Striking Assessment: UFC Welterweight Division
With what some are calling the “Welterweight Card” at UFC 158 just a week away, it’s time to assess the UFC Welterweight Division in critical striking metrics. In addition to the long-awaited showdown between reigning champ Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz, there’s four more 170 pounders all in the title hunt. So a lot of questions will be answered in this division in one night, and it would help to put some of those in context first.
Let’s see how the whole division stacks up against each other, then look at the winners and losers in each category. A full explanation of the chart and variables is included below.
Sniper Award: Veteran Nate Marquardt makes his Octagon return at UFC 158 boasting a best in class 40% accuracy in power head striking. He’ll need it against Jake Ellenberger, who is pretty accurate himself at 32%. Honorable mention goes to the gritty Matt Brown who recently put his standup skills under the bright lights of the UFC on FOX show, knocking out Mike Swick, who is indeed “quick.”
Energizer Bunny Award: Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is just two fights into his young UFC career, with one award winning knockout to his credit, and one grueling lesson learned from Matt Brown. But so far, Wonderboy has outstruck opponents in standup striking by more than two to one. Ditto for another fast working newcomer, Chris Clements.
Biggest Ball(s) Award: Brazilian Erick Silva has been wrecking dudes, getting questionable disqualifications, or winning fight night bonuses in each of his four Octagon appearances. Most pundits are high on Silva’s potential, despite a loss to a far more experienced Jon Fitch. Silva is set to face another standout striker, John Hathaway, at the UFC on Fuel 10 card in June. Honorable mention goes to Thiago Alves and Nate Marquardt who lead the division in total knockdowns, with 10 and nine respectively.
Swing and a Miss Award: With 45 minutes of fight time in the UFC so far, it seems David Mitchell is still trying to find his range. Mitchell has the division lowest power head striking accuracy at a chart-busting 9%. Historically a submission specialist, Mitchell was able to rebound recently with a win over Simeon Thoreson in a loser leave town matchup.
Starnes Award for Inaction: Since British fighter John Maguire has thrown strikes with a favorable 38% accuracy, he may want to try throwing a few more. Maguire has been outpaced by opponents nearly two to one in his first four UFC appearances, splitting those fights two and two.
Smallest Ball(s) Award: Of the 52 fighters charted above, 14 have yet to score a knockdown in the UFC or Strikeforce. But grappling specialists Demian Maia and Jake Shields have failed to do so despite over two hours of fight time logged. Maia has actually landed 53 power head strikes on opponents (out of 272 attempts) without getting anyone to drop. Opponents facing grapplers with poor accuracy and even worse power can resort to a sprawl and brawl strategy, while these grappling specialists should remember the first “M” in MMA.
The high frequency of the red bubbles shows how successful Southpaws have been in the UFC Welterweight division. Thirteen of the 52 fighters shown in the graph are left-handed, more than twice the baseline rate for the general population.
Like other divisions, Welterweights show the same tradeoff between volume and accuracy. Counter-strikers tend to be more accurate, but must sacrifice volume while evading opponents, which is dangerous on judges’ cards. And high volume, forward pressing fighters tend not to land with as high accuracy. But those who break the mold combining accuracy with pace control are surely fighters to keep an eye on. This includes GSP training partner Rory MacDonald, who is coming off a lopsided victory over BJ Penn, and now has his sights set on top ranked opponents. But also watch for British striker John Hathaway, who is 7-1 in the Octagon since 2009 and scheduled to face the dangerous young gun Erick Silva in June. Let’s hope they keep that one standing.
At UFC 158 we’ll see heavy-handed and accurate strikers Nate Marquardt and Jake Ellenberger square off in a fight that will definitely affect the Welterweight rankings. We’ll also see Johnny Hendricks and his blazing fast left hand come after the technical, yet inaccurate Carlos Condit in what will surely cement a title shot for Hendricks with a victory.
And let’s not forget the GSP-Diaz matchup. Their historical performance suggests that Diaz generally controls standup exchanges and outpaces his opponents. But St-Pierre is the more accurate and slightly heavier handed striker. Though not shown here, the key will be GSP’s evasiveness (his head striking defense is excellent) traded off with his chin (his knockout resiliency has been getting poorer). GSP’s fights tend to be more exciting when there’s genuine animosity at work, so we should expect a fairly tense chess match, and probably some mid-round trash talking from Diaz.
In our last installment of the division striking assessments we’ll take a look at the UFC Heavyweight division in all their jaw-breaking glory.
How the Analysis Works:
In order to understand standup striking performance, which is more multifaceted in MMA than it is in boxing, I need to boil down 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 Welterweights is about 24%. Certainly, great strikers can attack the body and legs, but the most likely way to end a fight by strikes is by aiming at the head. And in order to keep this comparison apples-to-apples, we can’t have a guy that throws a lot of high accuracy leg kicks skewing his accuracy stat. 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.
- Knockdown Rate: the objective of every strike thrown is to 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 divided by the number of landed power head strikes to see who does the most damage per strike landed. 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 their Zuffa fights.
The data includes all UFC, WEC, and Strikeforce fights through 2012, including UFC 155. Some of these fighters competed in other weight classes or at catchweight, but for the purposes of this analysis, that data was still included and analyzed. Fighters with only one fight or less than 15 minutes of fight time were not included in the graph.