By @fightnomics When five out of the eight men competing on a UFC main card have NCAA Division 1 experience, it’s fair to say that wrestling remains one of the most critical ingredients to a successful MMA career. So let’s expand the aperture and look deeper at the mat skills to date at UFC 192, and to see if there’s any potential mismatches (hint: yes, there is) to be aware of. This metric shows what percentage of a fighter’s total fight time is spent not only on the ground, but controlling their opponent. Scoring high on this metric means a fighter is not only attempting a lot of takedowns, but landing them, and keeping opponents down once they’ve gotten them down. It also means they aren’t getting reversed. The UFC average is about 15%. Fighters with very limited sample size have been removed except in special cases for opponent reference.
For more on these and other MMA performance metrics, get the book “Fightnomics.”
Most Effective Wrestlers Best in Show for this metric at UFC 192 goes to Juliana Pena, who has spent the majority of her Octagon time thus far owning opponents on the ground on her way to two consecutive TKO finishes. Her pairing this weekend could be a wrestling mismatch given her opponent’s position at the bottom of the graph, which is one reason why Pena is a solid betting favorite. We’ll see if she can maintain such an extreme metric as she gets more cage time against a veteran. Of the experienced fighters on the fight card, the most dominant wrestler has been Ryan Bader. Bader is 4-0 in since his almost-upset against former top contender Glover Teixeira, and has utilized his ground control game plenty on his current run. In fact, of all the former NCAA wrestlers on the main card, Bader has spent a greater share of all his Octagon time on the ground (36%). His matchup with Rashad Evans is all the more interesting this weekend. Other Frequent Wrestlers Daniel Cormier’s wrestling needs no additional hype, as we’ve seen him manhandle some of the biggest fighters in multiple divisions. He averages well over a minute of control time per takedown, and expect that to be the goal against Gustafsson – keeping him where he’s least dangerous. Johny Hendricks and Tyron Woodley have a history, and everyone knows it. On paper it’s a close matchup, between equally solid wrestlers who are nearly impossible to take down. Whether we see them test each other’s wrestling, or switch to a primarily striking affair, this remains a worthy contender fight. If you’re wondering how Rashad Evans could barely score above average in a wrestling metric, just remember that it was his power striking that brought him to championship glory. Evans has been all too willing to stand and trade, sometimes bringing spectacular success, and other times drawing mind-numbing ire. His inconsistency in leveraging his best skills combined with his massive layoff are some of the big unknowns for this potential title-eliminator matchup. Next is Shawn Jordan, who has shown a mix of fancy striking and sometimes surprising athleticism for a big man. Or perhaps not so surprising given that he’s a former BCS football champion from LSU. His heavyweight matchup with the ferocious but also vulnerable Magomedov could be over in a flash, one way or the other. It’s strange to see a perennial top contender like Joseph Benavidez come in as basically average in anything, especially something wrestling related. But such is the case that Benavidez hasn’t spent all that much time on the ground, although he has been in control for the vast majority of that time. Perhaps that’s because his submission game is so effective once he’s on the ground. His 12 submission attempts to date are the most of anyone on the card, so if he does get it to the ground, watch out for the immediate choke attempts. Prefer to Keep it Standing Alexander Gustafsson will definitely get tested by Daniel Cormier. He managed to keep his fight with Jon Jones standing, and drew cheers for even scoring the first takedown on the former champ (even if it was very temporary). So expect fans to be very aware of whether he can defend takedowns or escape from ground control, as that will be an early indicator of how this physical and stylistic mismatch will play out. Former contender Chris Cariaso is the far more experienced veteran against Sergio Pettis. Despite scoring low in effective wrestling, Cariaso is still more likely than Pettis to spend time in control, as Pettis has barely spent any time controlling opponents on the mat. Despite being ranked in the Flyweight division, Cariaso is actually the underdog against unranked Pettis, so on paper Cariaso has decent underdog potential. Ali Bagautinov also scores low in wrestling control, and that may only get worse here given that he’s facing “Joe Jitsu,” who is a dangerous mat partner for anyone. Magomedov and Jessica Eye each have yet to fully utilize ground control in the Octagon, and each one is facing someone who definitely has. The most obvious case is Pena versus Eye, literally on the opposite extremes of the graph. If Eye does keep the fight standing, it will be a difficult time for her, although Magomedov should be more prepared to deal with Jordan on the ground. For information on getting the “Fightnomics” the book, go here.