Fightnomics – UFC 302’s Biggest Mismatch

Main Event Mismatch?

When Dustin Poirier and Islam Makhachev finally square off for the Lightweight belt, we’ll be looking at two of the division’s best fighters who have achieved their success in completely different ways. Oddsmakers (and the betting public) also value the two very differently, as this matchup currently has the steepest betting odds of any fight on the card, seeing early week odds of -600 favoring the incumbent champ. We therefore have extreme mismatches of both style and perceived ability to win in the main event at UFC 302.

Poirier has become an elite striker, tied for the most knockouts in Lightweight history, and tied for fourth in the UFC all-time. Of his 30 total career wins, half came by strikes. But his striking game is more about accumulated damage than one-shot power. Both Poirier and Makchachev have highly precise power striking from a distance, but only Poirier is comparably accurate with his jabs, while also pressing a pace of distance striking attempts 2.5 times higher than Makhachev. The net result is that Poirier lands a much higher volume of strikes, and has racked up double the knockdowns of the next highest competitor (middleweight Michal Oleksiejczuk) at UFC 302. Though on a per strike basis, his knockdown rate is actually lower than Makhachev’s.

Overall, Poirier has finished 15 of his 22 UFC victories, thanks to adding some slick submissions to his highlight reel. But dominance of position on the mat has not been a strong suit. Through his UFC career, he’s allowed opponents to be in ground control more often than not, despite attempting more submissions (24) than any other fighter at UFC 302 by more than double. For all of Makhachev’s grappling work, he only has 10 submission attempts.

This introduces an interesting dynamic of Makhachev perhaps wading into dangerous waters on the ground where he normally has a big advantage. Alternatively, perhaps he’ll want to test the power of his hands with Poirier to silence criticisms that the champ is a one-dimensional fighter.

To Guillotine, or Not to Guillotine?

Poirier famously, or perhaps notoriously, jumps guard for guillotine chokes so often that he even roasted himself for it after his last fight. Of his 24 career submission attempts, 11 have been guillotines, more than any other single submission type. Yet not one was successful.

Guillotines may once have been a wiser strategy, but have since declined in both usage and success rate. Current attempt rates have stabilized around all-time lows at just a third of their modern-era peak in 2010, owing either to the lower success rates of the technique, better defense, or both. With a total success rate of 17%, guillotines saw a slight surge in success in recent years during fewer attempts, perhaps because fighter’s have learned to be more selective in attempting the risky maneuver. Unfortunately, 2024 has seen a success rate of just 13%, also near an all-time low.

Given Poirier’s aggressive forward striking and Makhachev’s obvious takedown threat, we should see Poirier once again contemplating whether or not to jump guard. If he secures the choke, it will be an impressive longshot upset (look for prop odds at 20-to-1). If he can’t secure the choke while pulling guard, he’s likely to spend the next few minutes losing that round under Makhachev’s stifling top control.

The models don’t like Poirier’s chances here. However, model-based win probabilities rarely go much higher than 90% in the UFC, meaning there also isn’t much value backing Makhachev straight up. However, an alternative interpretation of the data is that Poirier’s zero for eleven conversions of guillotine attempts are anomalous. Therefore, the true success rate combined with the high likelihood of positional opportunities both early and often in the main event mean +2000 or more for an upset choke is a reasonable stab.

Written by Reed Kuhn


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