Striking Assessment: UFC Light Heavyweight Division
The UFC “Glamour Division” that drove the surging popularity of the sport during the late 2000’s on the backs of fighters like Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz has gone through a massive overhaul in recent years. Not only did physical superfreak Jon Jones emerge and clean house at Light Heavyweight on his way towards stardom, but then his sudden fall and departure from the promotion rejuvenated the competitiveness of the division. That said, the 205’ers haven’t been very busy in 2015, seeing only 11 total fights (plus one at catchweight) in the first six months of the year. Still, the changing of the guard at the highest levels allows for more intriguing matchups in the back end of the year, with the majority of the Top 10 facing off against each other over the next two months alone.
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This balloon (or bubble) chart includes all active UFC Light Heavyweights who have competed since 2013 with sufficient data. Some of the names are clearly retired or no longer with the organization, like Brian Stann, Chael Sonnen, Matt Hammill, Phil Davis, and others. They were notable enough to leave in here for reference. There’s also a few more that didn’t have enough data, or had 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, and some are primarily counter-strikers. So the horizontal axis indicates the ratio of strike attempts while standing compared to their opponents. It’s a measure of output, and of aggression. A 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 tend to fall on the right side of the chart, as most fighters have trouble with Southpaws and are less aggressive when facing them.
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First, there’s generally a negative correlation between volume and accuracy. Counter-strikers are more likely to be snipers, while guys who push forward and throws tons of leather don’t connect quite as often. We’ve got a few outliers on this page, but that general relationship does exist, and is more stable with larger sample size.
Second, the tendencies of fighters on the fringe speak to their own specific style of fighting. Not all fighters want to keep a fight standing, and sometimes that reveals itself in the form of high strike ratios, and low accuracy. Their push forward isn’t intended to do much damage so much as to set up a takedown. This could be said for some of the fighters who have no knockdowns but who are strong grapplers like Chael Sonnen and Phil Davis.
The fighters topping the chart in accuracy include Fabio Maldonado, Cody Donovan, Corey Anderson, and Ryan Jimmo, who have all connected their power head strikes with impressive precision. The largest sample size of that group is Brazilian former pro-Boxer Fabio Maldonado, who lands his power heads strikes at a remarkable rate of 43%. Buoyed by his Southpaw stance, he also tends to outwork his opponents. However, the technique and pressure comes at a cost, as he has failed to demonstrate much power with those precise punches.
Also noteworthy is Ryan Jimmo, whose Machida-esque Karate style of striking has great precision and also above average power, despite operating a slower pace. Among higher ranking veterans, Jimi Manuwa, Anthony Johnson, Jon Jones, and Daniel Cormier all score above average in accuracy against tougher talent.
High Pressure Strikers
While precision is great for true striking effectiveness, outworking your opponent and keeping them on the defensive can help in the long run. It can also help set up takedowns, because if you opponent is too busy avoiding strikes, it’s harder to defend takedowns simultaneously. And of course that high volume usually comes with a tradeoff in accuracy.
The guys topping the list of fighters who outwork their opponents to the greatest extent are Nikita Krylov, Alexander Gustafsson, and Chael Sonnen. Coincidentally, only one of these fighters who employs high-pressure tactics has a nickname that is not gangster related, and he’s the Mauler. So nicknames are sometimes apt indeed. Conversely, among the most hesitant strikers are a few who are also clearly grapplers first, including Anthony Perosh, Vinny Magalhaes, and Patrick Cummins.
The heavy hitters are easy to spot. Guys like Rumble Johnson, OSP, and Ryan Jimmo currently lead the division in knockout power, but vary greatly in their other metrics. For example, the conservative Karate striking of Jimmo is highly precise, but not very aggressive, while OSP tends to swing for the fences at the cost of some accuracy.
The Next Title Fight
There’s an interesting striking matchup in the next title fight between Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson. Gustafsson may not be a sniper, but he does push a very high pace of striking. Cormier on the other hand, fights at a slower pace, but still tends to outwork opponents, and maintains higher accuracy throughout. Neither is an unusually high knockout threat, but they do have power that is typical for the division (which is higher than most other divisions). And then there’s the big reach differential. But if Gustafsson tries to get aggressive with Cormier, he’ll likely eat plenty of shots while pushing forward, and also open himself to takedowns. In this case, the high pace Gustafsson uses may work against him.
See any other interesting contrasts in the upcoming fight pairings? We’ll take a look at some other divisions soon.
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