UFC 250: Amanda Nunes vs. Felicia Spencer alternative stats

There’s only one more day until the women’s GOAT – and possibly overall MMA GOAT – Amanda Nunes brings joy to our fight lives…

By: Paul Gift | 3 years ago
UFC 250: Amanda Nunes vs. Felicia Spencer alternative stats
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

There’s only one more day until the women’s GOAT – and possibly overall MMA GOAT – Amanda Nunes brings joy to our fight lives with damage inside a locked cage. It’s UFC Pandemic Show #4 and the promotion’s come home to Nevada and an empty Apex facility to keep us entertained on a quasi-quarantine Saturday night.

In the main event, Nunes will throw down with Felicia Spencer for the women’s featherweight title. Meanwhile my personal co-main event is #2 ranked bantamweight Aljamain Sterling vs. #4 Cory Sandhagen. The Funk Master that somehow lost to Bryan Caraway is gone and Sandhagen has looked outstanding in every Octagon appearance, save for a tough outing with John Lineker.

So let’s jump into the numbers on these two scraps.

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.

Amanda Nunes vs. Felicia Spencer

Here’s the thing about Spencer’s stats. She has three documented Zuffa bouts and her distance and clinch data are pretty much showing what Cyborg did to her (although Fairn also landed eight head power shots to Spencer’s two). But do we really think Nunes can’t do the same or better from those positions?

Since Spencer’s data is limited, I’ll use the standard, official lifetime stats for her and alternative stats for Nunes.

Warning: Most of these numbers aren’t pretty. It comes with the territory when a title challenger only has three documented fights and was mostly thumped while standing, yet twice successful on the ground.

If Nunes can keep the fight at distance, the statistical matchup might be one of the ugliest I’ve ever seen for a UFC title fight. Nunes more than doubles Spencer’s power output and throws 30% more head jabs. When we add in accuracy and defense, Nunes’ power strike differential per five minutes in the position (P5M) is a superb +21.1 while Spencer’s is an abysmal -25.1. Yes, Spencer has a small sample size and, yes, the Cyborg fight dominates her standing data. But still, I can’t recall ever seeing a stat like that heading into a UFC title fight.

With head jabs, Nunes runs a +4.1 differential to Spencer’s -2.9. As for power, Nunes more than doubles the women’s featherweight average in 2-of-3 of her knockdown metrics while Spencer is yet to drop an Octagon opponent. And when it comes to defense, over half (56%) of opponents’ power strikes connect to Spencer’s skull, while Nunes only lets 29% of those strikes get through.

Fortunately for Spencer, she only spends 2:24 of every five minutes at distance. If she can get things to the clinch, she might be able to take the fight to the ground where her statistical game looks more like that of a true title challenger. But while she’s clinched up – a position where she spends 1:29 of every five minutes – she’s still taken serious damage.

While spending 77% of her clinch time with control against the cage, Spencer’s striking volume has been subpar as she’s focused more on working for takedowns. Meanwhile, she gets battered with a differential of -18.4 power shots P5M. The only silver lining here might be that Nunes gets outstruck in the clinch, too, with a -8.7 power differential.

As for takedowns in the clinch, Spencer hasn’t been terribly successful with only 25% accuracy, but she landed 50% each against Megan Anderson and Zarah Fairn while going 0-for-4 against Cyborg. On the other hand, Nunes has been susceptible to clinch takedowns (34% opponent success, 16% featherweight average) and she’s only slightly better than average at getting back to her feet.

When Spencer’s been on top, she’s yet to have an opponent sweep or get back to their feet. She’s been incredibly active throwing 82.6 power strikes P5M and landing 64.7, 134% more than a typical featherweight. Spencer’s perfect on her only submission attempt, but it’s a very small sample and the BJJ black belt Nunes has never been submitted in four attempts.

Like DC once said, Nunes isn’t going to just sit there and “let” Spencer take her down. She’s never been taken down from distance, her clinch takedown defense has been improving (66% alternative stats vs. 55% lifetime stats), and she hasn’t been taken down multiple times in a bout since her Cat Zingano loss 11 fights and almost six years ago.

So will Nunes dominate yet again or can Spencer dirty things up, wear the champ down, and squeeze out a decision or possible finish? Here’s to finding out soon.

Aljamain Sterling vs. Cory Sandhagen

Sterling’s been on a four-fight win streak since learning how Marlon Moraes’ knee tastes while Sandhagen’s gone undefeated inside the Octagon. Both fighters meet tomorrow night with the exact same bout closeness measure (22, bantamweight average 43), meaning they tend to be involved in fights more along the lines of blowouts than nail-biters.

Both guys are almost exactly like a typical bantamweight in terms of spending 2:53-2:56 of every five minutes at distance (2:51 average). In that open space, Sandhagen’s had the volume edge in head jabs with 34.8 attempts P5M while Sterling’s been the volume power striker at 59.1 attempts P5M. But Sandhagen’s been more accurate with his power to all three target areas of the head, body, and legs and has done a slightly better job mixing up his strikes. Both fighters bring unpredictability to their power strikes, but Sandhagen’s mixed things up nicely to the tune of 22% to the body and 20% to the legs (14% and 10% average).

Defensively, Sterling’s kept his head safer from power, only eating 20% and 6.0 of those shots in total P5M (23% and 9.2 P5M for Sandhagen). And both fighters have solid differentials at distance: +3.6 and +1.6 on head jabs and +13.7 and +12.0 on power strikes for Sterling and Sandhagen, respectively.

One thing I always love while doing these write-ups is learning something new about a fighter or something I wouldn’t have expected. For this one, I had no idea Funk Master has never been credited with knocking an opponent down. Not a single one in 13 UFC appearances. Sandhagen on the other hand has two knockdown metrics more than double the bantamweight average and he’s never been dropped himself.

In the clinch, Sandhagen’s almost twice as active as Sterling and he doubles Sterling’s power strike differential in the position (+21.2 vs. +10.3 P5M). Each fighter goes for clinch takedowns at a decent clip and while Sterling’s been about average defending them, Sandhagen’s succumbed to 7-of-8 of opponent attempts so far.

The ground’s interesting in that while each fighter spends 1:03-1:24 of a typical round there, they both get back to their feet relatively well – Sandhagen more so than Sterling. Sandhagen also has a 10x average sweep rate, so that’s probably why he still has decent time on the ground. Sandhagen tends to be the one on top (78% vs. 59% for Sterling), but we know Funk Master is dangerous from the bottom and has gone 3-of-9 on his submissions overall to Sandhagen’s 1-of-2. And neither fighter has ever been submitted.

What we’ve got here are the makings of a fun scrap with super-skilled fighters pushing a good pace that could end up in any position. Let’s see if it lives up to being dubbed the real co-main event of the evening.

Bring on the glorious fights!

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 an ABC-certified referee and judge. 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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