When I started this blog, it was a place for me to experiment with statistics in MMA. I’ve tried all sorts of analysis, using both Fight Metric’s statistics and my own. The experience I’ve gained in the process has led me to four conclusions about the usage of statistics in MMA. Those are the following:
1. Statistics collected for an individual fighter are NOT good for predicting outcomes (due to small sample size).
2. Statistics collected for an individual fighter CAN be used for descriptive purposes (which is mostly what Fight Metric does in the first place).
3. The only way statistics can be used for predictive purposes in MMA is to look at a large number of fighters as a group, like I did for the nine year rule.
4. The best way to evaluate a fighter is with good tape study and competent scouting.
In general, the less data there is on something, the more worthwile good scouting becomes. In MMA, there simply is not enough data on individual fighters to use for making predictions (although I tried anyway). I would be shocked if anybody was able to use statistics to predict outcomes as well or better than the betting markets.
With that said, I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor to start doing scouting reports on fighters. When I’ve taken the time to sit down and do exhaustive tape study of a fight, my predictions on those fights have been pretty accurate. My first scouting report will be on Alexander Gustafsson, who will be fighting Gegard Mousasi in the main event of UFC on Fuel TV 9 on April 6th.
MMA record: 15-1
Alexander Gustafsson is a fighter who likes to stand and strike with his opponents, and is very effective doing so. He has excellent movement, fast hands, and good power. Gustafsson is also very good at staying on his feet, as he has good balance and overall takedown defense. Against most opponents, Gustafsson is able to shut down their attempts to take the fight to the ground, while hurting them with strikes on the feet.
A lot of people like to mention that Gustafsson has a long reach, but despite being 6’5”, Gustafsson’s 76.5” reach is not particularly long by light-heavyweight standards. Despite this, Gustafsson fights as a fighter with a long reach should. He has excellent movement, and is very good at evading his opponent’s strikes, both by moving backwards and side to side. Gustafsson is able to do this without his back hitting the fence, which is very important, as it allows Gustafsson to move backwards to avoid a strike when he needs to.
Gustafsson almost entirely relies on his movement to defend his opponent’s strikes, as he will keep his hands low, and almost never uses his arms to block or parry strikes. This can sometimes get him in trouble – when Gustafsson isn’t able to evade a strike, his head and chin are generally exposed, and Gustafsson will eat clean strikes on occasion. This is also a result of Gustafsson’s reach being shorter than his reputation would suggest, as he needs to be a bit closer to his opponent to land strikes than somebody like Jon Jones would.
Offensively, Gustafsson is very good as well. He’s the kind of striker who doesn’t put full power into his strikes, instead throwing punches with quickness and accuracy. Gustafsson has excellent timing with his strikes, and often will knock his opponent down by throwing out a stiff jab or uppercut as his opponent moves into it. Gustafsson’s combination of speed, accuracy, and movement makes him one of the best strikers in the UFC light-heavyweight division.
Gustafsson has a reputation for having poor takedown defense, but that reputation is completely undeserved. It stems from Gustafsson’s only career loss, at UFC 112 against Phil Davis. In that fight, Davis immediately clinched and looked to take Gustafsson to the ground, but contrary to what many believe, Davis spent most of the first round struggling to get Gustafsson down. According to Fight Metric, Gustafsson was able to defend four out of five takedown attempts from Davis.
The truth is that Gustafsson is one of the hardest light-heavyweight fighters to take to the ground. He has excellent balance, and is the kind of fighter who will be able to land on his feet, even after being lifted into the air. As such, Gustafsson is often able to counter his opponent’s takedown, and land in top position on the ground.
While Gustafsson normally uses his wrestling abilities to keep his fights standing, his takedowns and takedown defense are very good, and were already good before he started training with Davis.
If there is one area in which Gustafsson was weak at any point in his career, it was on the ground. In the earliest fights of his career, Gustafsson’s ground game mostly consisted of staying in his opponent’s guard and landing strikes while fending off submission attempts. This was more than enough to keep Gustafsson out of real danger on the regional circuit, but his lack of polish on the ground was exposed when Gustafsson was submitted by Davis with an anaconda choke at UFC 112.
Since then, I believe Gustafsson’s ground game has improved substantially, as he was able to finish both Cyrille Diabate and James Te Huna by submission due to rear naked choke. Instead of merely sitting in his opponent’s guard, Gustafsson will now advance position and mix in submission attacks to go along with his strikes.
Despite this improvement, I believe the ground game is still where Gustafsson is most vulnerable. In Gustafsson’s most recent fight, he was put in a fairly deep leglock attempt by Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Gustafsson was able to escape the attempt, but the best ground fighters never have to escape a submission attempt in the first place. I don’t think Gustafsson’s ground game is a glaring weakness, but I do believe it’s less strong than the other aspects of his game.
I’ve been singing Gustafsson’s praises for a while, and I’m not going to stop doing it now. I believe that in terms of true talent level, Gustafsson is the second best light-heavyweight in the world (supplanting Rashad Evans, who very suddenly looked shot in his last fight). Not only is Gustafsson one of MMA’s best strikers at 205 pounds, he has excellent takedown defense to go along with it. There are no true holes in his game.
If a fighter wants to beat Gustafsson, he either has to be a masterful striker (Lyoto Machida on a good day) or be a top-notch wrestler with submission skills, such as Jon Jones or Phil Davis. Otherwise, I believe anybody who has to fight Gustafsson is in for a very rough evening.