One of the most anticipated matchups of the year should finally arrive Saturday afternoon at UFC 280. If we can’t get the lightweight champ Charles Oliveira (not technically, but in spirit) against the undefeated former divisional champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, then Islam Makhachev sure is a nice consolation prize.
It’s the second time in two months the UFC will have a numbered-event headlining battle with double-digit win streaks. The “champ” Oliveira has been perfect for an 11-fight run while Makhachev just hit 10 wins in a row with his latest drubbing of Bobby Green in February. Both are statistical warriors, so let’s jump in and see what the position-by-position analysis says about Saturday’s main event matchup.
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) minimize the effects of one huge or horrible performance more quickly as time goes by. See the notes at the bottom for definitions of certain statistics.
Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev
While both fighters come in riding nice win streaks, Makhachev has had the more dominant streak, according to RoboJudge, with 6-of-10 wins having statistical dominance of 90+% while the same only held true for three of Oliveira’s last 11 wins. But what Oliveira lacked in overall dominance, he made up for with the decisiveness of his outcomes: seven taps, three KO/TKOs, and one set of unanimous 30-26 scorecards with 99.5% dominance against Tony Ferguson.
“do Bronx” may get off to slow starts at times, but the man has finished with authority.
All fights start at distance, a position where Oliveira and Makhachev each spend a little over two of every five minutes. But they do it in different ways.
Oliveira uses head jabs in a relatively typical manner, just with lower output, while Makhachev basically doesn’t throw them. Attempting 25% fewer head jabs than the average lightweight and landing a miniscule 12%, if Makhachev does throw a jab it’s essentially a distraction to setup a combo or takedown attempt.
In the power department, Oliveira’s been the volume and precision striker at distance, throwing 52.9 power strikes per five minutes in the position (p5m) and landing 59% compared to Makhachev’s 27.4 and 48% and the average lightweight’s 36.4 and 39%. Oliveira also does a decent job mixing up his attacks to the body and legs, but it’s opponents’ heads that he tags more than twice as often as Makhachev and with an impressive 54% accuracy.
Where things could get interesting is that Makhachev’s head power defense has been exceptional. He’s only eaten 14 of his opponents’ 118 power strikes to the head (12%). For perspective, an average lightweight absorbs 29% of those same shots and Oliveira’s been letting through an ungodly 48%. On top of his impressive defense, Makhachev’s opponents have been much more hesitant to throw power strikes to his head in the first place, probably due to the constant threat of a powerful takedown. So this should make for an interesting fight line to watch out for on Saturday. Will Oliveira also be hesitant to attack Makhachev’s head with power or will he keep being aggressive? Will he still be as precise? Will Makhachev’s head defense hold up against a striker of Oliveira’s caliber? It’s hard to answer these questions, but unless the fight immediately goes to the clinch or the ground, something’s got to give here.
Another aspect of power is knockdowns. While do Bronx has a clear advantage in offensive knockdown power with all three of his metrics coming in two to five times as high as Makhachev’s, his defensive knockdown metrics are also high but could easily be misleading since we can never truly be sure how many times he Werdum’d himself to the canvas to dare opponents to the ground or buy more time to recover. Makhachev’s only been dropped once, but that one moment led to his only UFC loss way back when Daniel Cormier defended his light heavyweight strap against Alexander Gustafsson.
Since it’s virtually inevitable that at least one will try to implement their takedown game on the other, or maybe even both will, Oliveira and Makhachev look statistically similar in the takedown department when it comes to volume – whether shooting at distance or working upper or lower body takedowns from the clinch. At distance, that’s where the similarities end though. While Oliveira’s 47% success rate is significantly better than the 30% lightweight average, Makhachev’s been landing far above Oliveira’s rate, and he’s yet to be taken down himself.
From the clinch, things are slightly different. Makhachev is still solid everywhere: 61% overall success rate, similar success for upper and lower body takedowns, and 7.9 attempts p5m (versus the lightweight average of 5.1). While Oliveira’s had similar effectiveness with lower body takedowns (60% completion), his poor upper body performance against Dustin Poirier (0-for-3) dragged down his alternative stats and could signal trouble if he wants to do the same to Makhachev.
If they clinch up, it’s usually only for a very short period of time, around 30 seconds per round. They each out-strike their opponents in the clinch while attempting a high volume of takedowns, but Oliveira’s power strike differential is far greater than Makhachev’s and he mixes up his strikes almost 50/50 between the head and body. Makhachev, on the other hand, sends almost 70% of his clinch attacks to the body when he’s not off-balancing opponents to the canvas with a takedown.
And the ground is where things should get interesting. Please, Fight Gods, let this battle go to the ground!
Both fighters typically have control on the ground, although Makhachev’s 95% control percentage is much higher than Oliveira’s. They both throw reasonable rates of ground-and-pound, but they’re not typically setting up GnP TKOs. Oliveira’s looking to set up his submissions, which he attempts more than 100% as often as both Makhachev and an average lightweight. And while Makhachev doesn’t have crazy submission volume, when he locks one up, the fight ends around 60% of the time.
If there’s no submission and Makhachev ends up on his back, he’s had good success at both getting back to his feet and sweeping opponents. When Oliveira’s on his back, he’s also had decent success with reversals, but his standup rate is only around 50% the lightweight average. He still has a tendency to get stuck on bottom sometimes and that might not bode well against a ground fighter of Makhachev’s caliber.
Distance, clinch, ground. No matter where this main event scrap takes place on Saturday, it should all be fun – or at least suspenseful.
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. 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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