Alternative stats give more weight to a fighter’s recent performances. Get statistics overload and see what they have to say for UFC 217’s fight card in New York City.
“The” UFC fight card of 2017 is less than 36 hours from facing the pain, meaning I’ve been locked away to pour over hundreds of statistics in anticipation — in between viewings of Stranger Things 2, of course.
The main event sees the return of former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre from a four-year hiatus to challenge Michael Bisping for the middleweight strap in one of those feel-good matchups that somehow, someway seemed destined to come to fruition this year by the WME gods. In terms of the stats, GSP’s time off is even more of an outlier than Dominick Cruz’s 2014 return after three years of injuries. Throw in that GSP’s moving up a weight class and his stats and predictions should be taken with a nice grain of salt. As a constant reminder, he’ll be referred to throughout the piece as “2013 GSP.”
There are six fights with good data on the night. Statistical breakdowns are below and 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 certain statistics and check out an earlier piece for an explanation of how this works.
Michael Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre
Funny how things work out. There’s a good chance we were one Anderson Silva premature celebration away from a completely different UFC middleweight landscape – one that doesn’t include this fun fight.
As things stand, the champ Michael Bisping is riding a five-fight win streak while GSP has been living the good life since before Tim Kennedy manhandled Bisping way back when in Quebec.
Even if you want to call GSP “well rested,” his stats are flat out old. So here’s what the matchup of 2017 Bisping vs. 2013 GSP looks like.
Bisping’s never really been known for dominant victories and his bout closeness measure shows it – 42% higher than the average middleweight. Where things aren’t as close is his distance head jabbing. Bisping pops opponents 5.4 more times per five minutes (P5M) and throws an enormous head jab volume of 27.5 (16.5 average).
The power game is where Bisping comes back down to earth. Again, he has much better volume than his opponents and the average middleweight, but he only lands distance power strikes at 30% to his opponents’ 39%, resulting in him landing only 1/3 of one power shot more than opponents P5M. Compare this to 2013 GSP, who not only has a better head jab differential (5.9), but also lands 3.6 more power shots P5M at distance.
Part of this is because 2013 GSP’s head defense is excellent. Opponents land only 14% of power strikes to 2013 GSP’s brain housing versus 28% for Bisping, slightly worse than the 27% average.
Where Bisping has an advantage is power.
That felt weird to write. I’m double and triple checking the numbers now. And it’s true.
In your typical lifetime statistics, Bisping is well below average in knockdown metrics. But in the alternative stats world where recent fights are given more weight, Bisping’s knockdown rate of .52 is more than double the middleweight average thanks to dropping Luke Rockhold twice and Anderson Silva and Cung Le once.
2013 GSP’s advantage is clear and impressive: takedowns. He lands 73% of takedown shots from distance, an absolutely crazy number. Put another way, if an entire round is contested at distance, 2013 GSP would land 2.5 takedowns while the typical middleweight would land less than ½ (for those who are going to get all technical on me, pretend he bounces right back up after getting the takedowns). And we haven’t even looked at the clinch yet.
2013 GSP’s clinch takedown success comes in at 71% (100% to the upper body, 64% to the lower body). Bisping’s lower body takedown defense has been excellent at 82%, but he’s 0-for-2 against the upper body and 2013 GSP has never failed (12-for-12 to the upper body), so keep your eyes peeled for something there.
If GSP does get Bisping to the ground, he’ll have to find a way to keep him there. While Bisping rarely sweeps, he’s stood up 28 times in his career and his standup rate is twice as good as the middleweight average. Even against two fighters who put it on him, Bisping stood up four times in just over 5 ½ ground minutes against Chael Sonnen and three times in just under 10 minutes vs. Tim Kennedy.
Will endurance matter? While it’s hard to reliably measure, one metric comparing 3rd round activity to 1st shows Bisping’s volume increasing 28.0% while 2013 GSP’s improves 21.8%. If we look at shots landed instead of volume, it’s 45.7% and 35.1%. Since some fighters feel out their opponent in the 1st round, that same metric between the 2nd and 5th rounds shows a decrease in volume of only 7.3% for Bisping and 4.4% for 2013 GSP. So gassing, or even markedly slowing, down doesn’t look like it should be a problem.
The prediction model’s pick is 2013 GSP. Even though I’m not thrilled with the idea of old stats and fighting at a different weight class, I’d tend to agree that the most likely outcome is GSP pulling his unique twist of the Tim Kennedy/Chael Sonnen show on Bisping, with the possibility of better standup action along the way.
Cody Garbrandt vs. T.J. Dillashaw
“Whoa, he looks scary.”
That was my wife after seeing Garbrandt in Vegas for the first time – then a relative unknown to someone like her. Well “scary” man is now the UFC bantamweight champion, wreaking havoc on his way through the division while claiming at least one knockdown in every single one of his matchups.
Should we even spend time on clinch and ground stats? Garbrandt spends a grand total of three seconds of every five-minute round in the clinch. Three seconds! He’s never even been pressed against the cage or had a clinch takedown attempted on him. Dillashaw’s clinch takedowns are pretty subpar anyway, and while his distance takedowns are on point at 51%, opponents are thus far 0-for-7 against Garbrandt in that department.
So we’ll keep it standing at distance where all or most of this fight will probably take place.
Power. Garbrandt has shown insane power. Look at this alternative stats knockdown statline: Knockdown rounds 56.7%, knockdown rate 1.87, and knockdown percentage 5.7%. Dillashaw is 9.0%, 0.16, and 1.0% on the same metrics and the average bantamweight goes 8.2%, 0.18, and 2.2%. In investing terms, Garbrandt’s multiples of Dillashaw’s knockdown power go 6.3x, 11.8x, and 6.0x. Good lord.
Pretty sure I’ve never seen a line like that, even with Rumble Johnson.
In the hit-and-don’t-get-hit department at distance, Garbrandt is pretty much all power, throwing 54.6 power shots P5M to 4.1 head jabs. Dillashaw mixes things up better while still maintaining great volume with 19.5 head jabs and 46.7 power shots of which 5.8 are to the body and 4.6 to the legs. Garbrandt mostly goes either to the head or legs.
Garbrandt is slightly more accurate with power to the head (32% to 29%) while he’s slightly worse when the strikes are coming to his own head (29% to 28%). Garbrandt typically eats a full head jab more P5M in order to out-power strike his opponents by 5.7 while Dillashaw remains a little more elusive and gets 2.4 more head jabs than his opponents and 2.3 more power strikes.
The stats essentially suggest that the striking matchup should be freaking fun, with a slight statistical edge to Garbrandt and a huge power edge. Garbrant has never been knocked down.
The pick is Garbrandt.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas
It’s hard to find a serious threat to the 5-time UFC women’s strawweight champion Jedrzejczyk. Outside of her Claudia Gadelha fights, she’s mowed her way through the field with precision, volume, and amazing takedown defense with quick standups when it fails.
Could Namajunas be that threat? Anyone’s beatable on any given night, but it certainly feels like “Thug” Rose would need to get in her puncher’s chance or a submission off a scramble or catching Jedrzejczyk trying to get up.
If we can call it an area of weakness, Jedrzejczyk’s upper body takedown defense is only 44%, with all attempts coming from Gadelha. While Namajunas is certainly no Gadelha, she’s 88% on upper body takedowns. She’s also above average at distance and lower body takedowns, but Jedrzejczyk defends those at a 92% and 89% clip. And when opponents do get her down, Jedrzejczyk works her way up 4.5 times quicker than the typical women’s strawweight.
If Namajunas is somehow able to get a submission attempt on Jedrzejczyk, she finishes an extremely high 56% (greater than 50% because of the alternative stats weighting), and even when she doesn’t finish, 67% are what FightMetric scores as locked-in and extremely threatening.
It’s likely that Jedrzejczyk takes her distance 28.8 head jab volume P5M, 49% power accuracy, and 14.5 power shot differential P5M and gives us one hell of a show.
Since these stats don’t utilize Invicta fights, could the Namajunas flying armbar possibility nudge her numbers up? I wouldn’t bet the farm on it but, damn, would that be awesome.
The pick is Jedrzejczyk to continue doing her thing and clearing out the women’s strawweight division.
Stephen Thompson vs. Jorge Masvidal
Masvidal should’ve taken Demian Maia’s recent UFC welterweight title shot for damage in the 1st and 2nd rounds in my judging book. The nice consolation prize is getting to see him square off against “Wonderboy” Thompson tomorrow.
Both guys generally like to trade at distance with Wonderboy spending 3:59 of every five minutes in that position to Masvidal’s 3:20. Masvidal busts up faces and has almost double the knockdown rate of the typical welterweight, while Wonderboy has never busted up a face but has a knockdown rate that’s 3.7x the welterweight average.
Wonderboy’s best distance differential is to the head where he lands 9.7 P5M and tends to eat a puny 2.6, with only 19% of opponent power head shots getting through. Masvidal’s accuracy is slightly better with 40% of head jabs landed and 52% of overall power strikes. His differentials are solid – dishing out 6.6 more power shots P5M at distance – but they’re not quite at that Wonderboy level.
Masvidal started his documented fight career attempting far more takedowns than he’s has lately. He’s a solid 51% on takedowns from distance, but Wonderboy’s a rock solid 94% defending. Wonderboy’s been more vulnerable on lower body takedowns from the clinch (50%), while Masvidal’s an above average 49%. Not known for takedown volume, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him try to capitalize should the situation presents itself.
If Masvidal’s able to get Wonderboy to the ground, he has an amazing workrate of 74.7 power strikes P5M of control and lands 3.3 times that of a typical welterweight.
I’m inclined to personally pick Wonderboy, but the model’s pick is Masvidal.
James Vick vs. Joseph Duffy
The pick is Duffy.
Ovince St. Preux vs. Corey Anderson
The pick is St. Preux.
Be sure to return to Bloody Elbow this Saturday at 6pm ET for precise win probabilities and possible bets shortly before UFC 217 starts.
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 or the opponent’s back. 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 at Bloody Elbow and MMA business at Forbes. Follow him @MMAanalytics. Fight data provided by FightMetric.