UFC 239: Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos alternative stats

UFC 239 goes down in Vegas tomorrow night, kicking off a stretch of three pay-per-view events over a six-week span. Watch ‘UFC 239 -…

By: Paul Gift | 4 years ago
UFC 239: Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos alternative stats
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

UFC 239 goes down in Vegas tomorrow night, kicking off a stretch of three pay-per-view events over a six-week span.

True to his word of wanting to “make up for lost time” in 2019, the light heavyweight GOAT Jon Jones will saddle up for his third fight in just over six months. His challenger Thiago Santos is riding a four-fight win streak where he spent only 4-of-46 minutes on his back, something with good chance of disproportionately changing tomorrow. In the co-main event, we’ve got the return of the first female champ champ Amanda Nunes against the former bantamweight champion and always tough out, Holly Holm.

Let’s jump right into their numbers.

Remember, what you’re about to read are not official UFC statistics. They’re alternative stats generated from official statistics designed to (1) give more weight to the recent present than the distant past and (2) not let one huge or horrible performance dominate the data.

See the notes at the bottom for definitions of certain statistics and check out an earlier piece for an explanation of how this works.

Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos

It’s hard to believe that Santos has almost the same number of UFC fights under his belt (18) as Jones (20) until the memories of the dominant champion looking for the foot of his career to shoot come flooding back.

Since MMA isn’t an alternating possession sport, most top fighters with a willingness to stand and trade usually do so because they have strong output and efficiency. With an unremarkable power output at distance of 27.2 strikes per five minutes in the position (P5M), Jones is one of the exceptions. But in threatening with his below average power volume, Jones gets his opponents to attempt an even lower 23.1 P5M. Meanwhile Jones lands over 50% of those power shots while his opponents’ connect at less than 30%.

Defensively, the stats scream for Jones.

He’s never been knocked down, while Santos has tasted the canvas three times to three different opponents (though not yet at light heavyweight). He only eats 20% of his opponents’ power shots to the head (33% for Santos) as well as eating lower power percentages to the body and legs. And basically nobody takes Jones down in any meaningful way to dish out striking or grappling damage. Only DC and Gustafsson have ever taken him down and, for their entire fights, each had Jones’ back on the canvas for less than 14 seconds.

While you probably didn’t need numbers for this, Santos is all about that power. At 35.4%, Santos more than triples the light heavyweight percentage of rounds with a knockdown (5.1% Jones). And with a knockdown coming from every 5.1% of his power head strikes landed while standing, Santos’ knockdown percentage more than quadruples Jones’ 1.1%.

Knockdowns are one version of power, but when it comes to bloodying up faces, Jones and Santos both shine. Jones busts up an opponent’s face in 14.4% of his rounds, more than double the light heavyweight average, while Santos comes in at a very respectable 11.1%.

Jones is a master at remaining dynamic, fluid, and unpredictable with his attacks, peppering in 23% head jabs at distance to 77% power (11% and 89% for Santos), and when he throws power he’s mixing it up to the tune of 55%, 23%, and 22% to the head, body, and legs, respectively (74%, 16%, and 9% for Santos).

Should he feel inclined to take the fight to the canvas, Jones shoots 130% more than average at distance and lands 39% (31% average, 15% Santos). If they clinch up, both fighters have been strong in their takedown volume and above average in finishing percentages, but Jones defends 90% while Santos is hanging out down at 63%. And then of course, Jones has top control on the ground 99% of the time, and while his power volume isn’t spectacular, his accuracy is. The end result is that Jones connects with bombs from above 61% more than average while in control. Santos connects 124% more than average from the same position, but he probably won’t have top control very long, if at all.

Amanda Nunes vs. Holly Holm

Remember what I was saying about top fighters who are willing to stand and trade usually having high output and efficiency?

That’s Amanda Nunes when it comes to alternative stats.

The dual UFC bantamweight and featherweight champion throws a roughly average volume of head jabs at distance, but lands at 46% (14% Holm, 27% average). And in the power department, at 74.1 attempts P5M, she more than doubles Holm’s output and lands an incredible 57% (34% for Holm). Usually when a fighter lands over 50% of their distance power shots, it’s because they mix in a lot of body and leg strikes which are generally more accurate. Not Nunes. While she does throw in a good amount non-head strikes, her power shots to the head have been landing at 54%.

The end result is an alternative stats distance power strike differential of +30.1 P5M for Nunes to Holm’s +1.1. Do I expect that differential to remain after Saturday night? Almost certainly not. But that’s what they have heading into the fight.

The damage and knockdown departments are also all Nunes. Holm has never busted up an opponent’s face while Nunes draws blood in almost 20% of her rounds, 303% more than the women’s bantamweight average. Holm drops her opponents in 4.8% of her rounds, but Nunes has been 152% better sending foes to the canvas in 12.1% of her rounds. Meanwhile both fighters are yet to be knocked down.

Nunes and Holm both have solid distance takedown defense (100% Nunes, 89% Holm) but become more vulnerable in the clinch. Both are also more active with takedown attempts after clinching up, with Nunes attempting 7.1 P5M to Holm’s 2.0 and each landing a little below average at 38%. In terms of positioning, Holm is more of the cage presser with 73% of her clinch time spent in control. Most of Nunes’ clinch time is off the cage or being pressed (36% each). If she’s doing the pressing, she’s probably going for a takedown or eventually breaking from the clinch to go back to work at distance.

If things get to the ground, both fighters tend to have top control (75% Nunes, 71% Holm) and both are a little better than average, but not exceptional, at standing back up to their feet (and neither has swept yet). Holm has been caught with an RNC in the past, but both of Nunes’ RNC finishes against McMann and Tate began with striking damage.

Keep an eye on the cardio side of this fight if it starts going into the later rounds. Between round 1 & 5 and 2 & 5, Nunes’ rate of landing distance power shots declines by 30% and 17.5%, respectively. On the Holm side, her rates improve by 91% and 177%.

How will things go down Saturday night? I can’t wait to find out!

Ben Askren vs. Jorge Masvidal

With his one documented fight and one documented round, Ben Askren gets his face busted up in 100% of his UFC rounds. The #5 ranked welterweight has never attempted a single head jab and is yet to land a power shot at distance, going a paltry 0-for-1. He’s never even attempted a distance takedown yet – in 26 total seconds in the position.

So what has he done to earn that #5 ranking, you ask? The man stands back up at an extraordinary rate from getting tossed on his head, he lands 100% of his clinch takedowns, and he locks in every submission he’s ever attempted (1), all without throwing a single power punch from top control.

Watch out tomorrow night. Who knows what you’re gonna get from this Askren fellow.

Luke Rockhold vs. Jan Blachowicz

Michael Chiesa vs. Diego Sanchez

Gilbert Melendez vs. Arnold Allen

Claudia Gadelha vs. Randa Markos

Predictions can be made for six of the 12 scheduled bouts. Be sure to return to Bloody Elbow on Saturday for precise win probabilities and possible bets before UFC 239 starts.

Statistical Notes: A bout closeness measure towards zero means a fighter tends to be in blowouts (win or lose) and towards 100 means they tend to be in very close fights. Strike attempts are per an entire five minute round in each position (P5M) and are categorized as jab or power. A jab is just a non-power strike. Strikes are documented based on where they land or are targeted (head, body, legs), not the type that is thrown (punch, elbow, kick, knee). Visible damage rate is per five minutes the fighter is not on his back. It’s hard to bust up someone’s face while lying on your back. Damage percentage is per power head strike and distance head jab landed. Knockdown rate is per five minutes at distance or in the clinch off the cage. Knockdown percentage is per power head strike landed while standing. It’s really hard to knock someone down if they’re already on the ground. Knockdown/Damage round percentage is the percentage of rounds with at least one knockdown or busted up face, respectively. Clinch control is having the opponent pressed against the cage. Ground control is having top position or the opponent’s back. Submission attempts are per five minutes of ground control minus time spent in the opponent’s guard plus time spent with the opponent in guard.

Paul writes about MMA analytics and officiating at Bloody Elbow and MMA business at Forbes. He’s also a licensed referee and judge for the California Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Organization (CAMO). Follow him @MMAanalytics. Fight data provided by FightMetric.

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About the author
Paul Gift
Paul Gift

Dr. Paul Gift is a sports economist with a research focus on mixed martial arts. A licensed MMA referee and judge himself, Dr. Gift’s interests pertain to many facets of the MMA industry including behavioral biases and judging, the role of financial and environmental factors on fighter performance, determination of fighter marginal products, and predictive analytics.

A regular MMA business contributor for Forbes, Dr. Gift also writes about MMA analytics and officiating in popular press for SB Nation and co-hosts the MMA business podcast Show Money. His sports research has been cited in the Wall Street Journal, ESPN’s Grantland, and popular media including Around the Horn, Olbermann, and various MMA and boxing podcasts.

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