Striking Assessment: The UFC Bantamweight Division

By @fightnomics With the Barao Era fully behind us in the UFC Bantamweight division, The Dillashaw Era is already looking to be a similarly dominant one. TJ Dillashaw trounced Barao not once, but twice, and we’re left looking around and wondering where any challenge to Team Alpha Male’s top Alpha might lie. However, this analysis reveals several interesting candidates. As we’ll see below, one of the strongest wasn’t even in the division until recently, and several other veterans could make for fun title scraps. And due to lack of data, there’s a few other names that deserve mention at the end. So let’s turn our attention to the UFC Bantamweight division’s striking metrics. For similar, prior analysis, follow these links for the: Heavyweights, Light Heavyweights, Featherweights, and Flyweights.   How the Graph Works This balloon (or bubble) chart includes all active UFC fighters who have competed since the beginning of 2014 with sufficient data. Some of the names are retired or no longer with the organization, but were left in here for reference. There’s also a few more that didn’t have enough data, or have been inactive for a while who were excluded. The four metrics in the graph are all related to striking (we’ll look at key grappling stats later). 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 guy matches the pace of his 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 most fighters have trouble with Southpaws. BWStrikingChart

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This division has a number of strikers who have been able to combine aggression with precision, to push their way up into the upper right quadrant of the chart. And that includes reigning champion TJ Dillashaw, who has transformed his standup game recently and put on veritable striking clinics against former long-time champ Renan Barao. The changing of the guard has left us with a refreshed title picture, and the opening we’ve been waiting for to get Dominick Cruz back into the mix. But the question remains: if Barao couldn’t stand up to Dillashaw’s striking, does anyone else stand a chance? Let’s check the graph to see where the strongest performers are, and who might make an interesting challenger down the road.   Snipers Alex Caceres, a.k.a., “Bruce Leroy,” is the most accurate power striker at 36%, in a division where the average is only 26%. Impressively, he’s managed to maintain that accuracy while working at an above average speed and outworking opponents by 40%. And his striking defense is above average too. While Caceres appears to be one of the most skilled strikers in the group, he’s also on a three-fight losing skid that would make a title shot at least a couple years off. Still, he’s fun to watch. Other accurate strikers to keep an eye on include Mitch Gagnon and John Lineker. Lineker is the more natural striker of the two, and we’ll discuss him more in depth later.   High-Pressure Strikers George Roop is the most aggressive striker in the division, outworking his opponents by 72% on volume. While his accuracy is below average, he does bring some power in his strikes. Roop is also huge for his division, towering over opponents at six-foot one with a 72-inch reach that would be more typical of the Lightweight division. His aggression is leading to plenty of finishes, his own and those of his opponents, having seen six of his nine UFC fights end by T/KO. Other fighters who tend to push their opponents include Iuri Alcantara, currently ranked 13th in the division, as well as the aforementioned John Lineker, TJ Dillashaw, and Alex Caceres. Alcantara definitely deserves mention as a potential contender.   Sluggers A few Bantamweights have distinguished themselves with knockout power in a division that has actually bucked the size vs power tradeoff, at least so far in 2015. Some performers in this metric have only been in the UFC a short time, and so we’ll have to wait and see if they can hold maintain their Knockdown Rate. That said, Cody Gibson has packed a 9.5% Knockdown Rate, scoring two knockdowns through his four UFC appearances to date. And Erik Perez dropped opponents three times in his six appearances, for a 6.9% Knockdown Rate. Among the hardest hitting fighters with more cage time, Hugo Viana (four knockdowns, at a 5.7% rate) and Iuri Alcantara (three knockdowns, at a 6.0% rate) show up well on paper. But there’s another power striker certainly worth discussing: newly enlarged former Flyweight contender John Lineker. When it comes to scoring knockdowns, Lineker leads the pack with seven knockdowns scored. That’s tied with larger and more famous fighters like Carlos Condit, Matt Brown, and even Vitor Belfort! Lineker, on paper anyway, seems to be the fighter best positioned to standup to the challenge of TJ Dillashaw by combining technical accuracy and pace with dangerous power. Lineker takes on Franciso Rivera at UFC 191, and the winner will definitely have to be “in the mix” for the division’s next contender.   Division’s Next Title Fight Dillashaw’s next opponent has not yet been revealed now that he’s 2-0 against Barao and open to fresh competition. Dominick Cruz is most entitled to a shot, given he has never lost in the UFC, nor since winning the WEC title before the promotional merger. But he’s also been on one of the worst injury outages in history, having fought only once since 2011. Currently nine months out from another torn ACL, Cruz’s rehab and training timeline for return will determine the next title shot. Similarly, the next most obvious option, Raphael Assuncao, is also on an extended injury break. Assuncao is on a seven-fight win streak, and is a full package fighter with strong striking and ground metrics. But should these injury-returns require another defense from Dillashaw against someone new, consider Iuri Alcantara, or the winner of John Lineker and Francisco Rivera at UFC 191 a couple of good options. There are also newcomers Frankie Seanz and Thomas Almeida, who each have broken into the top 15 despite being only a few fights into the UFC that could be paired wisely to accelerate title shots. Regardless, there appears to be a lot of options in a division that was getting a little stale under prior dominance.   “Fightnomics” the book is now available on Amazon!

Written by Reed Kuhn

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