The rematch of Max Holloway against Dustin Poirier is just three days away. Thank you fight gods! And please don’t feel the need to get frisky anytime soon.
UFC 236 goes down in Atlanta on Saturday and will mark the promotional PPV debut on ESPN+. Five fights have good data on the card and this breakdown will cover the two interim title fights headlining the night.
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. Dustin Poirier
Headlining the night on Saturday is the rematch of Max Holloway’s first UFC fight and first UFC loss. These two men are not only thrilling to watch do their thing in the cage, but their stat sheets are pretty impressive as well. My version has over 900 stats per matchup and it was joyous to review.
Holloway used to get taken down at least once in almost every fight (including never getting back up against Poirier seven years ago). Then came Akira Corassani and a streak of nine fights in a row with perfect takedown defense – a streak ruined by Brian Ortega at UFC 231 in the process of showing the world how tough his face was.
These days Holloway spends almost four of every five minutes at distance, has never shot for a distance takedown, and rarely attempts takedowns in the clinch. Poirier spends 3:22 of every five minutes at distance and has shown more of a willingness to go for takedowns, but at a below average rate. If a takedown does come for Poirier, it’ll likely be to the lower body in the clinch where he lands an incredible 76% (44% lightweight average) and Holloway’s defense is good, but technically at its worst, with a solid 80% defended.
While Holloway never made it back to his feet in the first matchup, he’s been exceptional at getting out of bottom position in more recent fights, standing up 208% more than a typical lightweight. Poirier’s work rate from top position is a little better than average even as he searches for submission attempts 57% more than a typical fighter. Yet his alternative stats sub completion percentage of only 2% is much worse than his 17% lifetime average since Poirier hasn’t made anyone say “Uncle” since the end of 2012.
If Holloway ends up on top, look for him to explode with power volume. While only allowing 1.7 standups per five minutes in the position (P5M), he’s kept his opponents on bottom 30% better than average while dropping 93.0 power strike bombs P5M and landing 68.7. Basically, Holloway connects power strikes to his opponent’s brain from top position 5x better than the typical lightweight.
Yet there’s a good chance the vast majority of this fight takes place in space at distance, a position where these guys are all about volume, accuracy, and hitting more than they get hit.
Both fighters put head jabs in their opponents’ faces with above average volume and 30% or higher accuracy. Both guys also throw crazy power volume. Holloway almost doubles the average lightweight with 51.2 power attempts to the head P5M, then 9.9 to the body and hardly anything to the legs (1.3). Poirier mixes up to the legs a little more, but still goes 49.4, 4.9, and 4.3 to the head, body, and legs, respectively.
Focusing specifically on power shots to the head from distance, not only do they almost double the volume of an average lightweight, they also land about 20% better. The typical lightweight connects with power to the head at a 28% clip, while Holloway and Poirier connect at 47% and 48%, respectively. The end result is Holloway outlanding his opponents at distance by 14.5 power strikes P5M. Poirier tends to outland by 9.2.
Crazy volume, crazy accuracy, and an outstanding ability for each fighter to dish out more damage than they take in return. That’s what the stats show for Saturday’s main event.
Looking at power, Poirier busts up faces 3x as often as Holloway, but he also gets busted up 3x more than average, while Holloway’s never had his face bloodied up. Holloway’s knockdown rate is about average while Poirier’s is 5x better. The tradeoff, however, is Holloway’s never been knocked down.
So strap in! This one should be quite the doozy Saturday night.
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Israel Adesanya
In the interim championship co-main event, Gastelum has 14 fights worth of data to Adesanya’s five.
Ignoring striking for the moment, the first thing that stands out in Adesanya’s alternative stats is he only spends about 13 seconds of every five minute round on the ground. He spends 1:29 in the clinch where opponents are generally pressing him into the cage (82% of the time) and attempting lower body takedowns 147% more often than average. Adesanya’s defended a respectable 80% of those attempts, and an even better 88% of takedown shots from distance, but his ability to stand back up when he hits the canvas has been exceptional so far. A typical middleweight gets 2.2 standups P5M being controlled on the ground. “The Last Stylebender” gets 17.8. All of which tends to leave him on his feet either trying to break the clinch on the cage or doing his thing in open space.
Perhaps surprisingly, even with his wrestling chops, Gastelum doesn’t attempt many takedowns. He goes for 0.5 and 0.6 respective distance and clinch takedowns P5M in each position, whereas a normal middleweight attempts 1.2 and 4.5. His accuracy’s been above average but he hasn’t been great at keeping his opponents from standing back up or sweeping. Although while he’s in top position, he has almost double the work rate of an average middleweight when it comes to dropping bombs with power.
If this fight spends significant time in the open air of distance, Adesanya’s been masterful thus far. He hasn’t had exceptional volume – a little below average on head jabs and above average on power shots – but he’s had solid accuracy and frustrated his opponents into rarely attacking and often missing.
Stylebender lands 57% of his distance power strikes (to Gastelum’s 44%) thanks to 44% accuracy to the head and a strong mixture of strikes to the body and legs which land at almost 80% each. Opponents attempt fewer head jabs and power strikes on Adesanya than normal, and when they go to his head with power they only connect a miniscule 12% of the time (28% average, 31% for Gastelum). So at the end of the day, opponents tend to touch Adesanya’s head with power only 1.7 times P5M at distance versus 9.4 times touching Gastelum.
If we look at the entire body, opponents only touch Adesanya 4.5 times P5M with power at distance compared to 14.5 for Gastelum. All of which leads to a 14.9 power strike differential P5M for Adesanya and only a 2.0 differential for Gastelum. Both have a decently positive head jab differential as well.
In the power game, these two look much more similar. While Adesanya’s busted up faces at almost 4x Gastelum’s rate, both fighters have a high knockdown rate and Gastelum edges out in knockdown percentage (4.8% to 3.9%). When it comes to getting dropped, Adesanya’s never been knocked down while Gastelum was only dropped once by Rick Story five years ago.
So Gastelum hasn’t been much of a takedown artist nor has he been much of a cage presser, with 43 seconds of every five minutes in the clinch and only 51% of his clinch time in control. Will he dirty things up or stay at open space and try to duke it out with the Stylebender and his impressive distance stats?
Can’t wait to find out.
Eryk Anders vs. Khalil Rountree
Nikita Krylov vs. Ovince Saint Preux
Wilson Reis vs. Alexandre Pantoja
Predictions can be made for five of the 13 scheduled bouts. Be sure to return to Bloody Elbow on Saturday at 6pm ET for precise win probabilities and possible bets before UFC 236 starts.
Statistical Notes: A bout closeness measure towards zero means a fighter tends to be in blowouts (win or lose) and towards 100 means they tend to be in very close fights. Strike attempts are per 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. Knockdown/Damage round percentage is the percentage of rounds with at least one knockdown or busted up face, respectively. 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.
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.