By @fightnomics After the cancellation of UFC 176 and the unfortunate shuffling of UFC 177, the fact remains that UFC 178 is perhaps the most stacked card of the year. All 10 fighters on the main card are ranked, plus several more on the prelims. In addition to a title at stake, each of the main card fights and also the final prelim pairing will have title implications for half of the UFC’s divisions in 2015. Lots of questions will be answered, from the likely next contender in both the men’s and women’s bantamweight divisions, to filtering the list of future contenders in the featherweight, lightweight and middleweight divisions. There are a lot of reasons to watch on Saturday, but let’s consider one more reason: there will likely be some striking duels going on. So let’s see how the fighters stack up in the key metric of Distance Power Head Strike Accuracy.
Distance power head striking accuracy changes by weight class, and even by round, but the overall UFC average is around 25% for this key metric. For more on the nuances MMA striking statistics get the book “Fightnomics” at Amazon.
The Snipers: Right out of the gate you may be surprised to see the top two names on the list are both from the women’s bantamweight division. I urge some caution here, as these two also have the smallest sample size of the group. But there’s no questioning that in their UFC fights so far, they’ve landed lots of strikes, and that makes for a fun duel in the making between two women that are used to finishing their opponents. In the #3 spot is Yoel Romero, an unlikely candidate for a sniper who happens to be facing – ironically – a real life sniper in Tim Kennedy. Romero took home silver from the 2000 Olympics, yet has used his wrestling very little thus far in his impressive 4-0 UFC win streak. Will he get to throw more bombs against Kennedy, or will he finally be tested on the mat? I think it’s the latter. Jorge Masvidal has an almost Stockton Slap style to his strikes. He has very high precision but lacks one-punch power. But through the rounds his excellent defense means he’s generally getting the better of opponents and the damage accumulates. Close by, and probably going higher once accounting for his most recent fight, Irish phenom Conor McGregor really is as good on paper as the hype suggests. His striking has been very high paced, accurate, and also powerful. And he’s managed all that offensively while maintaining tight defense. Although his opponent Dustin Poirier is right there next on the list, expect McGregor’s defense and power to be the difference in the otherwise technical exchanges. Middle of the Pack: Topping the middle of the pack here is Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. He is definitely a gifted striking specialist, and while his accuracy isn’t at the top of the heap, it’s still very good. And that’s despite the fact that he uses his legs for a high proportion of his strikes, making his accuracy much better and more dangerous than it appears at first glance. He’ll be facing veteran Patrick Cote in an interesting matchup that could boost Wonderboy up the ranks if he comes through as the favorite. Whenever Thompson is on his feet, don’t blink – his kicks come out of nowhere and are more devastating than a punch. Also impressive to date with his accuracy is James Krause. Although he’s been on the receiving end of more damaging blows, his 75” reach at lightweight means he knows how to reach out and touch someone. Unfortunately, he’s matched up against an even more accurate striker this Saturday in Jorge Masvidal. This should be a fun duel between precision strikers, and one that could take some time to develop. A group of fighters coming in above the average benchmark includes title challenger Chris Cariaso, Brian Ebersole, and Tim Kennedy. Some of these guys rely more heavily on grappling than on striking, so it’s not surprising to see them reach high ranks despite landing around the average in their standup. Perhaps more surprising is that Demetrious Johnson is considered one of the fastest fighters in the UFC, yet only lands an average rate of strikes. This is partially because he spent some time at Bantamweight against larger competition before the flyweight division was formed, when he was then able to compete at his best weight. Something Else: Bringing up the rear on the list are a number of fighters who might leave you scratching your head as to how they could perform so low on a major metric. There’s always a reason. For volume strikers like Dominick Cruz, it’s because he uses such fast and unorthodox combinations that accuracy isn’t as important in winning rounds. He wins because he confuses opponents and stays very busy. Then there are grapplers like Manvel Gamburyan who really only use strikes to set up takedowns. Fighters in this category (Chael Sonnen comes to mind) have low accuracy, but also spend less time on their feet. For them, the strikes are an entrance to the more important show on the mat. And let’s not leave out Donald Cerrone. With a Knockdown Rate of over 11%, Cerrone is actually one of the most dangerous strikers in UFC history on a Pound-for-Pound basis. He mixes in a lot of kicks (which drops accuracy) and has good range for a lightweight. While he may not be the most accurate striker overall, he’s still one of the most powerful in the division. He makes a very tough first test for Bellator crossover Eddie Alvarez. Are there any findings that surprise you? All in all there are a lot of reasons to tune in this weekend, and getting to watch highly ranked fighters hungry for title contention square off and throw leather is a big one. It should be fun. “Fightnomics” the book is now available on Amazon! Follow along on Twitter for the latest UFC stats and MMA analysis, or on Facebook if you prefer.