It’s déjà vu in Vegas on Saturday as UFC flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo gets set to headline two pay-per-view events in a row, with only three weeks rest, against an upstart challenger in Brandon Moreno who went from cut to UFC title challenger in the span of just four fights, and also happens to be coming off the same three-week turnaround time.
We also have to give some attention to the grapplers delight which could easily end up a mostly kickboxing affair, but’s nonetheless a kick-ass co-main event, Tony Ferguson versus the UFC and Zuffa’s all-time leading submission artist in Charles Oliveira.
So let’s jump into the numbers on a top of the UFC 256 fight card that will hopefully still be intact come Saturday night.
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.
Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno
In super-short order, the champ Figueiredo and challenger Moreno are each set to walk right back into the Octagon after 1st round finishes of their opponents at UFC 255.
If we’re talking finishes, it’s the champ Figueiredo who’s an anomaly for the flyweight division. He’s finished his opponents in 78% of his UFC wins – almost evenly split between KO/TKOs and submissions. The average flyweight gets a finish in 43% of their wins and even the great Demetrious Johnson only came in at 47% on that metric throughout his Zuffa career, and it was heavily weighted towards submissions as opposed to the nice spread Figueiredo has.
Figueiredo can crack from his feet. He drops opponents in 35% of his rounds while a typical flyweight and Moreno come in at 6.6-6.8%. In fact, all three of Figueiredo’s knockdown metrics are a whopping 5.1-6.8x the flyweight average while the challenger Moreno is subpar in the same three areas.
But you don’t need a knockdown to win, especially in the flyweight division, and one area Moreno excels is volume. With 13.6 head jabs and 51.9 power strikes attempted per five minutes (P5M) at distance, Moreno more than triples Figueiredo’s head jab output and more than doubles his power volume. Figueiredo effectively gets some of his volume deficiency back when accuracy considerations are taken into account (51% and 59% on distance head jabs and power strikes compared to Moreno’s 22% and 45%), but his fight data have also only come from three-round fights. We’ve never seen how his pace works in the championship rounds, and when his fights have made it into the 3rd round he’s only 2-1, all by decision, with one of the wins split on the scorecards.
For Moreno, we at least have one five-round sample: Between the 2nd and 5th rounds, his rate of distance power strike attempts increased 83% while the rate at which he landed increased 122%.
When Figueiredo’s not knocking opponents down and then out, his defensive striking game hasn’t been terribly impressive. He’s a net absorber of power strikes with a -6.1 differential P5M at distance. More than 100% of that differential (-6.4) comes from opponents chopping at his legs (Figueiredo net lands to the body and net absorbs to the head at roughly the same rate). When looking at the head, Figueiredo hasn’t really excelled at being an elusive target, eating 39% of his opponents’ power shots. Meanwhile, an average flyweight absorbs 28% of those same strikes and Moreno only eats 19%.
While Figueiredo’s a somewhat active distance takedown artist who completes at a solid 47% pop, both fighters tend to do their takedown work from the clinch. They each spend between 25-28 seconds clinched-up per five-minute round where Figueiredo’s more active and accurate, but when his opponents’ output comes into play he has a far worse power strike differential (-11.6 P5M to Moreno’s +3.9). Both fighters tend to have their backs to the cage, yet they each are still relatively active (moreso Moreno) and effective (53% success for both) at taking the fight to the canvas.
Once on the ground, both tend to be on top (75% Moreno, 62% Figueiredo), but watch out for the positioning. Figueiredo spends 40% of his control time with half guard or better – almost twice as much as Moreno – and on the flip side Moreno’s opponents have half guard or better on him 50% of the time they’re in top position.
While Figueiredo’s easily the more active fighter from the ground, attempting more than twice as many power shots P5M than Moreno and landing over 2 ½ times more, the grappling and submission game should be a fun one if the fight hits the canvas. They each slap on subs at a higher than normal rate (Figueiredo over 350% the flyweight average) and finish at a solid clip. And with 1.7 sweeps P5M being controlled, Moreno almost triples the flyweight average of 0.6, although Figueiredo is yet to be swept.
Even with a quick turnaround, this flyweight title fight has good old fashioned fun written all over it. Bring it on, fellas.
Tony Ferguson vs. Charles Oliveira
With his incredible 12-fight UFC lightweight win streak snapped, Tony Ferguson looks to get back into title contention with a win over Charles Oliveira, who’s quietly built an impressive 7-fight win streak of his own.
Remember when Cub Swanson rattled Oliveira’s brain at UFC 152? It feels like forever ago.
Hopefully this fight spends some meaningful time on the ground where Oliveira, with easily the most submissions in the Zuffa era at 15 (Urijah Faber second with 12), but also someone who’s been tapped three times in the UFC, could put his MMA grapping credentials on the line against Ferguson’s six subs, a sub attempt rate 333% the lightweight average, and a 43% submission finishing rate. While Ferguson’s never been tapped, Oliveira has the exact same sub attempt rate and he finishes at an even better 53%. He also gets what FightMetric calls a tight submission – extremely tight and threatening, but not finished – with 6% more of his attempts.
My grapping optimism is tempered by the fact that Ferguson spends 4:09 of every five minutes fighting at distance, where he rarely attempts takedowns, and nine seconds in the clinch when he’s usually the one being pressed there. Oliveira’s been 100% more active with distance takedowns than the average lightweight and very effective lately. But if he pushes the fight to the clinch, he’s been about average.
If things stay at distance, both fighters push a strong pace with power, but Ferguson pops head jabs 3.4x as much as Oliveira while landing 41% to Oliveira’s 28%. Their power numbers look much more even as Oliveira’s made strong improvements lately and mixes things up even better than Ferguson to the body and legs. In fact, thanks to Oliveira’s accuracy to the head and his power leg volume where fighters are almost always their most accurate, Oliveira’s distance power accuracy comes in at 58% to Ferguson’s 51%. And they both have solid distance power differentials: +7.1 P5M for Ferguson and +8.8 for Oliveira. When we shift things back to head jabs, though, those differentials quickly turn ugly for Oliveira: -5.3 P5M to Ferguson’s +4.6.
The knockdown metrics (rate and percentages) aren’t even close, in Oliveira’s favor, which is still hard to wrap my brain around. Although if we shift things to damage and busted up faces, it’s even more lopsided towards Ferguson where he makes opponents’ faces just bleed in 16.9% of his rounds to Oliveira’s 0.1%.
How can you not be intrigued by this fight? Gamblers seem to be to the tune of roughly 60/40 true odds from lines as of this writing.
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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