The UFC’s middleweight division is full of talented strikers, but it’s no surprise that Anderson “The Spider” Silva stands alone.
Taking a point-in-time assessment of a division’s roster is a quick way to compare fighters without having to wait for a matchup that may take years to materialize, if ever. It’s not perfect, but if done properly, it should show some basic performance patterns among fighters. From a fan’s perspective, it adds a new dimension of understanding and appreciation of the competitors we pay to see. Let’s focus on the UFC middleweight division, which is now in need of a top contender to face Anderson Silva.
To understand stand-up striking performance, which is more multifaceted in MMA than it is in boxing, let’s identify a few of the most important variables that determine success as a striker. These are fairly uncomplicated variables in isolation, but together they can summarize a fighter’s overall capabilities, including these three offensive metrics.
• Accuracy: Using power head striking accuracy (as opposed to body or leg strikes, or jabs to the head), the average for UFC middleweights is about 26 percent. The accuracy of the power head strike is a great indicator of a fi ghter’s striking prowess, and there’s a wide range within a single division. This is the vertical axis, so more accurate fi ghters are higher in the graph.
• Standup Striking Pace: Prior analysis reveals that outpacing your opponent is a key predictor of success, and it certainly correlates with winning decisions, as it reflects which fi ghter is dictating the pace of the fi ght. Using the total number of stand-up strikes thrown as a ratio to the same output from a fi ghter’s opponents, all strikes attempted from a stand-up position are counted, including body shots and leg kicks. This is the horizontal axis in the graph, and the average for the whole division must be one, so fi ghters with superior pace appear farther to the right.
• 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. Using the total number of knockdowns a fighter landed, corrected by the amount of total fi ght time they have, will show 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 their knockdown rate. The very small bubbles indicate fighters who have yet to score a knockdown in the UFC.
The data includes all UFC, WEC, and Strikeforce fights through June 2012, including UFC 147. Fighters with 15 minutes or less of fight time in the UFC middleweight division were excluded from the chart, which amounts to 12 active fighters, including Vitor Belfort.
THE SNIPER CHAMPION
Anderson Silva is the longest reigning UFC champion in history. He’s also the most accurate power striker in the middleweight division, landing a whopping 40 percent of his power head strikes. When it comes to overall signifi cant strikes, Silva is again the best in the business in terms of accuracy, with a UFC-leading 68 percent according to FightMetric.com.
Silva also pairs his superior accuracy with knockout power, having landed more knockdowns in the UFC (16) than any fighter in history, including heavier champions such as Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, and Chuck Liddell. With his dominant combination of superior accuracy and knockout power, it’s no surprise then that Anderson Silva remains the best fighter on the planet.
The last man to hold the UFC Middleweight Title before Silva was Rich Franklin, who has logged nine (T)KO stoppages in his UFC career. He leads all middleweights with an average stand-up striking pace that is more than double that of his opponents. He pairs that furious pace with 38 percent power head striking accuracy, third overall among active middleweights.
Two contenders set to collide, Brian Stann and Michael Bisping, have excelled in very different ways in the Octagon. Despite only “average” accuracy, Stann has clear knockout power combined with the ability to the push the pace of action. Bisping, on the other hand, has superior striking accuracy, but only outpaces opponents in volume by 20 percent, and rarely ever scores knockdowns. It will be very interesting to see how Bisping handles Stann’s onslaught in their upcoming bout at UFC 152. As Stann perfects his striking under coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, he is well positioned to assume the role of one of the most feared middleweight strikers.
Interestingly, recent title challenger Chael Sonnen shows up as a below-average striker in terms of accuracy and knockdown power, but he has made up for it by generally outworking opponents.
The newest addition to the middleweight title picture, Chris Weidman, also has poor accuracy and average pace. But he also continues to improve, as evidenced by his recent destruction of Mark Munoz.
STRIKERS TO WATCH
Cung Le logged his first UFC victory against Patrick Cote at UFC 148. Notably, it was his first ever win by decision, as all his other wins have come by strikes. Despite being 40 years old, there’s still a few fights left in Le, and a potential fight with Rich Franklin would make for a matchup between two elite strikers.
Italian boxer Alessio Sakara brings excellent striking accuracy to the Octagon. Since his recent loss to Brian Stann, Sakara is without a new opponent. But at only 30 years old, he still has plenty of knockout performances ahead to add to his four UFC stoppage victories so far.
Tristar Gym product Francis Carmont is perhaps the newest name to turn heads in the middleweight division, with three consecutive victories in less than a year in the UFC. Training partner and UFC welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre believes Carmont can make a run at the title, and that would match up the two most accurate strikers in the division.
Cypriot boxer Constantinos Philippou is undefeated in four UFC fights at middleweight. Now training with the Serra-Longo Fight Team, Philippou’s powerful and accurate striking will be seen on bigger stages in the near future. That’s good news for fans who like to see a brawler who can drop opponents.
Showing up above current contenders Tim Boetsch and Alan Belcher is Aaron Simpson. As the current division traffic jam works itself out, watch out for A-Train to keep chugging along.
OTHER MIDDLEWEIGHT DISTINCTIONS
Jason MacDonald gets the dubious honor of the division’s worst striker, as evidenced by being on the receiving end of Tom Lawlor’s Knockout of the Night performance in May.
The aforementioned Lawlor holds down the dead center of the striking assessment chart, showing that even an “average” UFC middleweight is capable of a devastating knockout.
Wrestler Nick Catone holds a lower left corner spot on the striking chart, showing low accuracy, no UFC knockdowns, and the lowest relative striking pace in the division.