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CagePotato Databomb #8: Breaking Down the UFC Middleweights by Striking Performance

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

By Reed Kuhn, @Fightnomics

The UFC Middleweight division has long been ruled by the most feared and successful striker in MMA history, champion Anderson Silva. And perhaps more so than in smaller divisions, striking has been a good predictor of success at Middleweight. So examining this division in core striking performance metrics should provide good insight to how fighters will fare against each other in standup. A full explanation of the chart and variables is included at the end of this post.

But first, let’s see how the whole division stacks up against each other, and look at the winners and losers.

The Winners

Sniper Award: Two fights into his UFC career, cross-trained Dutchman Michael Kuiper has landed 49% of his power head strikes. We’ll see if he can maintain this in his upcoming matchup with veteran brawler Tom Lawlor in Sweden. Honorable mention must be given to Anderson Silva who has maintained 40% accuracy over his lengthy and dominant career. And also noteworthy is Italian boxer, Alessio Sakara, currently on the bench for health reasons.

Energizer Bunny Award: Strikeforce veteran Roger Gracie has been almost doubling the striking output of opponents on his way to a string of submission wins in typical Gracie fashion. Some grapplers use strikes to set up their mat-work, others don’t. Honorable mentions go to former champ Rich Franklin, and Strikeforce champ and crossover contender Luke Rockhold, who each tend to outpace their opponents by over 80%.

Biggest Ball(s) Award: The UFC record holder for knockdowns is Anderson Silva. He is literally the best in the business at dropping dudes. Statistically, when Silva lands a power head strike, there’s a 27% chance it will result in a knockdown, which is just ridiculous. These skills have won him Knockout of the Night honors seven times in the UFC.

The Losers

Swing and a Miss Award: Jason MacDonald and the aforementioned Roger Gracie only land 10% of their power head strikes. Perhaps that’s ok, since both guys are grappling specialists. It remains to be seen with Gracie, but MacDonald’s lack of standup skills has put him on the wrong end of Knockout of the Night awards in the past.

Starnes Award for Inaction: While Michael Kuiper has been very accurate so far, he also been very much a counter striker. He only had half the total striking output of his opponents to date. Some notable grapplers also show up on the far left, like Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Rousimar Palhares. Jacare will have his hand full with the streaking Cypriot, Costa Philippou, while Palhares is still recovering from a beatdown from bomber Hector Lombard.

Smallest Ball(s) Award: Only 12 of the fighters shown have yet to score a knockdown in the UFC. But Jason MacDonald has yet to do so despite over 80 minutes of Octagon time.

Also Noteworthy

The high frequency of the red bubbles shows how successful Southpaws have been in the UFC Middleweight division. Twelve of the 44 fighters shown in the graph are left-handed, about three times the baseline rate for the population at large.

The Middleweights also pack a punch. The fighters shown above have recorded 114 knockdowns in their time in UFC and Strikeforce cages. Amazingly, Anderson Silva owns 17 of those.

Like other divisions, Middleweights show the same tradeoff between volume and accuracy. Counter-strikers tend to be more accurate, but must sacrifice volume while evading opponents, which is dangerous on judges’ cards. And high volume, forward pressing fighters tend not to land with as high accuracy.

This weekend at UFC on Fuel TV 8, watch for a clash between the heavy-handed Hector Lombard, and seasoned counter-striker Yushin Okami. If Lombard wants to test Okami’s chin, he’ll have to improve his movement to cut off the cage and get close. The matchup will certainly have implications on the UFC rankings for the division.

Only two divisions left to look at. Next week we’ll see how Georges St-Pierre stacks up with the rest of UFC Welterweights, and then we’ll look at the big boys.

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 Middleweights is about 26%. 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.

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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Rampages Conscience- February 28, 2013 at 8:38 am
Silva and Belfort clearly show us that Brazilians have the largest balls. I am surprised that Leben's isn't bigger.
mma4ever- February 28, 2013 at 6:26 am
Sakara Wins The Sniper Award Cause He Can Hit A Man In The Back Of The Head From A Quarter Mile Away .
DiscoStu- February 28, 2013 at 6:21 am
The Rockhold-Belfort matchup is intriguing. High pace and reach vs power/counter striker. Also, I'd love to see what Cung Le's spinning attacks could do against Silva, though that will never happen. Maybe on the UFC Senior Circuit one day?
amsterdamheavy- February 28, 2013 at 8:10 am
I think Silva is wayyy too fast for that "spinning shit"...Id have liked to see that fight 5 years ago maybe.