UFC Middleweight Striking Rankings

Taking a point in time assessment of a full division’s roster is a quick way to compare fighters without having to wait for a matchup that might take years to materialize, if ever. It’s not perfect, but if done properly it should show some basic performance patterns among fighters. And from a fan’s perspective, it adds a new dimension of understanding and appreciation of the competitors we pay to see. I’ve analyzed the UFC heavyweight division before, with interesting results. So let’s take a focus on the UFC Middleweight division, coming off the conclusion of the Sonnen-Silva rivalry, and now in desperate need of a new top contender.

The Analysis:

In order to understand standup striking performance, which is more multifaceted in MMA than it is in boxing, I need to identify a few of the most important variables that determine success as a striker. These are fairly uncomplicated variables in isolation, but together they can summarize a fighter’s overall capabilities. Here, I’ve focused on three fundamental, offensive metrics:

  • Accuracy: I’ve used power head striking accuracy (as opposed to body or leg strikes, or jabs to the head), where the average for UFC Middleweights is about 26%. The accuracy of the power head strike is a great indicator of a fighter’s striking prowess, and there’s a wide range within a single division as we’ll see. This is the vertical axis, so more accurate fighters are higher in the graph.
  • Standup Striking Pace: prior analysis reveals that outpacing your opponent is a key predictor of success, and certainly correlates with winning decisions as it reflects which fighter is dictating the pace of the fight. Here, I’ve used the total number of standup strikes thrown as a ratio to the same output from a fighter’s opponents. All strikes attempted from a standup position are counted, including body shots and leg kicks. This is the horizontal axis in the graph, and the average for the whole division must be 1. So fighters with superior pace appear further to the right, while fighters that fail to keep pace, or focus on counters appear to the left.
  • Knockdown Rate: the objective of every strike thrown is the hurt your opponent, and knockdowns reflect a fighter that has connected with a powerful strike. I’ve used the total number of knockdowns a fighter landed corrected by the amount of total fight time they have to see who does the most damage in the least amount of time. The size of the bubble for a fighter indicates their relative knockdown rate; the bigger the bubble, the higher their knockdown rate. The very small bubbles indicate fighters who have yet to score a knockdown in the UFC.
  • The data includes all UFC, WEC and Strikeforce fights through June of 2012, including UFC 147.  Fighters with 15 minutes or less of fight time in the UFC Middleweight division were excluded from the chart, which amounts to 12 active fighters including Vitor Belfort.

 

*Notes:
• Includes all UFC, WEC and Strikeforce performance data.
• Fighters with 15 minutes or less of fight time in the UFC Middleweight division were excluded from the chart, which amounts to 12 active fighters including Vitor Belfort.

 

The Results: The Sniper Champion

Anderson Silva is the longest reigning UFC champion in history. He’s also the most accurate power striker in the Middleweight division, landing a whopping 40% of his power head strikes. When it comes to overall significant strikes, Silva is again the best in the business in terms of accuracy with a UFC-leading 68% according to FightMetric.com.

But he also pairs his superior accuracy with knockout power, having landed more knockdowns in the UFC (17) than any fighter in history, including heavier champions like Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, and even Chuck Liddell. With his dominant combination of superior accuracy and knockout power, it’s no surprise then that Anderson Silva remains the best fighter on the planet, and the champion of UFC Middleweights.

The only aspect where Silva appears “average” is in striking pace. But this is probably an artifact of his amazingly dominant striking to begin with. We’ve seen Silva toy with opponents, even stand and eat punches, usually before ending the fight by brutal finish.

 

The Contenders:

  • The last man to hold a UFC Middleweight belt before Silva was Rich Franklin, who has logged nine (T)KO stoppages in his UFC career. He leads all Middleweights with an average standup striking pace that is more than double that of his opponents. And he pairs that furious pace with 38% power head striking accuracy, third overall among active Middleweights.
  • Two contenders who recently collided, Brian Stann and Michael Bisping, have excelled in very different ways in the Octagon. Despite only “average” accuracy, Stann has clear knockout power combined with the ability to the push the pace of action. Bisping on the other hand, has superior striking accuracy, but only outpaces opponents in volume by 20%, and rarely ever scores knockdowns.
  • Interestingly, recent title challenger Chael Sonnen shows up as a below average striker in terms of accuracy and knockdown power, but he has made up for it by generally outworking opponents.
  • The newest addition to the Middleweight title picture, Chris Weidman, also has poor accuracy and average pace. But he also continues to improve, as evidenced by his recent destruction of Mark Munoz.

 

Other Strikers to Watch at 185:

  • Cung Le logged his first UFC victory against Patrick Cote at UFC 148. Notably, it was his first ever win by decision, as all his other wins have come by strikes. Despite being 40 years old there’s still a few fights left in Le, and a fight with Rich Franklin makes for a matchup between two elite strikers.
  • Italian boxer Alessio Sakara brings excellent striking accuracy to the Octagon. At only 30 years old but with a wealth of top-level experience, he still has plenty of knockout performances ahead to add to his four UFC stoppage victories so far.
  • Tristar Gym product Francis Carmont is perhaps the newest name to turn heads in the Middleweight division, with three consecutive UFC victories in less than a year. Training partner and UFC welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre believes Carmont can make a run at the title, and if so that would match up the two most accurate strikers in the division.
  • Cypriot boxer Constantinos Philippou is undefeated in four UFC fights at Middleweight. Now training with the Serra-Longo Fight Team, Costa’s powerful and accurate striking will be seen on bigger stages in the near future. That’s good news for fans who like to see a brawler who can drop opponents.

 

Other Middleweight Distinctions

  • Jason MacDonald gets the dubious “honor” of the division’s worst striker, recently evidenced by being on the receiving end of Tom Lawlor’s knockout of the night performance in May.
  • The aforementioned Lawlor holds down the dead center of the striking assessment chart, showing that even an “average” UFC Middleweight is capable of a devastating knockout.
  • Wrestler Nick Catone holds a lower left corner spot on the striking chart, showing low accuracy, no UFC knockdowns, and the lowest relative striking pace in the division. Not a good place to be given that all fights must first begin standing.

 

 

The Fight Scientist

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Raw data for the analysis was provided by, and in partnership with FightMetric, and all analysis performed by Mr. Kuhn. A portion of this piece appeared in a 2012 issue of FIGHT! Magazine. Fightnomics, FightMetric and FIGHT! Magazine assume no responsibility for bets placed on fights, financial or otherwise.

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. AidanSaul says:

    These are incredible graphs. Welterweight should be next as we prepare for the return of GSP. Any chance of doing the same for the ground game? Perhaps positional dominance in place of pacing, attempted/completed submissions for the vertical axis, and GnP for the bubble?

    • Reed Kuhn says:

      Good call. I’m still working on the best variables based on the available data for an assessment of a fighter’s grappling using a similar style chart. As for striking, I’ll wait till the end of the year and probably run a full series like this for all UFC weight classes.

      GSP’s stats are are pretty exceptional in their own way – check Sherdog.com next week to see a detailed breakdown of GSP vs. Condit. If you follow on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll be the first to know when new stats are published.

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