This weekend’s UFC 181 pay-per-view card has two titles on the line in the Lightweight and Welterweight divisions, making the event one of the can’t-miss cards of the year. And in addition to the title fights, there are some intriguing matchups featuring potential future contenders in several more weight classes. Any serious MMA fan will be watching, but what should we expect to see? There’s actually a series of stylistic battles underlying most of the main card if you know where to look. We already know that UFC 181’s list of competitors includes a lot of heavy hitters, so now let’s take a closer look at the featured fighters this weekend in another important metric: ground control time. Why ground control? Takedown success rate could be misleading if a fighter rarely uses takedowns, but landed with high success when he did. Similarly, attempting frequent takedowns could be a bad thing if it means you’re not converting them. And even if you get an opponent down, you still need to keep him there to get value from the top control. So what we should really care about is simply who is actually using their wrestling to stay in control on the mat – and for how long. Here’s how the fighters stack up in terms of their average Percentage of Total Fight Time Spent in Ground Control. This metric includes all top and back control positions, including from full guard. Generally, a fighter who stays in control for a substantial portion of a round will win that round. It’s not perfect, but this metric shows who has been using their wrestling offensively, and who hasn’t.
The historic UFC average for this metric is currently almost 17%, but the average varies for fighters of varying weight classes. This is different from the Share of Ground Time in Control stat on the Uber Tale of the Tape. For more historical grappling metrics, get the book “Fightnomics” at Amazon.
All five fighters on the top half of the list are facing a fighter on the bottom half. There are no pairings of two wrestlers or two pure strikers, just contrasting styles across the board. That makes for an interesting battle for position in each matchup here, and the outcome of the position battle could determine the winner of the fight. You may be surprised to see Heavyweight slugger Brendan Schaub at the top of the list. Over one quarter of all his time in the cage has been spent controlling opponents on the mat. In fact, even before he started focusing on his jiu jitsu game he became the first man to put Mirko Cro Cop on his back in a UFC fight. Schaub’s football background led to some takedowns in that fight that resembled open-field tackles, and since then he has used his wrestling effectively against power strikers Lavar Johnson, and even more dangerously against Matt Mitrione before putting him to sleep. Considering that he is facing another dangerous striker in Travis Browne, look for Schaub to try to neutralize Browne on the mat. The question in this matchup, as well as the others here, will be whether the wrestler can get the fight down or not. The next two names on the list are not a surprise, as Johny Hendricks and Urijah Faber both have a strong NCAA wrestling base that they have successfully translated into MMA titles. Neither man has ever been submitted, although Faber is much more likely to use submissions offensively from ground control having earned 18 career submission finishes (more than any other victory method). Both men are in matchups against power strikers, so expect Faber and Hendricks to mix in wrestling early and often as part of their fight plan. Underdogs Abel Trujillo and Gilbert Melendez are both facing more technical strikers, and their use of wrestling is more average than that of either of their opponents. Again, their strategy would be wise to include wrestling if they are to pull off the upsets. Further down the list you see fighters who rarely attempt takedowns like Browne, Pettis, Lawler, Rivera and Ferguson, each of whom attempts fewer takedowns per minute standing than the average fighter. Contrast that with the more aggressive wrestlers in the top half of the list, and you now see why there will be a battleground within the fights themselves this weekend. Whether you prefer grappling or striking, the contrast of styles in this weekend’s matchups will make for intriguing fights. In addition to the titles and rankings at stake, there will also be some stylist pride on the line. “Fightnomics” the book is now available on Amazon! Follow along on Twitter for the latest UFC stats and MMA analysis.