-notch competition (yes, I’d still put Tony Ferguson up there). So while I’m not thrilled with breaking down Chandler’s numbers, let’s see if there are any interesting stats to point out.
#1: Chandler eats shots. 54% of power head strikes land on him at distance compared to 36% for Poirier and a 29% lightweight average.
#2: Chandler also lands shots. He’s been a much more active head jabber than Poirier and more active to the body and legs with power. He hasn’t even missed a power leg kick yet.
#3: While they both have knockdown power, on the defensive side Chandler’s been dropped in two rounds of his 4-fight UFC career while Poirier’s also been cracked to the canvas in two rounds – over a 29-fight Zuffa career. The man’s got himself a chin, that’s for sure.
#4: They both bust up faces and get their own faces battered at rates well over the lightweight average, so is it even possible for this not to be a fun one?
Bring on the glorious fights!
Statistical Notes: 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.