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CagePotato Databomb #3: Breaking Down the UFC Flyweights by Striking Performance

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

By Reed Kuhn, @Fightnomics

The UFC flyweights comprise the smallest division — both in size, and in numbers — but they’ll get a prominent showcase this Saturday at UFC on FOX 6, as Demetrious Johnson defends his title against John Dodson. So how do Mighty Mouse and the Magician stack up against the rest of their 125-pound competition? Analyzing an entire UFC weight class with a point-in-time assessment allows us to see how fighters might perform against each other, even though they may not meet in the Octagon for a long time (if ever). And since every fight starts standing up, we’ll also start with striking.

The Analysis:

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 Flyweights is about 25%. 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. 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 which fighters connect with the most powerful strikes. I’ve used the total number of knockdowns a fighter has landed in their matches*, divided by the number of power head strikes landed to see who does the most damage per strike. 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 UFC 155 on December 29th, 2012. Many of these fighters competed in other higher weight classes, but for the purposes of this analysis, that data was still included and analyzed.

Now that we know how to interpret the chart, let’s see which fighters stand out…

The Winners

Sniper Award: Louis Gaudinot landed 49% of his power head strikes in his two UFC appearances, while his most recent slugfest earned him Fight of the Night honors against John Lineker.

Energizer Bunny Award: Southpaw Brazilian John Lineker has outpaced his opponents by 60% while standing.

Biggest Ball(s) Award: John Dodson has landed 3 knockdowns in his 26 minutes of UFC action, finishing two fights by TKO. Given that size does matter in MMA when it comes to knockouts, it’s not surprising that a lot of flyweights haven’t scored a knockdown yet. But statistically speaking, Dodson is definitely punching above his weight.

Swing and a Miss Award: Newcomer Phil Harris landed just 1 of his 17 attempted power head strikes in his debut loss, resulting in his division lowest 6% accuracy.

The Losers

Smallest Ball(s): the Flyweights get a pass here, as 10 of 14 fighters have yet to record a knockdown. With more cage time, we’ll see how this shakes out.

Starnes Award for Inaction: Jussier Da Silva was severely outworked in his UFC debut, barely attempting one-third as many strikes as his opponent, John Dodson. Not surprisingly, Jussier has never recorded a (T)KO victory in his 14 career wins.

Introduced barely a year ago, Flyweights haven’t had a lot of cage time yet, and I do expect these numbers to shift with more fights recorded. And keep in mind that that caliber of opponents also influences a fighter’s performance, so the “MMA Math” trap also applies here. This Saturday we’ll see if Demetrious Johnson’s experience against top tier opponents in larger weight classes will allow him to outstrike John Dodson, the division’s current best-in-class striker.

Next week, we’ll look at the featherweights in time to see how Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar stack up with the rest of their division. Predictions?

For more on the science and stats of MMA, follow @Fightnomics on Twitter or on Facebook. See more MMA analytical research at www.fightnomics.com.

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Alan K- January 24, 2013 at 2:49 pm
Cool chart but it seems weird making one of these for the flyweights right now when there's so little data (most of those guys have only fought once or twice in the UFC). Still, cool stuff.
DARKHORSE06- January 24, 2013 at 10:14 am
So y does = mx + b.
DiscoStu- January 24, 2013 at 8:42 am
Doesn't look good for Ian McCall vs Benavidez next weekend.
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