UFC 290 goes down Saturday night as the climax to the promotion’s annual International Fight Week in Las Vegas. While Volkanovski-Rodriguez may not have the cachet of a typical July 4th weekend headliner, we get two title fights on this PPV card as flyweight champion Brandon Moreno puts his belt on the line for a third shot at his UFC nemesis Alexandre Pantoja. But we’ll be focusing on the main event here.
After unsuccessfully challenging for the 155 lb. belt, Volkanovski’s cutting back down to 145 to defend his featherweight strap. And as the interim champ, Rodriguez brings a (custom) belt of his own to the mix. Both talented and action fighters, this should make for a fun UFC 290 main event on Saturday night, so let’s see what the number have to say before they get in the cage.
Remember, what you’re about to read are not official UFC statistics. They’re alternative stats generated from official statistics and 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.
UFC 290: Alexander Volkanovski vs. Yair Rodriguez
While Volkanovski and Rodriguez each have 13 UFC fights in the books, Volkanovski’s scraps have tended to be longer (thanks to Max Holloway and others) while Rodriguez’s fights have tended to be closer. “Pantera” has only won three of his 13 fights with a dominance measure of 90% or higher while Volkanovski’s taken six, almost seven, of his contests by that margin.
When it comes to positioning, both fighters are, in one sense, similar in terms of where their fights take place. Out of every five-minute round, they each spend 34-37 seconds in the clinch and over three minutes fighting at distance. But when we look a little closer, there are some very important differences.
Volkanovski owns the clinch and the ground
Even though they spend a similar amount of time in the clinch, Volkanovski’s the controlling fighter 69% of the time. Meanwhile, Rodriguez has his back to the cage 83% of his clinch time, defending 6.0 takedown attempts per five minutes in the position (p5m; 5.1 attempts is average). And when he’s not defending takedowns, Rodriguez absorbs a clinch power strike differential of -7.6 p5m. Volkanovski, on the other hand, dishes out a +6.4 power strike differential from his superior clinch positioning and activity.
When their fights go to the ground, Volkanovski has top control 60% of the time to Rodriguez’s 20%. And while he’s yet to tap an opponent out, Volkanovski lands 47.9 power strikes p5m from the ground and only absorbs two. That wasn’t a typo… TWO. His power strike differential from the ground is an incredible +45.9.
The question for this UFC 290 main event then becomes, will Volkanovski want to clinch up or take the fight to the ground, and will he be able to?
Volkanovski hasn’t been much of a takedown artist from distance. He does most of his work from the clinch where he attempts about 30% more than average but lands at a subpar rate. The net effect is he gets his opponents to the ground about as often as a typical featherweight, 2.2 – 2.3 times p5m in the clinch. 2.2 also happens to be the exact number of times Rodriguez gets taken down p5m of clinch time, so we’ll have to see how this aspect of the fight plays out on Saturday.
Volkanovski also hasn’t been great at keeping his opponents on the ground once they’re down. They stand up at almost double the rate of a typical featherweight. But Rodriguez has been pretty poor himself at getting back to his feet, standing up 32% less than average.
All of which brings us to where every fight starts – on the feet at distance.
Rodriguez’s stats come alive at distance
While they both throw a similar number of head jabs, Volkanovski’s been better at landing his jabs and so basically doubles Rodriguez’s output. But in the power department, Rodriguez is the volume fighter throwing 56.7 power strikes p5m to Volkanovski’s 35.6. He also mixes up his targeting to the body and legs a bit better.
Volkanovski’s been able to make up some of this output deficit with efficiency and defense, but the end result is that Rodriguez maintains a distance power strike differential of +8.0 to Volkanovski’s +6.5.
When it comes to the other element of power – knockdowns – the clear edge goes to Volkanovski with all three knockdown metrics better than Rodriguez’s by a factor of around 50%. On the flip side, Rodriguez hasn’t ever been knocked down in the UFC, but Volkanovski’s chin has also been solid. His only time getting dropped was by Chad Mendes eight fights ago.
The stats say this could be anybody’s fight at UFC 290 if it’s contested mostly at distance. But if significant time is spent in the clinch or on the ground for any reason other than a Rodriguez knockdown, it should be the Volk show from there.
Bring on the glorious fights at UFC 290!
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).
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.
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