(Click chart for full-size version. For previous Databombs, click here.)
It’s almost time for the interim bantamweight championship fight between Renan Barao and Michael McDonald. But first, let’s examine the whole UFC bantamweight division in several key striking metrics. As one of the youngest divisions with quite a few newcomers, there were several chart busters who have performed either really well in a certain metric, or in Mike Easton’s case, really poorly, so those outliers are noted. Usually those fighters will regress towards the mean, but they’re worth keeping an eye on. A full explanation of the chart and variables is included at the end of this post.
As a group, the 135’ers are the hardest to hit, as illustrated by their lowest power head striking accuracy of any UFC division. But they manage to maintain a high pace of action, with the second-highest significant strike attempts per minute average. (Flyweights have the highest.) So which fighters get the awards in this frenzied group?
Sniper Award: Rangy southpaw Alex Caceres leads the division with 48% power head striking accuracy. Though he has yet to score a knockdown in the UFC, the Bruce Lee superfan has definitely put on entertaining fights including sharp striking, rapid pace, and some very retro body suits.
Energizer Bunny Award: Johnny Bedford has been outstriking his UFC opponents more than 2:1 on his way to two finishes. Bedford’s size has been an advantage for him in one of the smallest weight classes, and we’ll see if he can continue his streak.
Biggest Ball(s) Award: In addition to outworking his opponents, double award winner Johnny Bedford is 2-0 in the UFC with two knockout finishes. But an honorable mention also goes to knockout machine Michael “Mayday” McDonald, who has landed four knockdowns during his 5-0 streak with Zuffa. McDonald gets his biggest test yet against higher volume striker and interim champ Renan Barao, in an interesting contrast of power and finesse.
Swing and a Miss Award: Mike Easton has only landed 9% of his power head strikes, and would appear as the lowest on the graph…if we went that far down. However, (dis)honorable mention also goes to newcomer Motonobu Tezuka who missed all 20 of his power head strike attempts in his UFC debut against Alex Caceres. Tezuka faces Vaughan Lee next.
Smallest Ball(s): Eight of the 27 bantamweight fighters graphed have yet to score a knockdown in their Zuffa appearances, not an unusual number for a lower weight division. But sidelined champion Dominick Cruz has not yet done so despite 170 minutes of fight time in the WEC and UFC.
Starnes Award for Inaction: Vaughan Lee has been getting outpaced through his first three UFC appearances, despite solid accuracy and power. He’ll have a chance to turn things around on his home turf in England against the inaccurate Tezuka.
Champions Dominick Cruz and Renan Barao have similar performance profiles, suggesting that in smaller weight classes keeping a high pace is more important than landing bombs. Barao matches up favorably with Cruz, which should give the incumbent champ some problems when he returns from his injury hiatus.
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 Bantamweights is about 20%. 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. Some of these fighters competed in other weight classes or at catchweight, but for the purposes of this analysis, that data was still included and analyzed. Fighters with only one fight were not included in the graph.