Striking Assessment: UFC Heavyweight Division

 

In the fight world, bigger fighters make for bigger fights. It’s always been the case. Heavyweights not only finish far and away the most fights by knockout, we’ll soon learn that they get paid a lot more than their peers, perhaps because of that risk. It’s a division full of power, and several all-time great knockout artists fought among the heavies.

 

So let’s turn our attention to the big boys, the UFC Heavyweight division.

 

For similar, prior analysis, follow these links for the:

Light Heavyweights,
Middleweights,
Welterweights,
Lightweights
,
Featherweights,
Bantamweights,
and Flyweights.

 

How the Graph Works

This balloon (or bubble) chart includes all active UFC Featherweights who have competed since 2013 with sufficient data. Some of the names are clearly retired or no longer with the organization, but were left in here for reference. There’s also a few more that didn’t have enough data, or have been inactive for a while who were excluded.

The four metrics in the graph are all related to striking (we’ll look at key grappling stats later). First, the vertical axis is the power head striking accuracy. This is a general reflection of a striker’s skill level in technique. But some fighters are more aggressive than others, while some are primarily counter-strikers, and those characteristics lead to very different striking styles. So the horizontal axis indicates the ratio of strike attempts while standing compared to the same fighter’s opponents. It’s a measure of output, and a proxy for aggression. An even 1.0 ratio means a guy matches the pace of his opponents when standing and trading, while a higher number shows more aggressive and higher-volume strikers compared to lower ratios indicating counter-strikers.

The dots are plotted based on those two metrics, but two more variables are also shown. The size of the bubble is based on the fighter’s Knockdown Rate in the UFC/Strikeforce. Bigger bubbles mean a lot more power, while the small specks indicate fighters who haven’t logged a knockdown in recorded competition. And lastly, southpaw/switch stance strikers are in red. Lefties are rare, but are worth highlighting as most fighters have trouble with Southpaws.

HWStrikingChart
Click to enlarge.

 

There’s a lot of big bubbles on this graph, and that’s because the Heavyweights pack a lot of power. Physics is predictable that way. Only a few fighters on the map have yet to score a knockdown, and the division average remains the highest in the UFC of any weight class.

But we should note that it’s also higher than many other divisions in terms of accuracy. It’s not necessarily because Heavyweights are more skilled, they just can’t get out of the way of strikes fast enough. So not only are their punches arriving heavy, they tend to find their targets more than usual. The combination of the two means lots of knockouts.

Now that we covered the macro trends, let’s look at some of the fighters who have performed superlatively in these metrics.

 

Snipers

Dutch superfreak and former K-1 champion Alistair Overeem leads the pack by a long shot. While he doesn’t exactly work at a barnburner pace, he lands half of all the power head strikes that he throws, which is nearly twice the UFC average. And that’s pretty remarkable given how much body mass is behind the punches. However, oddly enough, his Knockdown Rate in the UFC has been below the division average despite his high precision. The Reem’s Kryptonite hasn’t been a lack of offense, but rather resiliency, whereby he has been winning fights only to tire and be knocked out in surprise upset fashion. Now coming off two straight wins he should be in for an elite opponent next, and Junior dos Santos would certainly bring a striking duel that fans would love to see.

Among the other Heavyweights ranking highly in accuracy, Daniel Omielanczuk has scored highly in his limited action. More impressively, veterans facing stiffer competition but managing to score at high accuracy are Mark Hunt, Stipe Miocic, and Fabricio Werdum.

 

High Pressure Strikers

Todd Duffee has been far and away the most aggressive striker in the division, but most recently that was too his detriment. This giant has yet to go the distance in any career MMA fight, because win or lose all his fights end only by knockout. Most recently he fell to a counter left by former champ Frank Mir. Time will tell if Duffee learns to control his power or if he’ll just keep living and dying by the sword.

Among high-pressure strikers who have been around longer, Junior dos Santos and Brendan Schaub have consistently outworked opponents on volume.

 

Sluggers

This division has tons of heavy artillery, leading to two-thirds of all Heavyweight fights ending by way of knockout, far more than their closest neighbor the Light Heavyweights at just 40%. But among the heavy hitters, one still stands out.

Former UFC Heavyweight champion Frank Mir has been around since the early days of the promotion’s rise to glory, entering the Octagon 25 times in his career. And one key to his success and longevity has been his double threat skill-set, dangerous both with his hands and his submissions. When standing at a distance, he’s dropped opponents seven times with a division-best distance Knockdown Rate of 15%. So that’s not even counting a clinch KO of Mirko Cro Cop. That stat is pretty amazing giving how many fights he’s had. Perhaps even more amazing is that he’s landed less than 50 power head strikes in his entire 25-fight UFC career…although maybe that’s because when they land they do so much damage. His fast turnaround to face Andrei Arlovski at UFC 191 presents an intriguing matchup that somehow didn’t happen in the early 2000’s when both men were at the top of the division.

Other veterans with clear power are Gabriel Gonzaga, Brendan Schaub, Roy Nelson, and Cain Velasquez, who all have Knockdown Rates above 9%.

 

Division’s Next Title Fight

The title rematch between Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum will occur closer to sea-level, where presumably “Cardio Cain” won’t look tired after the walk to the cage.  Regardless, the matchup features two of the more dangerous strikers in the division, as both men pair good accuracy with aggression. Werdum is arguably the more technical striker, but Velasquez has historically packed more power.

 

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