UFC 274 goes down this Saturday night in Phoenix headlined by Charles “Do Bronx” Oliveira’s second defense of his lightweight strap. With challenger Justin Gaethje, we’ve got a back-to-back lightweight title matchup with two excellent strikers who are also very hittable in their own right.
The co-main event will be skipped as 2022 “Thug” Rose Namajunas should be able to handle strawweight title challenger Carla Esparza in a way 2014 Thug Rose couldn’t. We’ll see if there are any interesting stats for Chandler-Ferguson and Cerrone-Lauzon instead.
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.
Charles Oliveira vs. Justin Gaethje
Following four losses in six fights, Oliveira’s now in the midst of a 10-fight winning streak, including nine finishes (only the Ferguson fight went to a decision). His opponent Gaethje is coming off a thrilling win in 2021’s Fight of the Year. He generally likes to keep the fight standing, attempting only a single takedown during his UFC tenure, eight fights ago.
But the takedowns we should be concerned with are Oliveira’s. Gaethje had done an excellent job keeping his back off the canvas until meeting Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254. Entering that fight, Gaethje had been controlled on the ground for a grand total of only 17 seconds. Then it took Khabib only 55 seconds of top control to triangle the former WSOF champion into oblivion.
Could something similar happen Saturday night?
Gaethje largely deals with distance takedown shots since he’s been excellent at staying out of the clinch. He only spends 21 seconds of every 5-minute round clinched up (43 seconds lightweight average) and in only 10 seconds of that time is he pressed or pressing against the cage. When he’s at distance, Gaethje’s defended a respectable 64% of takedown attempts (70% average) but the champ Oliveira’s been landing them at a solid 54% success rate (30% average).
Should they clinch up, Gaethje’s only experienced a single takedown attempt during his UFC tenure – a successful lower body takedown from Eddie Alvarez back at UFC 218. Oliveira’s been completing them at an excellent 60% clip (43% average) but the question is, can he get to the position to try?
If Oliveira gets on top, it should be his world, with half guard or better 42% of the time and finishes in 16 of his 38 submission attempts, plus four more that Fightmetric classified as “tight” yet unsuccessful. Oliveira’s technical grappling results in his opponents standing up or sweeping at less than half the rate of a typical lightweight fighter. To his credit, Gaethje stands up at a roughly 150% better rate than average. The danger in Oliveira’s world, though, is the openings that could create.
But every fight and every round starts standing. In that environment, Gaethje’s stats are much more respectable and dangerous.
At distance, where he spends 88% of his fight time, Gaethje lands 41% of his head jabs and a whopping 62% of his power strikes, targeting almost exclusively the head and legs. Gaethje still ends up a net absorber of head jabs to the tune of -4.9 per five minutes in the position (P5M), but he out-lands his opponents with power at a +8.5 differential P5M (+4.8 to the head, +9.1 to the legs, -5.4 to the body).
While he spends less than half the time per round at distance as Gaethje, Oliveira’s also a volume striker, throwing more head jabs and power shots P5M than Gaethje. He too has a negative differential with head jabs and lands with power at a very high clip (57%). The biggest difference is Oliveira’s differential. He only out-strikes his opponents with power at a +4.8 differential P5M, and his edge comes to the legs. He’s a net absorber of power to the head and body.
A distance standup affair should be a fun one and looks like it could edge to Gaethje. Can Oliveira successfully work to the clinch? Can he take the fight to the ground from distance or the clinch? And what role will knockdown power play in Saturday night’s scrap?
Gaethje beats Oliveira by roughly 50% in one knockdown metric (round percentage) while Oliveira more than triples Gaethje in the other two (knockdown rate and strike percentage). Yet on the defensive side, all three of Gaethje’s metrics are far superior to Oliveira.
Finally there’s that little thing called endurance. I always qualify any stats in this area with “cardio is hard to measure,” and Oliveira doesn’t yet have enough data from performances in the 4th and 5th rounds. But in the non-championship rounds, his rate of connecting with power at distance drops off 37% between the 1st and 3rd rounds. Gaethje’s drops off too, but only by 5%.
The main thing these numbers tell me is I can’t wait for Saturday night!
Michael Chandler vs. Tony Ferguson
Chandler doesn’t have enough Zuffa data for alternative stats, but both fighters throw heavy volume and both get out-struck with power shots at distance. Ferguson hasn’t dropped an opponent since Josh Thomson almost seven years ago. Meanwhile, Chandler put the leather on Dan Hooker and gave Oliveira and Gaethje a scare in each of his three UFC appearances.
It seems unlikely Ferguson will out-cardio Chandler in a 3-round fight, or even a 5-rounder, so this should be a fun one to witness. Chandler’s only attempted one takedown in his three documented fights, but how fun would it be to see Chandler on top of Ferguson? Ferguson’s guard attacks, more than triple the typical rate of sub attempts with a 38% success rate vs. Chandler’s 81 power strike attempts P5M and 52 landed, each more than triple the typical lightweight.
Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon
The main card opens with 458 Zuffa minutes (Cerrone) against 213 (Lauzon). Both fighters bust up faces and get their faces busted up at a rate more than double the lightweight average, so that could make things fun.
You don’t even want to know their alternative stats power differentials. Cerrone’s is respectable from a lifetime stats perspective then turns ugly more recently. JLau, on the other hand, runs a -17.6 distance power differential P5M lifetime, which grows to -20.4 in alternative stats world. Basically, they both allow 40-43% of distance power strikes to land flush to their head (29% average). The good news is it’s not possible for two fighters to run negative differentials in the same striking category in the same bout. Someone’s gotta outperform!
If the fight transitions out of distance, they both spend a less than typical amount of time in the clinch where, again, they’re both substantial net absorbers of strikes. If things go to the ground, Cerrone’s usually the one on top (81% to 58%) and they both operate with nice volume and a strong sub attempt rate.
Should be quite the fun opener, especially for older-school fight fans.
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 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. 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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