UFC 272 analytics: Colby Covington vs. Jorge Masvidal alternative stats

The grudge match is here. UFC 272 goes down Saturday night with a rare non-title headliner between former teammates turned rivals Colby Covington, the…

By: Paul Gift | 1 year ago
UFC 272 analytics: Colby Covington vs. Jorge Masvidal alternative stats
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The grudge match is here. UFC 272 goes down Saturday night with a rare non-title headliner between former teammates turned rivals Colby Covington, the former interim welterweight champion, and Jorge Masvidal. Does he still count as the BMF belt-holder? Either way, the bad blood is there and the stats are, too, for one of them at least.

The RDA-Fiziev co-main event would’ve received some statistical attention today, but it wasn’t meant to be. Hopefully we’ll get another crack at that fight down the line.

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.

Colby Covington vs. Jorge Masvidal

With 14 UFC fights under his belt, Covington has only been taken out three times, including twice by #1 ranked pound-for-pound great Kamaru Usman. While Masvidal’s a grizzled veteran of the sport with Strikeforce days spanning all the way back to 2007, he’s been a relatively pedestrian 7-7 in his most recent 14-fight span, also including two setbacks to Usman. And now these heated rivals are set to meet each other on Saturday night.

The grudge match angle will probably sell this non-title headliner, but the statistical matchup isn’t all the fight promotion’s cracked up to be. For someone with Covington’s volume and pressure game, Usman all but revealed the blueprint to grind out a decisive win against Masvidal. Through 25 minutes in their first meeting at UFC 251, Usman stood toe-to-toe with “Gamebred” for only eight minutes, opting instead to sap his will against the cage for 10 minutes and work from top control for almost seven.

When they operate at distance, a position where both fighters spend roughly three minutes of each round, Covington usually pushes the pace and tends to throw a mixture of 80 head jabs and powers strikes per five minutes in the position (P5M). While Masvidal’s no slouch on volume himself, Covington tends to outwork him by 24 extra strikes if the whole five-minute round took place at distance. That’s a lot of potential damage.

While Masvidal tends to be the more accurate striker, Covington can still win the damage battle through sheer volume alone or opt to initiate a clinch or takedown game. In clinch work, Covington outstrikes with cage control 84% of the time while Masvidal gets pressed against the cage in 70% of his clinch time. He tries to stay aggressive, especially with power shots to the body, but Covington’s cage control should be a headache to deal with. In the takedown department, even after going 0-for-11 in his latest outing against Usman, Covington still finishes 57% of his takedown shots from distance and 43% when clinched up. Meanwhile Masvidal’s defense is either below the welterweight average (distance) or just about equal to it (clinch).

Should the fight stay at distance for a significant period, Covington hasn’t shown much, if any, punching power. He dropped his only foe six years ago and all three of his knockdown metrics are utterly god awful. Repeat: utterly god awful. That being said, if ever there’s a time to get knockdown #2, Masvidal’s been dropped by seven different opponents over the course of his 26 documented fights.

While Covington likely doesn’t need to crack Masvidal to the canvas to secure a win, Gamebred, on the other hand, may need exactly that. Even though he’s not as active as Covington in the distance striking game, he’s accurate, absorbs well below the welterweight average of 13 power strikes P5M, and two of his three knockdown metrics are more than double that of the typical welterweight (and about a million times larger than Covington’s).

So what are Masvidal’s chances? It’s pretty unlikely he’ll outwork Covington. And if he starts getting the better of it on the feet, Covington has options. He can transition to control positions in the clinch and probably also the ground.

From a statistical perspective, it looks like Masvidal’s got a power puncher’s (or knee’ers) chance and maybe a Jon Jones’ toe situation to get the win. But there’s also a reason one-third of all UFC fights end in an upset. You never really know. This one should be enjoyable even if probably lacking suspense.

Bring on the glorious fights!

Statistical Notes: 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). 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 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.

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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