UFC 231 goes down in Toronto this Saturday headlined by two must-see title fights in the lower weight classes. Max Holloway puts his 12-fight win streak on the line against an undefeated Brian Ortega while Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Valentina Shevchenko look to transition their kickboxing rivalry into the UFC’s Octagon.
Barring any last-second injuries or hospitalizations, an impressive 9-of-13 fights have good data. While it would’ve been fun to nerd-breakdown more, I’ll be focusing on the main and co-main events.
Remember, what you’re about to read are not official UFC statistics. They’re alternative stats generated from official statistics 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.
Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega
After starting his UFC career 3-and-3, Holloway’s been on a 12-fight tear with nine finishes (seven KO/TKOs, two subs) and two emphatic wins over former featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo.
While undefeated in seven appearances, Ortega’s statistical dominance hasn’t been as impressive but he’s had a habit of snatching a neck at opportune times. Throw in three KO/TKOs and Ortega’s not yet stood for a judge’s decision in his time with the UFC.
Both guys tend to spend the majority of each round free roaming at distance (3:30-4:00 minutes each) with each jabbing to the head at about the same rate, but Holloway lands 5% more. Yet Holloway’s champion pedigree really shows through in power strikes. At 52.4 attempts per five minutes in the position (P5M), Holloway unloads with power 65% more than Ortega’s 31.7, and he lands at a 46% clip to Ortega’s 38%. Once defense is thrown into the mix, where Ortega gets tagged with power to the head at an awful 41% clip, the net result is Holloway out-landing his opponents with 7.0 more power shots P5M and Ortega absorbing a horrendous 21.4 more power shots P5M (dropping to a more respectable but still pretty bad 9.2 when looking at lifetime stats).
Ortega’s saving grace at distance, in addition to possibly snatching a neck at any moment, seems to be his knockdown metrics which hover between 70-138% better than the average featherweight. Yet Holloway’s no slouch himself at dropping a fool to the canvas and is yet to be dropped himself. If Ortega wants to get the fight to the ground, distance hasn’t been his wheelhouse, failing in all three of his takedown attempts thus far.
When clinched up, each fighter spends around 30 seconds in the position per round with neither really having a position they tend to be in. Both spend roughly the same amount of time pressing on the cage as they do being pressed, and work off the cage for the rest. Both strike and land with power at almost exactly the same rates, yet Holloway’s looking to attack or break clinch while Ortega looks to setup his 9.1 takedown attempts P5M (4.8 featherweight average).
The problem may be Ortega lands takedowns at a subpar 28% rate while Holloway defends at an exceptional 93% clip. Holloway’s lifetime clinch takedown defense is a more back-to-earth 76%, but his failures all came in his first five UFC fights. Holloway hasn’t been dragged, tripped, or thrown to the mat from the clinch since Dennis Bermudez did it five years and 14 fights ago, one of the reasons alternative stats can be helpful.
If they go to the ground, Holloway’s tended to be on top (71%) while Ortega’s tended to be on his back (41%). When on top Holloway drops crazy power, landing 76.1 power shots P5M (358% better than average) while Ortega’s finished 4-of-8 submission attempts and can seemingly grab one from almost anywhere. And Holloway does have one submission loss on his record – a tap via armbar to Dustin Poirier in his UFC debut back at UFC 143.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Valentina Shevchenko
The MMA matchup we’ve all been waiting to see. Or at least it’s better than a Montano-Shevchenko main or co-main event.
The first alternative stat that stands out is Shevchenko busts up opponents’ faces at almost three times the average rate and Joanna gets busted up more often than average, yet Shevchenko hasn’t had a single knockdown or KO/TKO finish in her six-fight UFC career.
Starting at distance, Joanna tends to show more variety in her game throwing 30.9 head jabs to 43.0 power strikes P5M (31.8 to the head, 5.0 to the body, 6.3 to the legs) while Shevchenko jabs to the head about a third as much and has been more focused on the head and body with power.
Joanna touches opponents up with 2.7 more head jabs P5M and 7.2 power strikes, but Shevchenko’s power differential is even better (possibly aided by her recent Priscila Cachoeira destruction).
On defense at distance, both women absorb fewer head jabs and each area of power strikes (head, body, and legs) P5M than the typical flyweight, but Shevchenko’s head defense game has been stronger. Opponents only land 19% of their power head strikes on “Bullet” (28% Joanna, 32% average) and she only eats 4.7 of such shots P5M (7.3 Joanna, 12.1 average). Top it off with the fact that Shevchenko has never been knocked down while the former women’s strawweight champion has twice been set down.
In the clinch, both fighters tend to have their backs to the cage, although more so Joanna. Shevchenko tends to be less than half as active as Joanna throwing power strikes (13.6 attempts P5M to 31.4) but her takedown and trip game from the position has been solid. At 5.2 P5M, Shevchenko attempts 53% more takedowns than average from the clinch and has landed a robust 64%. Joanna’s defense has been strong at 88%, and should it fail, her Plan B has been an exceptional standup rate of 7.8 P5M being controlled on the ground (585% better than average, 575% better than Shevchenko).
If they do hit the ground, it probably won’t stay there very long. Shevchenko tends to be on to (66% of the time) with Joanna on bottom (81% of the time) and while Joanna’s shown an exceptional standup ability, Shevchenko’s rate of having opponents get up on her has been 122% worse than average. But she’s also 2-of-3 on her submission attempts, though maybe we shouldn’t count her latest mercy sub of Cachoeira in a fight that never should’ve gone that far.
Thiago Santos vs. Jimi Manuwa
Alex Oliveira vs. Gunnar Nelson
Claudia Gadelha vs. Nina Ansaroff
Katlyn Chookagian vs. Jessica Eye
Elias Theodorou vs. Eryk Anders
Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Gilbert Burns
Chad Laprise vs. Dhiego Lima
Predictions can be made for nine of the 13 scheduled bouts. Be sure to return to Bloody Elbow on Saturday at 6pm ET for precise win probabilities and possible bets shortly before UFC 231 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.