Decision Diego: Analyzing Diego Sanchez's Uncanny Ability to Sway Judges

This weekend Diego Sanchez returns to action against Ricardo Lamas. The featherweight fight will be part of UFC Fight Night 78, which takes place in Monterrey, Mexico. Sanchez has developed the reputation of someone who has unusual sway over the MMA judges. Over the course of his UFC career, he has fought to a decision 15 times. Of those 15 fights, Sanchez has earned the judges’ nod nine times. The following chart shows the StrikeScore  breakdown for bouts the “Dream” has won via decision (All source data Fight Metric). StrikeScore is a proprietary stat that measures striking efficiency, read about it here.

As you can see, Sanchez has actually been outstruck in four of his nine decision victories. This does happen with limited regularity. It mostly only occurs in fights that end via submission or have prolonged periods of ground control. Obviously striking is not the only criteria for judging an MMA contest under the unified rules. However, the rules do state, “if the mixed martial artists spent a majority of a round standing, then effective striking is weighed first.” Plus, all four of these fights were almost entirely contested on the feet.

All four of these fights were three round fights. It is possible that Sanchez did enough to take two out of three rounds on the judges’ cards while still losing the overall striking battle from a StrikeScore perspective, but that is clearly not the case. The following chart is a breakdown of Sanchez’s StrikeScore performance by round for all four bouts. As you can see, he was outstruck in 11 out of the possible 12 rounds. His only superior performance came with a minuscule four point margin.

StrikeScore by Round

StrikeScore by Round

Unfortunately, the MMADecisions database does not have individual round scoring for each of these contests. The following table shows the judges’ scorecards for each fight.

Considering the contemporary state of MMA judging, an undeserving fighter winning a decision is not that rare. However, when a fighter is awarded an unearned win not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times it seems likely that there would be some underlying reason. After brainstorming, StrikeScore MMA has come up with the following possible determining issues.

Persistent Output
Anyone who has sat cage side will tell you that it is not that easy to tell whether a strike lands or not. Is it possible that Sanchez is simply throwing inaccurate punches in the direction of his opponents and judges are missing the result? The following chart shows the number of significant strikes attempted per round by Sanchez and his opponents. As you can see, he was the busier fighter for a majority of rounds in three out of the four bouts. It is possible that output helped him earn the favor of the judges, but it is not consistent in all of the examples.

Significant Strike Attempts by Round

Significant Strike Attempts by Round

Failed Takedown Attempts
Despite not being a great wrestler, Sanchez has never been shy about trying to get the fight to the floor. Over the course of these four fights, he attempted 37 takedowns and landed only 4. That is 11 percent. That is not good. The following chart shows Sanchez’s takedown attempts per round of the four fights in questions. With the exception of the Pearson fight, he was determined to get the fight on the floor.

Takedown Attempts by Round

Takedown Attempts by Round

It is impossible to pinpoint exactly what influenced the judges to side with Sanchez in these four fights. It is likely some combination of these factors as well as intangibles such as the fighter’s ability to sell the fight with grunts and abrasive frowns. It is certainly a unique factor whenever Sanchez fights, and it makes things that much harder for opponents such as Lamas.

The good news for Lamas is that he is 5-1 in fights that have gone to decision with his only decision loss coming against featherweight champion Jose Aldo. The stats show that Lamas utilizes a similar volume approach to Sanchez. In these fights, Lamas holds the edge in significant strike attempts 548 to 446 and in takedown attempts 34 to 23. Sanchez might have to work a little bit harder if he hopes to steal another decision against this weekend.