The all-heavyweight main card at UFC 146 in Las Vegas on May 26 is the perfect storm for taking a look at some of the best strikers in the division.
The heavyweight class is a great place to hone in on striking stats. On average, heavyweights spend 60 percent of the fight on their feet, and their knockout percentage is higher than any other weight class.
To better understand stand-up striking performance—which is more multifaceted in MMA than it is in boxing—there are important variables to recognize that help determine success as a striker, including these three fundamental offensive metrics:
Using power head-striking accuracy (as opposed to body or leg strikes, or jabs to the head), the average for UFC heavyweights is somewhere around 29 percent. The accuracy of the power head strike is a great indicator of a fighter’s striking prowess. This is the vertical axis in the graph.
• STAND-UP STRIKING PACE
Prior analysis reveals that outpacing opponents is a key indicator to success, and it certainly correlates with winning decisions, as it reflects which fighter is dictating the pace of the fight. This metric represents the total number of stand-up strikes thrown as a ratio to the same output from a fighter’s opponent. All strikes attempted from a stand-up position are counted, including body shots and leg kicks. This is the horizontal axis in the graph.
• KNOCKDOWN RATE
The objective of every strike thrown is to hurt your opponent, and knockdowns reflect a fighter that has connected with a powerful strike. This metric represents the total number of knockdowns a fighter lands, corrected by the amount of total fight time—to see who does the most damage in the least amount of time. The size of the bubble for a fighter indicates their relative knockdown rate—the bigger the bubble, the higher his knockdown rate.
Junior dos Santos is currently the gold standard for striking in the UFC heavyweight division, with the shiny strap to prove it. His boxing has long been touted as the best among his peers, and the numbers certainly back that up. “Cigano” is at the top of the heap in almost every way. In fact, if he improved his power striking accuracy by a mere 3 percent to catch the division leader Mike Russow, dos Santos would lead every category on his way to a stochastic domination of the UFC heavyweights. However, if jabs are factored in, JDS’s ridiculous 38 percent accuracy does edge Russow’s 35 percent, so in aggregate, JDS is still a relative pugilistic sniper. He also outpaces his opponents more than 2:1, with accurate striking and clear knockdown power, solidifying his position as the best heavyweight striker in the UFC.
Also pushing their metrics into the high performing quadrant of the analysis are some familiar names. K-1 crossover Mark Hunt has brought his accurate strikes to the Octagon, and he also outworks his opponents. Hunt needed that accuracy in his recent knockout of Cheick Kongo, who is an impressive but slightly sloppier striker.
Cain Velasquez has also shown good accuracy and a propensity for knockdowns in his dominant performances that led him to a UFC title. It’s especially impressive considering Velasquez comes from a wrestling background. Up-and-comers Brendan Schaub and Matt Mitrione have succeeded in different ways to stay ahead of the herd, while landing some epic knockouts along the way. It will be interesting to see how they develop with a little more Octagon time.
Alistair Overeem remains an enigma in this analysis. Despite including all his heavyweight fights spanning a variety of non-UFC promotions with numerous first-round knockouts, he has not consistently controlled the striking pace. He has shown excellent accuracy, like fellow K-1 striker Hunt, and he has scored his share of knockdowns. However, keep in mind that many of his fights have not been
against elite opponents.
Note that grizzled division gatekeepers Frank Mir and Antonio “Big Nog” Nogueira occupy the dead center of the graph. How fighters perform against these two is a good indicator of where they stand in the division. And while newcomer Shane del Rosario has been highly accurate in his Strikeforce wins, Bigfoot Silva—also making his UFC debut on this card— has lagged the pack.
Even at the highest level of the sport, there’s quite a spread of skill and talent. But when the heavyweights step in the cage, one thing is for sure— it only takes one heavy-handed strike to end someone’s night.
UFC 146: HERE COME THE HEAVIES
For the first time in UFC history, all five fights on the main card will be heavyweight bouts—that’s more than 2,500 pounds of pay-per-view power. Don’t blink, because when the big boys start swinging, it’s good night, Irene. To keep you savvy with the heavies, here’s a breakdown of some of the particulars behind the poundage.
JUNIOR DOS SANTOS
Weight: 240 lbs.
FIGHT! Rank: #1
Weight: 263 lbs.
FIGHT! Rank: #2
Weight: 240 lbs.
FIGHT! Rank: #3
Weight: 260 lbs.
FIGHT! Rank: #5
Weight: 265 lbs.
FIGHT! Rank: #13
Weight: 246 lbs.
FIGHT! Rank: #18
SHANE DEL ROSARIO
Weight: 248 lbs.
FIGHT! Rank: #20
Weight: 250 lbs.
FIGHT! Rank: #47
Weight: 264 lbs.
FIGHT! Rank: #15
Weight: 256 lbs.
FIGHT! Rank: #14