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CagePotato Databomb #10: Breaking Down the UFC Heavyweights by Striking Performance

(Click chart for full-size versionFor previous Databombs, click here.)

By Reed Kuhn, @Fightnomics

We’ve saved the biggest fighters for last in the striking assessment series. Heavyweights end 57% of fights by (T)KO, far more than any other weight class. They also have the highest average power head striking accuracy, possibly because defense is harder when you’re that big.

So let’s see how the whole division stacks up against each other, then look at the winners and losers in each category. A full explanation of the chart and variables is included at the end of this post.


Sniper Award: Relative newcomer Shawn Jordan has been a highly accurate striker to date, though he has lacked knockdown power. So let’s focus on the trio of Pat Barry, Dave Herman, and Mark Hunt, who each have four or more UFC appearances and have maintained power head striking accuracy of 38% or more. These are big guys who can also hit their target.

Energizer Bunny Award: Monstrous southpaw Todd Duffee has almost quadrupled the striking output of his opponents with three fights to date in the Octagon, none of which have gone the distance. But with far greater Octagon experience, veterans Cheick Kongo and former champion Junior Dos Santos have managed to almost double the volume of opponents, all while maintain accuracy well above the division average.

Biggest Ball(s) Award: Punch for punch, Shane Carwin has landed the most knockdowns in the fewest strikes. Despite low accuracy and pace, Carwin packed enough power to finish his first four UFC fights all by (T)KO. Like a mortar in high winds, Carwin doesn’t land on target very often. But when he does, he destroys what he hits.


Swing and a Miss Award: With just 12% power head striking accuracy, the recently retired Christian Morecraft is the least accurate heavyweight striker on the list. Though Shane Carwin is a close second, he has made the most of the shots he’s landed. Morecraft outworked opponents by more than 30%, but under-landed them in the long run.

Starnes Award for Inaction: Former kickboxer Alistair Overeem may have seemed invincible prior to his knockout loss to Antonio Silva, but he certainly didn’t press the action inside the MMA cage. Opponents outworked the Reem by throwing more than double his standing strike volume.

Smallest Ball(s) Award: Only three heavyweights shown here have failed to score a knockdown in UFC/Strikeforce competition. But Shawn Jordan has failed to do so in 56 minutes of Octagon time to date. But Jordan did manage to finish two opponents by strikes, showing he’s got power on the ground. Morecraft, however, failed to score a knockdown in four UFC appearances, losing three of those fights by KO himself — so maybe his retirement from competition was a good thing after all.

Also Noteworthy…

Heavyweights hit hard, and collectively the group shown in the graph has scored 82 knockdowns in their fights through 2012. We’re just three months into 2013 and already fighters like Bigfoot Silva and Mark Hunt are putting in performances that will boost their striking assessment position the next time around.

The matchmakers have made sure to keep the UFC’s biggest sluggers booked for future shows. First, Matt Mitrione will take on Philip De Fries at this weekend’s UFC on Fuel TV 9: Mousasi vs. Latifi card. The following week Travis Browne will make his comeback against Gabriel Gonzaga on the TUF 17 Finale card. Then on FOX on April 20th, Daniel Cormier will make his UFC debut against former champion Frank Mir. Not to mention Kongo vs. Nelson at UFC 159. And that’s just the matchups in April. In May we’ll get Junior Dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt, and see a title on the line with the Velasquez-Silva rematch. Bottom line: expect some fresh highlight reel knockouts from the UFC this spring.

How the Analysis Works:

In order to understand standup striking performance, which is more multifaceted in MMA than it is in boxing, I need to boil down a few of the most important variables that determine success as a striker. These are fairly uncomplicated variables in isolation, but together they can summarize a fighter’s overall capabilities. Here, I’ve focused on three fundamental, offensive metrics:

Accuracy: I’ve used power head striking accuracy (as opposed to body or leg strikes, or jabs to the head), where the average for UFC Heavyweights is about 28%. Certainly, great strikers can attack the body and legs, but the most likely way to end a fight by strikes is by aiming at the head. And in order to keep this comparison apples-to-apples, we can’t have a guy that throws a lot of high accuracy leg kicks skewing his accuracy stat. The accuracy of the power head strike is a great indicator of a fighter’s striking prowess, and there’s a wide range within a single division as we’ll see. This is the vertical axis, so more accurate fighters are higher in the graph.

Standup Striking Pace: Prior analysis reveals that outpacing your opponent is a key predictor of success, and certainly correlates with winning decisions as it reflects which fighter is dictating the pace of the fight. Here, I’ve used the total number of standup strikes thrown as a ratio to the same output from a fighter’s opponents. All strikes attempted from a standup position are counted, including body shots and leg kicks. This is the horizontal axis in the graph, and the average for the whole division must be 1, so fighters with superior pace appear further to the right.

Knockdown Rate: The objective of every strike thrown is to hurt your opponent, and knockdowns reflect a fighter that has connected with a powerful strike. I’ve used the total number of knockdowns a fighter landed divided by the number of landed power head strikes to see who does the most damage per strike landed. The size of the bubble for a fighter indicates their relative knockdown rate; the bigger the bubble, the higher their knockdown rate. The very small bubbles indicate fighters who have yet to score a knockdown in their Zuffa fights.

The data includes all UFC, WEC, and Strikeforce fights through 2012, including UFC 155.

For more on the science and stats of MMA, follow @Fightnomics on Twitter and on Facebook. See more MMA analytical research at Raw data was provided by FightMetric.

Cagepotato Comments

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euszjpvb- April 5, 2013 at 9:45 am
my co-worker's half-sister makes $63/hour on the laptop. She has been without work for six months but last month her pay check was $13835 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Go to this web site and read more
Alan K- April 4, 2013 at 3:11 pm
The chart only includes head strikes, so that knee to Brock's diverticulitis doesn't get counted. Maybe that's why his pace is so low?
Sopapo- April 4, 2013 at 2:22 pm
Overeem bubble is fucked up. Dude hitted more than twice punches in his Big Foot fight and im pretty sure he struck more than lesnar in his fight, so how is he .5?
itsgalf- April 4, 2013 at 11:25 am
Informative as always. Good work
dgsxdkrs- April 4, 2013 at 9:39 am
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DiscoStu- April 4, 2013 at 6:28 am
Doesn't look good for Mir standing against Cormier. And he's going to have to, since taking Cormier down will be tough.

Would love see Barry at 205 so he's not always at such a size disadvantage.