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UFC 216: Ferguson-Lee, Johnson-Borg alternative stats

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Alternative stats give more weight to a fighter’s recent performances. Check out this new way of calculating MMA statistics for UFC 216’s fight card.

A melancholy UFC 216 will be held in Las Vegas on Saturday as the best mixed martial artist on the planet looks to break the UFC record for most consecutive title defenses in the main event that decided to dress up early for Halloween and go as a co-main.

Not that Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson and the “Motown Phenom” Kevin Lee throwing down for the 2nd place ribbon of the UFC’s Conor McGregor division in the actual main event isn’t something to get excited about – it’s just not Demetrious Johnson doing his artistically violent DJ thing.

So let’s get to the number crunching. There are five fights with good data on the night, but the one with heavyweights doesn’t get a prediction. For the remaining four, exact win probabilities will go up at Bloody Elbow at 6pm ET on Saturday, shortly before the Fight Pass prelims start.

Remember, what you’re about to read are not official UFC statistics. They’re alternative stats designed to (1) give more weight to the recent present than the distant past and (2) not let one huge or horrible performance dominate the data.

See the notes at the bottom for definitions of particular statistics and the UFC 214 piece for an explanation of how this works.

Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee

A nine-fight win streak with six finishes versus a five-fight win streak with four finishes. Not a bad way to finish the night.

The two fighters certainly take a different approach to positioning with Ferguson spending 3:38 seconds of every round at distance, 18 seconds in the clinch, and 1:04 on the ground, and Lee doing 2:10 on the ground, roughly two minutes at distance, and one minute in the clinch.

If the fight stays at distance, the numbers stack up mostly for Ferguson. With 32.2 head jabs and 48.1 power strike attempts per 5 minutes (P5M), El Cucuy throws 45% more volume than a typical lightweight. And with accuracies in the 40% range, he outlands his opponents by 14.1 combined head jabs and power strikes P5M at distance. While Ferguson certainly has knockdown power, he’s also tasted the canvas roughly the same amount on the three key knockdown metrics (see definitions below).

Lee isn’t terribly accurate at distance – actually landing more power to the body than the head thanks to some pretty poor cranial accuracy (17%). And knockdown power isn’t really his thing. While he does do some damage, his statistical game is getting in close, shooting takedowns with 269% more frequency and 56% more accuracy than your typical lightweight, and clinching up for 62% takedown completion leading to top control 90% of the time on the ground with half guard or better 60% of that time.

In case you missed that, half guard or better for 60% of one’s ground control is pretty nuts. Lee almost doubles the everyday lightweight which tends to have it 34% of the time.

While Ferguson’s takedown defense is better than average, he gets controlled 72% of the time on the ground and doesn’t tend to get up. Although he’s also not the type of fighter to sit back and take a beating from bottom.

Both men attempt submissions at a high clip with Lee finishing 50% of his subs (with four rear naked choke finishes) to Ferguson’s 39% (three d’arces and two RNCs). 85% of Lee’s sub attempts are of the dominant variety where he’s unlikely to end up in a bad position if it fails. Ferguson’s that fighter who can catch you seeminly anywhere with his lanky limbs and 10th Planet pedigree.

Both fighters are very much live in this scrap with each having their statistical advantages. Will either get a Red Panty Night afterwards? That might be a more interesting question than who will actually win.

The pick is Lee.

Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg

What can you say here except the numbers scream out for DJ. He throws roughly average volume at distance but with excellent efficiency, landing 36% of power shots to the head (27% average) while Borg’s down in the dungeons at 14%. And it’s not like when Borg does manage to connect, opponents fall. Borg has a grand total of zero knockdowns while DJ’s knockdown rate is 215% greater than average.

Flip things around and DJ protects his head exceptionally well with only 11% and 12% of head jabs and power shots getting through. Borgs the same with 11% of head jabs getting through but head power cracks his skull 27% of the time. All things considered, DJ lands 8.3 more power strikes P5M at distance than his opponents while Borg absorbs 4.9 more.

Borg doesn’t have an edge in striking volume, accuracy, knockdowns, or even clinch or ground control (DJ has top control 82% of the time on the ground to Borg’s 72% in alternative stats. With more traditional lifetime stats, DJ drops down to 65%). Borg essentially has two things: takedown volume and damage.

Borg’s damage edge is a slight advantage in busting up faces, so we’ll focus on the grappling instead. When it comes to takedowns, Borg’s a killer with volume and to some extent accuracy.

Borg shoots for 2 ½ times as many takedowns at distance than the average flyweight and lands with double the accuracy (65%). Timothy Elliot recently showed that DJ can be vulnerable in this area and DJ’s alternative stats distance takedown defense is a slightly subpar 60%.

Borg attempts 8.1 takedowns P5M in the clinch (vs. 5.3 average) and with 54% landed is slightly more accurate than average. But DJ still has almost just as much clinch control as Borg, attempts clinch takedowns at a reasonable clip (3.1 P5M), and is super-efficient with 72% landed. And when it comes to takedown defense in the clinch, Borg’s been worse than DJ.

Top it all off with the fact that if Borg does manage to get DJ to the mat, the flyweight champ stands up or sweeps 40% more than your typical divisional opponent.

This is MMA and anything can happen, but Borg’s got his work cut out for him.

The pick is DJ to break the title defense record, take his belts, and go play some video games.

Fabricio Werdum vs. Derrick Lewis

When I think of Derrick Lewis, I think of a fighter who seems to take a bit of a beating before somehow finding a way to win at the end. But statistically speaking, Lewis has shown a remarkable ability to not get hit – at least in his noggin – especially impressive for an enormous heavyweight.

At distance, Lewis eats only 1.2 head jabs and 1.7 power shots to the head P5M (vs. 5.2 and 6.7 average) with the latter only landing 17% of the time. For Werdum, power shots connect with his skull 37% of the time.

The tradeoff is Lewis’ opponents spend more time attacking his body and legs, probably to tire him out, hinder his movement, and take some heat off the two bombs behind his gloves, or at least give a split second more to react.

If this fight gets to the clinch, Werdum goes to town with almost twice the power volume of an average heavyweight and landing 80% more. If it goes to the ground, Lewis is generally on bottom and his “FU, I’ll stand up whenever I want” move might not go so well against probably the best heavyweight MMA grappler of all time.

There’s no official model pick here since these guys are big boys, but my personal pick is Werdum. I might be a little biased having trained at his gym for a couple years.

Evan Dunham vs. Beneil Dariush

Dunham’s best advantage might be volume. He gets busted up to the face a decent amount and eats 4.3 more power head strikes P5M at distance than Dariush and 2.0 more head jabs, but he clearly realizes that MMA isn’t an alternating possession sport. Dunham throws 37.7 head jabs and 57.6 power strikes P5M at distance (20.4 and 33.5 average), where he spends most of his time, and lands 40% each. Dariush is slightly less active but is very accurate and has a huge power edge.

Personally, I’d just love to see these two BJJ black belts grapple on the mat for 15 minutes – where they both seem to be on top 85-88% of the time so something’s got to give. Fingers crossed.

The pick is Dariush.

Brad Tavares vs. Thales Leites

The pick is Tavares.

Be sure to return to Bloody Elbow this Saturday at 6pm ET shortly before UFC 216 starts for the precise win probabilities and possible bets.

Notes: Strike attempts are for an entire five minute round in each position (P5M) and are categorized as jab or power. A jab is just a non-power strike. Strikes are documented based on where they land or are targeted (head, body, legs), not the type that is thrown (punch, elbow, kick, knee). Visible damage rate is per five minutes the fighter is not on his back. It’s hard to bust up someone’s face while lying on your back. Damage percentage is per power head strike and distance head jab landed. Knockdown rate is per five minutes at distance or in the clinch off the cage. Knockdown percentage is per power head strike landed while standing. It’s really hard to knock someone down if they’re already on the ground. Clinch control is having the opponent pressed against the cage. Ground control is having top position. Submission attempts are per five minutes of ground control minus time spent in the opponent’s guard plus time spent with the opponent in guard. A bout closeness measure towards zero means a fighter is in blowouts (win or lose) and towards 100 means he is in very close fights.

Paul writes about MMA analytics and officiating for Bloody Elbow and MMA business for Forbes. Follow him @MMAanalytics. Fight data provided by FightMetric.

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