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UFC 221: Yoel Romero vs. Luke Rockhold alternative stats

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Alternative stats give more weight to a fighter’s recent performances. Get statistics overload and see what they have to say for Saturday’s UFC 221 fight card in Perth.

UFC 221 goes down way down under this Saturday in Perth, Australia with a PPV portion of the card that leaves much to be desired other than the rock-solid interim title main event between former middleweight champ Luke Rockhold and second-time challenger Yoel Romero.

On the bright side, it makes this alternative stats piece pretty easy – all Rockhold and Romero all day. The main event matchup will be dissected in full while the other five fights with good data will list a few random interesting stats or be skipped.

Remember, what you’re about to read are not official UFC statistics. They’re alternative stats generated from the official statistics and 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.

Luke Rockhold vs. Yoel Romero

Rockhold’s September return from a double dose of Michael Bisping’s left hook got off to a slow start. After losing the first round to David Branch on all three judges’ scorecards – a round mostly contested on the feet – Rockhold didn’t shine until almost two minutes left in the 2nd when he took Branch to the ground, mounted, and executed the nasty ground and pound game we’ve come to know and love.

Romero has the rare distinction of heading into his second interim title fight in a row and getting a title shot off a loss as a replacement to the injured champion Robert Whittaker.

In his 11 Zuffa bouts, Rockhold’s win mix is spread out with four by KO/TKO, three by submission, and two by decision. And while we already know the probability of a Romero submission is whatever miniscule number “freak sub” should fall under, he has six wins by KO/TKO and two by decision.

While both fighters tend to win, they’re not always clean and precise throughout. Both guys have above average bout closeness measures (see definition below) with Rockhold at 49, Romero at 75, and an average middleweight at 40, meaning their fights are often close throughout or back and forth affairs, especially so for Romero.

Even though he’s an Olympic silver medal wrestler, Romero uses his 84% distance takedown defense, 75% clinch takedown defense, and 42% better than average standup rate to keep the fight on the feet for 4:24 of every five minutes (3:44 at distance, 0:40 in the clinch). Rockhold doesn’t mind standing and throwing down either, but his typical clinch and ground times are both a little higher.

When they’re at distance, Rockhold’s the volume striker throwing twice as many power shots as Romero and 142% more head jabs. Rockhold lands an impressive 53% of his power strikes by mixing things up and going to the body and legs often where his accuracy is over 80% for each. Overall, Rockhold lands 7.3 more power strikes per five minutes (P5M) at distance than his opponents while Romero doesn’t even come close. Opponents tag him 0.8 more P5M.

Of course, Romero’s distance advantage is power. He busts up a face in 13% of rounds (or once every 7.7 rounds), 93% more than the typical middleweight and 306% more than Rockhold. And at 4.4%, his knockdown percentage is almost twice that of Rockhold.

Romero’s also much more likely to shoot for a takedown than Rockhold – attempting at least one against 9-of-10 opponents – but he’s not that good at completing them and Rockhold’s distance takedown defense has been exceptional at 95%.

If they clinch up, Romero does the cage pressing 70% of the time while Rockhold’s more likely to be getting pressed. Rockhold’s takedown defense is significantly worse in the clinch (44% defended), but that’s somewhat offset by the fact that Romero’s clinch takedown skills have only been about average, Rockhold gets back to his feet at a 249% higher than average rate, and Romero keeps fighters down 228% worse than average.

If Rockhold decides to try to get the fight to the ground, it’s almost always from the clinch and to the lower body where Romero has a respectable 75% defense rate.

On the ground, neither fighter has a common position. Both guys have spent a good amount of time on top and bottom with Rockhold having control 61% of the time to Romero’s 56%. Rockhold’s ground and pound rate is vicious at 88.5 power shots P5M of control (24.1 average). And when he’s not beating the hell out of the other guy, he’s got half guard or better almost half of his control time and attempts 79% more submissions than usual with a 43% finishing rate.

If Romero ends up on top, his power volume is less and he’s never attempted a submission, but it doesn’t take a fight genius to figure out how his ground and pound would feel.

Statistically speaking, it’s a pretty intriguing fight matchup. As a fight fan, it’s an easy one to get excited for.

The model has this fight pretty close to even. Picks and precise win probabilities go up on Saturday.

Damien Brown vs. Dong Hyun Kim

Damien Brown’s head defense at distance flat out stinks. 49% of head power shots connect. Kim’s is pretty bad to at 38%. “Head movement!”

Ben Nguyen vs. Jussier Formiga

Ben Nguyen’s a power volume fiend at distance throwing 74.4 power shots P5M, just over twice the normal rate.

Teruto Ishihara vs. Jose Quinonez

Ishihara’s takedown defense has not looked good. He’s only defended 3-of-9 distance takedowns and zero clinch takedowns (opponents are 9-for-9). Granted Gray Maynard landed all 11 of his attempts, but three of Ishihara’s five other opponents have also had takedown success.

Be sure to return to Bloody Elbow this Saturday at 6pm ET for precise win probabilities and possible bets shortly before UFC 221 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. He’s also a licensed referee and judge for the California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Organization (CAMO). Follow him @MMAanalytics. Fight data provided by FightMetric.

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