Striking Assessment: UFC Welterweight Division
After the Lightweights, the next most populous and most frequently competed division is at Welterweight. It’s one of the legacy divisions that’s been around forever, and since the retirement of dominant champion Georges St-Pierre, it’s be given a recent makeover.
So let’s see how this large and diverse division stacks up. We’ve got plenty of former wrestlers in the mix, and a few submission specialists. Some have picked up the striking game successfully, while others clearly are only trading as long they need to in order to set up a takedown.
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.
This division, like Lightweight, is loaded with Southpaw and Switch stance fighters, who make up 30% of the fighters in the graph (that’s 2.5 times the male population rate of lefties). And again we also see a very wide distribution in strike ratios, revealing the diverse styles of fighters within the division. The extremes go from the quite reluctant (Gunnar Nelson), to the perhaps too-aggressive (Chris Clements). And also from the very inaccurate (Shields), to the highly precise (Taleb).
The title picture at Welterweight is crowded by veterans who have either already fought for the belt, or been on the bubble waiting. That includes MacDonald, Hendricks, Condit, Woodley, and Brown. The metrics among them vary widely here and reveal some very different styles that could make for interesting fights. Then there are some high-performing newcomers who could be title challengers further down the road, like Saffiedine, Thompson, Nelson, and Magny. Among others.
But let’s start with the top dogs in each category.
Nordine Taleb tops the chart with 45% power head striking accuracy. Taleb was a TUF product, and started off with a 3-0 run in the UFC before recently falling to Warley Alves in Brazil. We have yet to see Taleb get too aggressive or demonstrate knockout power, but to date he’s been the most accurate striker in the division.
Just below Taleb is Kenny Robertson, a former wrestler who has demonstrated an impressive transition into MMA by picking up the striking game. Like Taleb, Robertson snapped a three win run recently to Ben Saunders, but it was a close and controversial decision. If Robertson can continue to combine efficient striking with his wrestling base, he has a bright future in the division.
Among other high-performing UFC veterans, Mike Pyle, recently retired Jordan Mein, and new Welterweight entrant, Jorge Masvidal, all deserve mention for their high accuracy at 39%.
Chris Clements has been the most high-pressure striker, outworking his five opponents to date by 82% on volume with slightly above average overall pace. But obviously, initiating exchanges isn’t everything, as he’s only won twice in the UFC, and was recently swept on the cards by the far more accurate Taleb. It’s worth noting, Clements has one of the lowest head strike defense ratings in the division, so in this case his aggression worked against him.
Aggressive strikers have been hit or miss. Jake Shields rates highly in outworking opponents, but was largely ineffective in doing any damage on the feet. Neil Magny is also better at tallying volume, and does so with high accuracy. Meanwhile, Carlos Condit likes to throw diverse combinations at opponents that may lag in accuracy, but have plenty of ill-intentions behind them.
On paper, TJ Waldburger wins in terms of Knockdown Rate at 12.5% based on two knockdowns scored during very little time actually spent on the feet. Given the constraints on the data for him, we should wait and see if he can maintain that power pace before anointing him the best slugger in the division.
Among more stable statistics, Tyron Woodley is the hardest proven hitter in the division at 11.5%, with six recorded knockdowns. He’ll go toe-to-toe (again, they’ve met before on the wrestling mat!) with another wrestler turned power striker, Johnny Hendricks, at UFC 192. Although Hendricks burst onto the scene and scored several quick KO wins, over the long-haul he has regressed to the mean in terms of knockout power. In this upcoming matchup with clear title shot implications, it appears that the underdog Woodley has the more dangerous hands.
Also worth noting for their power to date, are Erick Silva and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, both in their prime and very dangerous.
Division’s Next Title Fight
Former champion Georges St-Pierre is also shown on the chart. He was above average in all ways offensively, but not necessarily exceptional. Where he truly excelled, was defense: he was very hard to hit. His jab accuracy was through the roof, and his head strike defense was best in class. So while his offensive metrics look only slightly above average, it was combined with elite defense that enabled him to defeat more dangerous strikers. But it’s unlikely we’ll ever see GSP in the Octagon again, unless it’s for a superfight scenario. So we’re left with the new look Welterweight division as is, in the Lawler Era.
The Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit title matchup scheduled for UFC 193 is possibly the one fight that could follow the Lawler-MacDonald bloodbath and not disappoint. Condit’s aggressive forward style and diverse combinations will go head-to-head with Lawler’s powerful counterstrikes and durable chin. Neither man is known for getting finished on the feet; but in this case, the alignment of forces could mean one will break the other eventually if one style proves successful.
Standing by for the winner of Lawler-Condit should be Tyron Woodley if he makes it past Johnny Hendricks. Hendricks will remain in contention, but has already faced the top guys and will likely be kept as a gatekeeper for a few fights to see what happens. Hector Lombard is also looking to leapfrog to a title shot by facing a recent challenger in Rory MacDonald (fight yet to be confirmed). And then there’s a pending matchup between Benson Henderson and Thiago Alves that will push one of them into the mix. Meanwhile, two guys working their way up the ranks that could easily make a case for a shot with 1-2 more wins are Stephen Thompson and Neil Magny. The title picture at Welterweight is crowded but fascinating.
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