I’ve been thinking a lot about striking recently, and ways to measure striking. There are two main difficulties to deal with: a general lack of information and small sample sizes. I’m hoping the former problem can be solved over time, but the latter problem will always exist, as mixed martial arts is not conducive to large samples.
There are two aspects to striking: volume and power. A fighter with immense power who lands five strikes per fight still isn’t going to score many knockouts. Meanwhile, a fighter who lands strikes all the time but has no power will still give his opponent lots of time to score a KO himself. This post is looking to focus on the power aspect.
The only statistical way I know to measure striking power is to look at strikes landed per knockdown. I would look at fight finishes, but there are all sorts of ways to score a TKO win, and I like to keep things as objective as possible. The lower the strikes landed to knockdowns ratio, the more power a fighter has shown.
The UFC’s website breaks strikes up into three categories: standing, clinch, and ground. I’ve decided to factor out ground strikes, because it’s hard to knock down an opponent who is already on the ground. In this post, strikes landed refers to standing and clinch strikes only.
This specific post will feature the heavyweight division. The UFC only lists fighters currently under contract to their organization, and the striking statistics on each fighter’s page only count strikes landed in UFC fights. That means I won’t be able to list any fighters who haven’t competed in the UFC. Data on knockdowns in this post comes from Fight Metric.
I’m also only listing heavyweights with at least 50 strikes landed. I’d honestly like to make this threshold 200, but then the only fighters who would qualify are Junior dos Santos and Cheick Kongo. Like I said above, small sample sizes are a problem that simply goes along with the nature of the sport of mixed martial arts. This means the following list should be taken with a shaker full of salt.
Here’s the list of heavyweights, listed according to strikes landed per knockdown:
- Brock Lesnar: 17.0 (51 strikes, 3 knockdowns)
- Shane Carwin: 17.5 (70, 4)
- Pat Barry: 20.7 (145, 7)
- Cain Velasquez: 23.7 (142, 6)
- Gabriel Gonzaga: 24.0 (120, 5)
- Mark Hunt: 26.0 (52, 2)
- Frank Mir: 27.7 (166, 6)
- Matt Mitrione: 29.3 (176, 6)
- Brendan Schaub: 31.0 (124, 4)
- Travis Browne: 36.0 (72, 2)
- Junior dos Santos: 38.1 (305, 8)
- Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: 50.3 (151, 3)
- Roy Nelson: 55.0 (110, 2)
- Stipe Miocic: 61.0 (61, 1)
- Mirko Filipovic: 63.0 (189, 3)
- Lavar Johnson: 65.0 (65, 1)
- Stefan Struve: 74.5 (149, 2)
- Dave Herman: 91.0 (91, 1)
- Cheick Kongo: 96.8 (387, 4)
- Shawn Jordan: INF (62, 0)
- Rob Broughton: INF (89, 0)
- Fabricio Werdum: INF (151, 0)
To an extent, the numbers make sense. If you told me that Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, and Pat Barry were the three most powerful heavyweight strikers, I would be inclined to agree. They’re followed by Cain Velasquez, which should put to rest the ridiculous notion that he has “pillow fists.”
Champion Junior dos Santos is in the middle of the pack, but since his volume is off the charts, he’s still able to win by KO more often than not. Give a fighter a reasonable chance of scoring a KO with a strike, and a fighter who lands 100 of them or more over 15 minutes is more likely than not to get that KO.
The biggest surprise to me is Cheick Kongo, but a lot of Kongo’s strikes landed are with knees in the clinch. Even so, he may not have nearly the power that a lot of fans might perceive him to have. In 16 UFC fights, Kongo has knocked his opponent down just four times.
In any event, the list above is interesting to look at, and does at least make sense on the surface. I’ll look into the other weight classes and see if this method of estimating striking power holds up.