Who Are the Best Strikers at UFC Norfolk?


Coming off the heels of arguably the most epic fight card of the year at UFC 217, fight fans could have been poised for a letdown as the UFC takes their roadshow to a smaller market. But as luck would have it, while the circus sticks around the mid-Atlantic region by heading to Norfolk, Virginia for a FOX Sports 1 Fight Night, they stacked the card with a formidable cadre of veteran fighters who give fans plenty of reasons to remain tuned in.

Headlined by lightweights vying for relevance in the title picture, the rest of the card is elevated by some of the most tenured fighters still active in the sport. There are former title holders, title challengers, and TUF tournament winners, including a winner of the very first season (Diego Sanchez). The fighters spanning this fight card have combined for nearly 50 hours of measured Octagon time! So, there’s no lack of name recognition for any fan who has been following the sport since before the Rousey-McGregor era.

But who among them can make a case for being the best striker on the card? How does each stack up against the others, and who excels the most in terms of Precision, Pace, and Power? Let’s check the numbers to find out.

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.

Click to enlarge.


Best in Class

Dustin “Diamond” Poirier has been on the cusp of a title shot for years. His only losses in the UFC have come against highly ranked talent, including one to Conor McGregor. He’s a highly accurate striker, and is willing to stand and trade, typically outworking his opponents in high-paced fire fights. While he’s been knocked out twice, his 12-4 (1 NC) record contains plenty of highlight reel finished to his credit, a testament to his striking ability.

Notably, his opponent Anthony Pettis can make similar claims. The man who landed the Showtime Kick that will live on UFC highlight shows for eternity has also managed to combine pace, precision and power. When Pettis and Poirier trade leather, we’ll be seeing some of the best pure strikers in the division. May the better man win, and take those skills up the lightweight ranks.

Snipers

As mentioned, Dustin Poirier’s striking has been excellent, and he’s landed power head strikes with 42% success over a long, and competitive career. Accuracy above 40% is rare in the UFC, even more so after so many fights against solid opposition.

A number of other veterans also rate highly in their precision, including Matt Brown, John Dodson, Anthony Pettis and Nate Marquardt. Each has managed to be precise against many of the ranked opponents in their respective divisions, and each has maintained an above average Knockdown Rate. The presence of these fighters on the card ensure we’ll be seeing technical and dangerous striking throughout the event.

High-Pressure Strikers

Former TUF winner Court McGee has had a difficult path since winning his season’s tournament. He’s been unable to put together a win streak since his first year in the UFC, partly perhaps due to his inaccurate striking style. He certainly is willing to press the pace, averaging 16.6 strikes per minute while standing (more than any fighter on the card), and attempting more than 40% more volume of strikes than his opponents. While that’s helped him win some decisions, it also often leaves the fight in the hands of the judges.

Jake Collier also presses the pace, but at the risk of being hit more often than he can hit opponents. His pace is high, but his accuracy and defense are low. That’s a dangerous game to play now that he’s at Light Heavyweight. Though his opponent Marcel Fortuna is known more for his submission game than his striking.

Nina Ansaroff shows up in the successful upper right quadrant by combining aggression with precision. And notably, she’s also facing one of the more reserved strikers on the card in Angela Hill. But Hill is also accurate, suggesting she prefers to counter-strike, and thus this matchup could play to her favor. Or, perhaps, Ansaroff will be able to dictate the pace the of the fight and secure rounds on the cards.

Sluggers

Two of the least experienced fighters on the card currently have skewed stats that have favored their early success. Sage Northcutt’s 7.1% Knockdown Rate is based on only one knockdown scored to date. And while Jake Collier has scored two knockdowns with a rate of 6.3%, he’s taken more damage than he’s delivered so far.

The true honor for knockdown artistry should go to Nate Marquardt. Through 266 minutes of measured fight time, he’s scored 12 knockdowns at a rate of 5.2%, nearly double his division’s average. He’ll be taking on a fairly powerful striker in his own right, Cezar Ferreira who owns a Knockdown Rate of 3.2%, meaning that matchup has a lot of potential to end early.

Second among the veterans is former Heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski, with 10 knockdowns scored at a rate of 4.9%. His opponent, relative newcomer Junior Albini dispatched his first opponent by TKO in less than three minutes, meaning yet again we have a matchup with a strong possibility for fireworks.

Honorable mention to Poirier who has racked up ten knockdowns at a rate of 3.6%, similar stats to the Heavyweight Arlovski, but achieved at much lighter weight. And finally, the lightest of the heavy hitters, John Dodson, has eight knockdowns scored at a rate of 4.8%, exemplifying “punching above his weight.”

Get it on the Ground!

Joe Lauzon isn’t normally remembered for his striking, given his seasoned submission game. But don’t let his reluctance for pulling the trigger fool you. Though he tends not to initiate striking exchanges, choosing to carefully determine position, Lauzon has surprised many opponents with vicious counters, and has dropped three opponents to date. He’s also the record holder for fight night bonuses, making him must watch TV for any fight fan.

The two least likely to succeed with their hands are Clay Guida and Matthew Lopez. Both have a wrestling base, and have been effective when using their ground game. Neither has dominating pace, and neither has been able to pair precision with power. Lopez strikes with above average accuracy but has never scored a knockdown. Meanwhile, Guida does occasionally swing for the fences with power, but has the lowest accuracy of any fighter on the card.

Tags: UFC Stats & Analytics with Reed Kuhn

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Reed Kuhn

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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