Just How Good is Conor McGregor at Striking?

 

As 2015 comes to a close, the MMA world is anticipating what could be the most watched UFC event in history at UFC 194 in Las Vegas. Coming off the heels of the recent, stunning upset of Holm Holm over Ronda Rousey, an even more highly anticipated title fight between Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo will finally take place.

The matchup fell through once due to a short notice injury to Aldo, and McGregor’s subsequent knockout of Chad Mendes for an interim title skyrocketed his already-elevated popularity. The original matchup already had massive hype behind it, but McGregor’s trash-talking since has been unrelenting, bringing maximum exposure to this contest. One could argue that by hosting three nights of consecutive fight cards, the UFC is really putting on a record setting 30+ preliminary bouts all leading up to this one marquee showdown.

Barely two years after McGregor burst onto the UFC scene, the brash Irishman called his shot and won the Featherweight title. Granted, it came in a much different scenario than anyone would have thought, and also came with an “Interim” caveat, but he impressively won UFC gold nonetheless. And looking at his string of victories over solid opponents, it’s hard to deny the man is dangerous.

In fact, if we take three core metrics for offensive striking and compare the entire UFC Featherweight division, McGregor excels well ahead of the entire weight class, including the reigning champion Jose Aldo, who is known as a feared striker.

UFC Featherweight Strikers

The striking assessment graph shows power head strike accuracy from a distance (vertical axis), the volume of distance strikes relative to opponents (horizontal axis), and the fighters Knockdown Rate (size of the bubble). The further up and out a fighter lands on the graph, the more impressive it is. Yet McGregor has somehow managed to outwork his opponents while maintaining nearly best in class power striking accuracy, and has also mixed power into his precise barrage of strikes.

McGregor is also a Southpaw who uses a very wide and unorthodox stance that often has opponents backing up. And those opponents are often backing into the range of McGregor’s kicks, which come frequently. The average UFC fighter uses an even ratio of jabs to power strikes when aiming at an opponent’s head. But McGregor’s power strikes make up 78% of his head strike volume, meaning that he throws a constant barrage of strikes that are quite dangerous if they land on target.

McGregor’s body kicks are also noteworthy, as he mixes them into his attack at twice the normal pace, which sets up the classic body-then-head setup that has put many fighters on the canvas. But aside from skill, the underlying question is:  how does McGregor keep up such an effective striking attack?

One contributing factor is so basic, he was born with it. McGregor has an ideal frame for MMA. He has long limbs and a Southpaw stance. And in comparison to his UFC peers, McGregor is sized more like a Lightweight, with the range of a typical Welterweight, all while competing against Featherweights.

UFC Featherweight Size Anthro-v2

So it’s no wonder McGregor is able to push opponents around the cage with such ease.  It’s not unlike how Jon Jones was able to use his range to a demonstrable advantage against many shorter-armed opponents. In this particular matchup at UFC 194, McGregor will McGregor will enjoy a significant 4-inch reach advantage over Aldo while they are standing, likely accentuated by his pronounced style of striking from a long-range. Contrasting McGregor’s style is Aldo’s a Muay Thai base, which uses a stance that stands tall in order to fire off quick combinations. He is also nearly impossible to hit, having one of the best defensive striking metrics in the UFC despite continually facing elite competition.

Both men prefer to stand and trade, and we should definitely see a striking duel out of the gates to determine the undisputed champion. It’s not for these findings to say which style will win, but just that we clearly have a stylistic mismatch between two contrasting and decorated strikers. One is rangy and uses a kicking attack that is very powerful, and highly dangerous. The other is a fast-twitch and elusive technical striker who can compete with the fastest of opponents.

Jose Aldo has held the Featherweight belt since its inception within the UFC, dating back to 2010. But Aldo has also been on the bench for a total of 413 days heading into this fight. That’s beyond the threshold for “ring rust” to take hold, and yet his striking game will have to be at its best in order to withstand the Irishman’s attack.

Fans looking forward to a striking duel should not be disappointed. And even more compelling is the long-running feud between the men, which will no doubt ensure that each is throwing strikes with the worst of intentions on fight night.

 

Raw data is provided by Fight Metric, with analysis by the author of “Fightnomics: the Hidden Numbers and Science in Mixed Martial Arts.

 

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