Who Are the Best Strikers at UFC 214?
UFC 214 is arguably the best fight card of 2017, taking place this Saturday (July 29, 2017) with three titles on the line in one night. Not only do we finally see a Jon Jones-Daniel Cormier rematch, we also finally see Cris "Cyborg" Justino get a title shot, and finally see Tyron Woodley defend his title against someone other than Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson.
We were overdue for all of it, but the gifts keep on coming. Two of the most game scrappers in the UFC today, Donald Cerrone and Robbie Lawler, will also face off, and yet there are even more gifted strikers elsewhere on the card. So let’s see how they all stack up in terms of key striking metrics, who stands out, and exactly how.
How the Graph Works
This balloon (or bubble) chart includes the fighters competing this weekend with sufficient sample size. Many of them will move with more cage-time, but it’s a good snapshot of how they’ve performed to date.
The four metrics in the graph are all related to offensive striking. First, the vertical axis is the power head striking accuracy. This is a general reflection of a striker’s skill level in technique. But some fighters are more aggressive than others, while some are primarily counter-strikers, and those characteristics lead to very different striking styles. So the horizontal axis indicates the ratio of strike attempts while standing compared to the same fighter’s opponents. It’s a measure of output, and a proxy for aggression. An even 1.0 ratio means a fighter matches the pace of their opponents when standing and trading, while a higher number shows more aggressive and higher-volume strikers compared to lower ratios indicating counter-strikers.
The dots are plotted based on those two metrics, but two more variables are also shown. The size of the bubble is based on the fighter’s Knockdown Rate in the UFC/Strikeforce/WEC. Bigger bubbles mean a lot more power, while the small specks indicate fighters who haven’t logged a distance knockdown in recorded competition. And lastly, southpaw/switch stance strikers are in red. Unorthodox strikers are rare, but are worth highlighting as some fighters have trouble with southpaws.
Best in Class
Cyborg maxes out just about every striking metric in the women’s divisions. To date, Cyborg has thrown 2.4 times the strike volume while standing, and landed 40 percent of distance power head strikes amidst that furious pace. On the UFC 214 card, she presses the pace at the highest rate, and manages to maintain the highest accuracy while doing so. Add on to that volume and precision the most power in her division, and then you have a perfect storm. No wonder her current betting odds are sitting north of 10-to-1.
Several fighters are closely packed with highly precise striking, including some who will face each other. While Volkan Oezdemir edges out the rest at 35 percent, there are others who maintained their precision through far more UFC appearances. That includes former welterweight champion Lawler, who doesn’t mind standing in the pocket when he’s landing 34 percent of his brutal power strikes.
Facing Oeszdemir, Jimi Manuwa’s striking is nearly as crisp at 33 percent. That fight should be a shootout between accurate leather slingers.
And in the main event, both Jones and Cormier both land with similar accuracy – but that should be affected by the massive one-foot reach differential between them.
Behind Cyborg’s aggressive pace, Jason Knight shows up as the next most voluminous striker. He outpaces his opponents by 89 percent on volume.
The next most aggressive is Aljamain Sterling, who throws 41 percent more volume than opponents. However, it’s worth noting his accuracy and power are both below benchmark. This profile is very similar to other talented grapplers who use aggression on the feet to set up takedowns.
Honorable mentions go to two other young instigators, Renato Carneiro and Andre Fili.
There may not be any heavyweights on the card Saturday, but there is plenty of firepower among the welterweights competing on the main card. And the king of knockout power at 170 pounds is Woodley, with a double-digit Knockdown Rate of 11 percent. With nine total knockdowns scored in Strikeforce/UFC action, he’s managed at least one in each of his three UFC title fights. Against grappling specialist Demian Maia this Saturday, surely Woodley hopes to keep the fight standing and score a 10th knockdown.
Cerrone takes second place at 7.3 percent, with 19 Knockdowns in WEC/UFC action, putting him on pace to potentially tie the UFC record if he can keep fighting long enough. His opponent Lawler has also recorded a high number of career knockdowns at 12, but has done so at a lower overall pace.
Just behind Cerrone is Manuwa (7.0 percent), a striking specialist at light heavyweight who will likely go toe-to-toe with Oezdemir. The winner will be very interested in what happens in the final fight of the night between Jones and Cormier.
And yet again, there’s Cyborg. Her Knockdown Rate of 5.3 percent may not be the highest on the fight card, but it is the highest among the female divisions – all of them!
Get it on the Ground!
We’ve called out Maia before in this category, and once again he deserves the accolade. It’s not to take away from his best in class grappling, it’s just that this is an assessment of striking skills, which appear to be an afterthought for Maia. His matchup with Woodley will absolutely require him to get close, and stay close. His strikes in between won’t be intended to do damage, so much as to distract and buy time or distance during takedown attempts.
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Dropping science in the cage with UFC statistics & analytics. Quantifying underlying drivers of the fight game, and ending barroom disputes everywhere.
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