(Click chart for full-size version. For previous Databombs, click here.)
With several fights among top contenders in the Light Heavyweight division over the next few events — including Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida at UFC 157 this weekend — I’ve shifted focus to the bigger boys of the UFC. As a group, the 205’ers have a lot more power than the lower weight divisions, and they’ve recorded a total of 43 knockdowns between them during Zuffa competition.
A full explanation of the chart and variables is included at the end of this post. For historical perspective, I’ve also kept some familiar names who recently retired. So which fighters get the awards in this group of sluggers?
Sniper Award: Another Rangy Southpaw tops the accuracy list for a division. This time it’s Frenchman Cyrille Diabaté, who has landed 57% of his power head strikes. Unfortunately, the “Snake” might be on the shelf a while after tearing a calf muscle against Jimi Manuwa. At 6’ 6” and with a ridiculous 81” reach, Diabaté has wins over Michael Bisping and Rick Roufus from back in his professional kickboxing days. Now competing in the UFC, the 39-year old striker’s days may be numbered, though he’s stated he wants to compete long enough to participate in a UFC event in Paris. Honorable mentions go to Fabio Maldonado, unsurprisingly a formerly undefeated professional boxer, and also new UFC contender Glover Teixeira.
Energizer Bunny Award: Young Swede Alexander Gustafsson has more than doubled the standup striking pace of his opponents, a common characteristic of fighters successful at using their size to control the cage. The 6’5” modern day Viking takes a six-fight win streak into his home turf showdown with top Strikeforce import Gegard Mousasi, in a fight that could have title implications. We’ll see if he can push the pace against an opponent closer to his own age.
Biggest Ball(s) Award: Another Strikeforce import, Ovince St. Preux, has dropped 4 opponents in his Strikeforce run, with each landed power head strike having a 17% chance of causing a knockdown. Honorable mentions for high knockdown rates also go to Brian Stann and Lyoto Machida. Both Stann and Machida face other credible power strikers in their next fights, Wanderlei Silva and Dan Henderson, respectively. Thank you Joe Silva!
Swing and a Miss Award: Vinny Magalhaes holds the dubious honor of the lowest power head striking accuracy in the division, at just 10%. Wisely, he has called out Phil Davis, who has the second lowest accuracy. They’ll face off at UFC 159 in what will either be a high-level grappling chess match, or a really sloppy standup affair.
Smallest Ball(s) Award: Only five of the 35 fighters shown in the chart have failed to score a knockdown in Zuffa competition. But Chael Sonnen has yet to do so despite 169.1 minutes of Octagon time, and 42 landed power head strikes while standing. If only I hadn’t named this award…oh man, you get the idea. Normally competing at 185 lbs, Sonnen’s out of his league at 205 lbs when it comes to knockdown power, and will likely not have a chance to prove otherwise against the rangy Jon Jones in April. A (dis)honorable mention also goes to the aforementioned Phil Davis and Vinny Magalhaes, who have equally questionable power.
Starnes Award for Inaction: Gian Villante went 3-2 in Strikeforce during 2011 and 2012, including a run of three wins in a row to finish out his career under the promotion. But overall he’s only attempted half as many standing strikes as his opponents. He’ll be facing a heavy handed — and generally much less gun shy — Ovince St. Preux at UFC 159 when each man makes his UFC debut.
Division champion Jon Jones may not be popping up in the upper quadrant of our assessment, but with the longest reach in the UFC, Jones has been intelligently creating distance and controlling the pace of his fights. Overall he’s outpaced his opponents by almost 40% while maintaining benchmark accuracy – and he did all that against some of the best in the business.
Trailing the herd is an impressive group of UFC veterans, reminding us that MMA is more than striking, but also that there’s a new breed of more accurate (and much more active) strikers moving up the ranks. Evans, Couture, Henderson, Hamill, and Ortiz all have/had a solid wrestling base, but struggled to keep up the pace against their late-career opponents. Judges are influenced by pace less so than accuracy, so perhaps it’s time some of these older fighters evolve their game. Furthermore, seeing how favorably Nogueira stacks up with Evans, perhaps we should all admit the recent betting line for them was a little off.
Coming up this weekend, we’ll see division standout Lyoto Machida take on Dan Henderson at UFC 157. Machida’s accurate flurries match favorably with Henderson sub-par striking skills, but no one doubts the power of the H-Bomb. Should be interesting, and there could be fireworks.
The following weekend we’ll see Brian Stann return to 205 lbs to face the Axe-Murderer, Wanderlei Silva in yet another matchup between high powered sluggers. The pace favors Stann, though both can throw bombs.
Only three divisions left to look at, and we’re saving some good ones for last. Coming soon, we’ll see how the two longest-reigning UFC champions stack up in their divisions. And then to wrap it all up, the heavyweights.
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 Light Heavyweights 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. 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 or less than 15 minutes of fight time were not included in the graph.