If the circumstances are right, you’ll hear fight fans and insiders alike describe upcoming fights as “exciting” or “interesting” or a “banger,” but what exactly does that mean? Well, as it always is in mixed martial arts, styles make fights.
As UFC 249 approaches – a card stacked like no other due to the circumstances around the coronavirus pandemic – it might get a little difficult understanding why exactly these bouts are earning their respective adjectives.
With that in mind, stats can help frame the potential picture the athletes will paint once they step inside the Octagon. While few sports are as unpredictable as MMA, numbers can at least give a projected idea as to what might go down once feet touch the canvas on fight night.
(All stats according to UFC’s Record Book as of May 2, 2020 and only include active athletes in their respective division unless noted otherwise)
Key Stats: 5.82 strikes landed per minute (4th), +2.05 striking differential (2nd), 1.43 submissions per 15 minutes (7th), 12-fight winning streak (tied for 3rd-longest all-time)
What it Means: “El Cucuy” is one of the most well-rounded and dangerous fighters on the roster. Creative in both striking and grappling, Ferguson’s elite cardio allows him to often overwhelm his opponent with forward pressure and attacks from surprising angles. Even when he gets caught, few fighters are more capable of recovering and turning the tables in a blink of an eye.
Key Stats: 8.57 strikes landed per minute (1st all-time), 55.6% significant strike accuracy (1st all-time among LW), 0.95 knockdowns per 15 minutes (3rd)
What it Means: The definition of an all-action fighter, Justin Gaethje doesn’t know how to put on a boring fight, which is why he earned seven performance bonuses in his six UFC fights. Although he touted a newfound, more patient approach after losing two in a row, he has finished each of his last three by first-round knockout. That logic makes sense once you watch “The Highlight” fight for about 30 seconds.
Each fighter holds finishing power and technique to end, or at least significantly alter the fight, at any moment, and neither man knows much in terms of laying off the gas pedal. It won’t be a reckless brawl, but it won’t exactly be a technical chess match, either. This has the makings of the most action-packed fight since Diego Sanchez and Clay Guida went at it in 2009.
Key Stats: 37.3% takedown accuracy (5th*), 64.1% significant strike defense (3rd*), +0.65 strike differential (5th*), 0.09% bottom position percentage (1st all-time*)
What it Means: If you haven’t heard him say it already, Henry Cejudo is an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, and on top of that, his striking improved leaps and bounds as his career has unfolded. He has real power in his hands, and in his bantamweight title-winning fight against Marlon Moraes, Cejudo showed the toughness necessary to turn that fight around, as well as the fact that his strength and power can carry well at 135 pounds.
Key Stats: 70.9% significant strike defense (1st all-time among BW), 21:00 average fight time (1st all-time), 82.8% takedown defense (6th), four title fight wins (2nd all-time among BW)
What it Means: Dominick Cruz might be the most elusive fighter on the roster. With his tricky footwork and seemingly nonstop motor, Cruz often frustrates his opponents and sets traps that turn the fight to his favor as it develops. He’s no slouch in the grappling department, either, often scoring beautifully timed takedowns and scrambling into positive positions when his opponent attacks.
While Cruz might be the greatest bantamweight to grace the Octagon to this point, his last fight came way back in December 2016. Cejudo’s wrestling pedigree is significant, but Cruz isn’t a slouch, either. Cruz holds the significant height and reach advantage, and if his footwork and cardio is still there, he can make life hard for Cejudo no matter how much the Olympian walks forward. It’ll be a matter of who establishes the fight at their pace and style: distance management and bee-sting striking (Cruz), or a gritty, physical contest with relentless pressure (Cejudo).
Key Stats: 1.12 knockdowns per 15 minutes (3rd), 6:05 average fight time (3rd), 1.97 strikes absorbed per minute (2nd), 8 KO/TKO wins (t-6th all-time among HW)
What it Means: Francis Ngannou is arguably the most intimidating puncher to ever enter the Octagon. If he connects, he shakes the foundation of his opponent’s equilibrium, and his reputation is as such that he is often dictating the action. His strikes absorbed per minute is so low mainly because he requires that level of caution. Whether he gets a full wind-up like he did against Alistair Overeem or reacts swiftly like against Cain Velasquez, Ngannou holds dynamite in his hands.
Key Stats: Latest finish in heavyweight history (4:56 of the fifth-round vs Alistair Overeem), 2nd fastest win in heavyweight history (0:09 in the first round vs Allen Crowder)
What it Means: One of 2019’s biggest breakout stars, “Bigi Boy” truly embodied the heavyweight mantra of “it only takes one.” A jab did the job against Crowder, a fading left hook put Andrei Arlovski to sleep, and a full-stretch right hand split Overeem’s lip. The decorated kickboxer is one of the more fluid strikers in the division, as well
Naturally, when heavyweight power punchers collide, the best advice is “don’t blink.” As cliché as that is, it rings true in this bout. If it weren’t for a potential trilogy between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier, Ngannou is deserving of his second title shot. Rozenstruik, to his credit, wanted the matchup with Ngannou, so it’ll be a matter of who is able to land the defining strike. Ngannou’s chin hasn’t been heavily tested just yet, and Rozenstruik has shown he has that freaky, natural kind of power and diversity in striking that can really shake up the division’s big picture.
Key Stats: 53.7% significant strike accuracy (4th all-time among WW), 5.18 strikes landed per minute (5th), nine finishes (t-3rd all-time among WW)
What it Means: One of the most unassuming savages on the roster, Vicente Luque’s finishing instincts are among the best in the UFC. As adept in snatching a submission as he is knocking his opponent out, Luque is the definition of a technical brawler. Rarely does he overextend himself, but he stays busy, pressures often and frequently finds the fight-changing combination.
Key Stats: 5:35 average fight time (2nd), 1.34 knockdowns per 15 minutes (5th all-time among WW), One of two fighters to win via upkick (vs. James Vick)
What it Means: Niko is one of the most creative finishers inside the Octagon. Even from a “disadvantageous” position, he has shown the ability to end the fight in his favor. The unexpected factor allows him to catch his opponents off-guard, and if the window is open to finish the fight, he pounces on it no matter how the opportunity presents itself.
These two are finishers in the purest definition of the term while going about that business in different ways. Luque is a student of constant pressure and tight striking technique, whereas Price’s unorthodox tendencies lead to eye-popping moments in surprising situations. When the two fought in 2017, Luque won by way of second-round submission. While few things are guaranteed in this sport, expectations for a finish are nearly bulletproof. The method, however, is as up in the air as the sport gets.
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