UFC 257: Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor 2 alternative stats

You know it’s a Conor McGregor fight week when a shirtless arrival video is making the news on a Monday. UFC 257 goes down…

By: Paul Gift | 3 years ago
UFC 257: Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor 2 alternative stats
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You know it’s a Conor McGregor fight week when a shirtless arrival video is making the news on a Monday. UFC 257 goes down this Saturday night and the alternative stats will be singularly focused this week: Poirier vs. McGregor, the rematch.

It’s been six years, 13 Poirier fights, and eight McGregor MMA fights since these two last shared a locked Octagon for a little less than two minutes. This time, they should each certainly be better hydrated and they both seem to be in incredible shape.

Since alternative stats give more weight to recent performances, it’s kind of nice that both fighters are coming off decisive losses to Khabib Nurmagomedov exactly two bouts ago. Any “Khabib effect” on their numbers should be in play the same way for each.

So let’s jump into those 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.

Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor

In just over 10 years with Zuffa, Poirier’s heading into his 27th fight for the company. Talk about durable, his schedule was like clockwork through 2018, never having a layoff longer than seven months, though recent years have upped that number a bit following his battle with Eddie Alvarez and thumping at the hands of Khabib.

McGregor will step into the Octagon on Saturday for just the third time since claiming champ-champ status against Alvarez in November 2016. While he’s also recently succumbed to Khabib, he bounced back with one hell of a 38-second pre-pandemic performance against Cowboy Cerrone one year ago.

When reviewing the alternative stats for this matchup, the first thing that jumps off the page is the similarity of the times they spend in particular positions: 3:03-3:04 of a typical round in the open space of distance, 42-43 seconds in the clinch, and 1:13-1:14 on the ground.

Yet they do it in different ways. While they both tend to be in inferior control positions in the clinch or on the ground, Poirier at least has clinch control 33% of the time and top position 36% of his time on the ground. McGregor, on the other hand, basically never presses his opponent against the cage (8% of his clinch time) and is only on top on the ground 20% of the time because he doesn’t want to be in those dirtier fight positions. While he’s known to throw a clinch elbow or shoulder strike or two, distance is where McGregor tends to have his biggest advantage.

While McGregor and Poirier each land 50% of their power strikes from distance, McGregor tends to be more active throwing 39% more volume per five minutes in the position (P5M) than Poirier and more than double that of an average lightweight. And when it comes to the accuracy of those strikes, McGregor’s more successful to the head (51% to 45%) with Poirier more accurate to the body and legs.

But snapping head jabs can also do damage and sap energy, and Poirier’s got the volume edge in this area And he doesn’t just throw them to distract or setup other strikes, he connects with them, throwing 78% more head jabs P5M than McGregor and landing 39% to McGregor’s 31%.

At the end of the day, though, neither fighter earns large differentials from head jabs. Poirier may use them to drain his opponents’ energy, but it’s ultimately power strikes where he maintains a +5.6 differential P5M at distance. On net he gets outstruck to the body and legs, so his work to the head is an even more impressive +7.7. Yet then McGregor walks in and says “Hold my beer” to the tune of an enormous +22.7 power differential P5M.

It’s that type of precision craftsmanship that makes McGregor’s knockdown round percentage of 43% (5.4% Poirier, 7.3% average), knockdown rate of 1.17 (0.12 Poirier, 0.16 average), and knockdown percentage of 5.5% (0.5% Poirier, 1.8% average) so understandable. He’s exceptional at maximizing damage served and minimizing damage received when operating in open space. And in case you were wondering, he’s still never officially been knocked down, although what Khabib did in the second round is probably as close as you can get without getting official credit.

Perhaps Poirier’s cardio could be the key? It’s hard to statistically measure cardio but the results weren’t what I expected when looking at the rate Poirier and McGregor attempt and land power strikes from distance between the second and fourth rounds. They each make 18-19% fewer attempts in the fourth round, but McGregor actually lands 14% more while Poirier connects with 14% fewer. Now it could be that Poirier started at a higher rate in the second round, but still, while McGregor might strike less due to exhaustion in the fourth round, it always takes two to tango and he seems to land more efficiently. In case you’re thinking Nate Diaz’s second round had something to do with this, a somewhat similar result held between the first and fourth rounds, and McGregor hasn’t spent enough time in the fifth round to bring it in.

What if Poirier changes things up a bit? While he isn’t known for attempting distance takedowns with great frequency, his volume has been reasonable (73% of the lightweight average takedown rate) and he completes a solid 42% (30% average). On the defensive end, McGregor’s ability to stop them has been about average.

Or if Poirier can move the fight to the clinch, McGregor spends 31 seconds of every five-minute round with his back on the fence. Poirier imposes a +6.6 power strike differential P5M in those situations and makes 3.8 takedown attempts P5M. While his lifetime success rate is a legit 43%, his alternative stats rate is significantly worse at 23% and McGregor only succumbs to 30% (46% average).

If the fight does hit the canvas, McGregor’s standup rate currently looks awful at 0.9 P5M of opponent control. But before locking horns with Khabib, McGregor was decidedly average in that department, getting back to his feet 2.4 times per five minutes of opponent top control.

So will Poirier try to exact revenge in a straight kickboxing match? Will he dirty things up and move the action out of McGregor’s wheelhouse? Will McGregor let him? Will he take Poirier out just as early as last time?

All questions we can’t wait to have answered in just four short days. As always, 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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