Striking Assessment: UFC Middleweight Division
The UFC Middleweight division was long ruled by the most dangerous striker in UFC history, Anderson Silva. His rise to power was swift and merciless, and when he cleaned out the division, he even made a few daytrips up to Light Heavyweight to knockout some of the talent in that division too. Silva recorded 17 career knockdowns while in the UFC, the most of any fighter by a longshot. But with a suspension delaying his post-championship super-fight schedule, it’s uncertain how many more points Silva will put on the board before retiring.
In the meantime, the division’s transition to the Weidman Era has seen tried and true sluggers like Machida and Belfort attempt to dethrone the young new champion, while fresh faces (and plenty of Strikeforce crossovers) chomp at the bit for their chance to lay claim to part of Anderson Silva’s legacy.
That includes current contender Luke Rockhold, plus potential future contenders Ronaldo Souza, Yoel Romero, and Tim Kennedy. There’s no lack of interesting marquee matchups at Middleweight in the near-term, so let’s take a deeper dive on the division and check out how these fighters perform in specific striking metrics.
How the Graph Works
This balloon (or bubble) chart includes all active UFC fighters who have competed since the beginning of 2014 with sufficient data. Some of the names are 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/WEC. 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.
Click to enlarge.
The unorthodox strikers in this division make up 28% of the group, which is high, and similar to the two weight classes immediately below 185. And with a division average power head strike accuracy of 28%, they’re also similar to the lower middle weight classes, and they’re the last group at this rate before the jump in accuracy (or drop in defense) of the largest weight classes.
But the power in this division is definitely a step up from those smaller weight classes. Middleweights pack a punch, and only eight of the fighters analyzed here have yet to score a distance knockdown, with three fighters (Silva, Machida, and Marquardt) occupying spots on the current leader board for knockdowns.
So now let’s check out the leaders in each category.
The most accurate power head striker is currently Clint Hester at 43%. He also comes in above average for his output, and has a Knockdown Rate on par with the rest of the division. But despite rattling off four wins in his first year in the UFC, Hester is now on a two-fight slide.
Among the more established veterans in the division, James Te-Huna, Yoel Romero, and Trevor Smith are all near the 40% mark for power head strike accuracy. However, it’s Anderson Silva whose numbers are most impressive here. At 35%, Silva is well above average, and accomplished this precision against only the division’s best, year after year. And as mentioned before, Silva strikes aren’t just accurate, their powerful.
Also worth mentioning are Nate Marquardt and Lyoto Machida, who aren’t far behind Silva and similarly combine lots of power with their accuracy. And also Robert Whittaker, an accurate up and comer who is set to take on division gatekeeper Michael Bisping.
Brad Tavares has significantly outworked his opponents, taking eight wins in 12 UFC appearances to date. Tavares not only keeps up a high standup pace on average, but he throws 54% more volume than his opponents while standing. This is one reason why he’s 7-2 in fights that go to a decision.
Other high-pressure strikers include former Strikeforce champions Luke Rockhold and Nick Diaz, as well as the famously fit Michael Bisping, who is an expert at out-pointing opponents on the cards. These fighters all tend to use a high volume attack, but only Rockhold combines power with pace.
In 2014 alone, the Middleweight division tallied 23 knockdowns, and saw over a third of their fights end by way of T/KO. And the hardest hitting of them all is Vitor Belfort , with a Knockdown Rate of 14.3%. That means Belfort averaged one knockdown for every seven power head strikes landed, which is mind boggling (and for his opponents, brain rattling).
The only other fighter to surpass the double-digit Knockdown Rate is Anderson Silva at 12.5%, which is high enough over the course of a long career to secure a position at the top of knockdown leaderboard that is unlikely to be beaten unless Machida, Junior Dos Santos, or Rumble Johnson can keep fighting at form for a few more years to catch Silva.
Nearing double-digits, and rounding out the top five heaviest hitters in the division are Costas Philippou (9.8%), Luke Rockhold (8.8%), and Lyoto Machida (7.7%).
Division’s Next Title Fight
Former champion Anderson Silva is unlikely to challenge for the Middleweight title again before retirement. Nor does he have to. Fans want to see him fight, as he is highly likely to deliver something special when he steps into the cage. So the UFC can reserve him for super-fight matchups as he transitions to the senior circuit for MMA.
That leaves Weidman to be his own man, and establish his own legacy…if he can. Having already survived two of the more feared strikers in UFC history, Weidman now faces perhaps a more dangerous threat in Luke Rockhold. Rockhold, like Weidman, is young and durable, and arguably more dangerous than Machida or Belfort. Rockhold’s standup style is rangy with high volume and good power. He may not be as accurate overall as Weidman, but that’s because Rockhold utilizes a heavy mix of head kicks in his striking attack, which boosts the threat of knockouts with some tradeoff in accuracy.
To date, Weidman hasn’t really excelled in a single dimension of his standup game, but he’s been solid across the board, and also proven to be very durable. Rockhold, however, is every bit as big as Weidman, and just as resilient, making the matchup much more even than Weidman’s past title challengers who were all significantly older, and possibly on the decline in their careers. There are no gimmies in the Middleweight title picture, so expect very compelling matchups at the top of the division for years to come.
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