When the main event for Fight Night 88 in Las Vegas was announced, MMA fans took notice and began to anticipate a striking war. For the first time in a long time, the UFC would not be putting on an all-star loaded PPV card over the Memorial Day holiday weekend in Las Vegas. This is likely due to the scheduling squeeze of fitting UFC 198 and 199 in before International Fight Week kicks off UFC 200.
But still wanting to give fans and Vegas holiday vacationers some entertaining violence this weekend, we’ve got a Sunday night Fight Night card highlighted by two ferocious Bantamweights that should put on a fun striking duel.
But how do they stack up against each other? And for that matter, who are the other good strikers on the rest of the card? This should give us some hints on who, and what to look out for on Sunday night.
How the Graph Works
This balloon (or bubble) chart includes the fighters competing this weekend with sufficient sample size. Many of them will move with more cage-time, but it’s a good snapshot of how they’ve performed to date.
The four metrics in the graph are all related to offensive striking. First, the vertical axis is the power head striking accuracy. This is a general reflection of a striker’s skill level in technique. But some fighters are more aggressive than others, while some are primarily counter-strikers, and those characteristics lead to very different striking styles. So the horizontal axis indicates the ratio of strike attempts while standing compared to the same fighter’s opponents. It’s a measure of output, and a proxy for aggression. An even 1.0 ratio means a fighter matches the pace of their opponents when standing and trading, while a higher number shows more aggressive and higher-volume strikers compared to lower ratios indicating counter-strikers.
The dots are plotted based on those two metrics, but two more variables are also shown. The size of the bubble is based on the fighter’s Knockdown Rate in the UFC/Strikeforce/WEC. Bigger bubbles mean a lot more power, while the small specks indicate fighters who haven’t logged a knockdown in recorded competition. And lastly, southpaw/switch stance strikers are in red. Lefties are rare, but are worth highlighting as some fighters have trouble with Southpaws.
Headliner Thomas Almeida has been a very precise striker in his first few UFC appearances. While his pace is somewhat reserved, his power head striking accuracy of 49% is at Alistair Overeem-like levels, and yet Almeida has been landing those strikes against the much faster and more evasive Bantamweight division.
The second most precise on the chart is veteran striker Jorge Masvidal. He lands 37% of his power head strikes, and has gone toe-to-toe with some of the best in the Lightweight division. Interestingly, his only losses in this decade have been by decision, several of them very close ones. But he’s got a more dangerous test now that he’s at Welterweight and facing another dangerous striker in Lorenz Larkin.
Also at Welterweight, Tarec Saffiedine hopes to put his striking arsenal on display. And in addition to his accurate punches, he’ll also likely be using a lot of leg kicks to mix things up. More than 25% of all of Saffiedine’s standup strikes are leg kicks, far more than anyone on the card and about two and half times the UFC average.
Southpaw Erick Koch will return from a long layoff since his TKO loss to another talented striker, Daron Cruickshank. And while Koch packs power, he’s more notable in how he pushes the pace against opponents. He average 69% more standing strikes than his opponents are able to throw back. In his matchup this weekend, he may need that forward movement to keep the decorated Muay Thai striker Shane Campbell from getting too much momentum.
Jake Collier has also been on the offensive more often than not, even if he’s had a lot more misses than successes while throwing punches. He’s been knocked out in two out of three UFC appearances to date, suggesting perhaps he needs to rethink that strategy.
Also noteworthy is Rick Story, whose high pace has kept him competitive with a long list of notable Welterweights. He’ll be facing a more technical striker in Tarec Saffiedine, so perhaps this will be a matchup where Story wants to emphasize his wrestling.
Again, Erick Kock gets top billing for having dropped opponents at the highest rate. He’s scored three knockdowns in the UFC, but took less than 30 landed power head strikes to achieve them. That gets the nod for best strike-for-strike power on the card.
Also noteworthy is veteran slugger Jeremy Stephens. He has a knockdown rate of nearly 6%, and has recorded 10 total knockdowns to date. He’ll be in the co-main event against former Bantamweight champion Renan Barao, who is making his Featherweight debut.
In the main event, Cody Garbrandt has logged three knockdowns has a good clip higher than the two that Almeida has scored. So give Garbrandt the edge in power, even if not in accuracy.
Keeping it on the Ground
Aljamain Sterling doesn’t top any striking stats among this crew, but then why mess with a good thing? The potential Bantamweight contender has spent nearly half of all his cage minutes on the ground, and was in clear control for 93% of those minutes. His matchup with Bryan Caraway will be a rare grappler’s duel.