If you were worried that build up for UFC 194 was not providing enough hyperbole, don’t fret. Reed Kuhn has you covered. Last week, The Washington Post published his article “Conor McGregor is an ideal UFC fighter. Here’s Why.” You can read it here.
With a headline like that, you know you want to read it. After all, that is the point of bombastic headlines in this click-driven world. In case you don’t, here is a rough summary. McGregor is an ideal UFC fighter because he throws a lot of strikes, has an above average knockdown rate and is big. These facts, while interesting, are hardly enough to support for the thesis.
McGregor is a gifted striker, no doubt, but he is far from perfect or ideal. Like all fighters he has exploitable strengths and weakness in his game.
McGregor gets hit, a lot. Aldo does not.
Of the 16 featherweights ranked in the UFC rankings (15 plus the champion), McGregor is 13th when it comes to significant strikes absorbed per minute. He currently absorbs 3.01 significant strikes per minute. McGregor ranks behind Cub Swanson, who in his last two fights has been taken to the woodshed by Frankie Edgar and Max Holloway for a combined 175 significant strikes absorbed. Opponents also land 36 percent of their significant strikes against McGregor, which is only slightly better than the average of ranked featherweights, 38 percent.
Mendes—a proven power puncher—was able to land clean on McGregor when he was not going for takedowns, which is especially telling given McGregor’s huge reach advantage in that fight. The interim champion trusts his chin and seemed unfazed by any shot. But this might be a sort of competency trap. It might work in the short term, but anyone will go down from the right shot on the button. Plus, fighters who over rely on their chin often have a miserable end to their career (see: Chuck Liddell).
Aldo on the other hand, has the stats of a defensive striking master. (Suggested headline for WaPo: Aldo Harder to Hit than Neo in The Matrix!!!) Of the top 16 featherweights, he ranks second in significant strikes absorbed per minute (1.94) and first in opponent’s striking percentage (28 percent).
McGregor has solid, yet mostly untested, takedown defense
Over the course of his UFC run, McGregor has successfully defended 66 percent of his opponent’s takedowns. While that is middle of the pack among ranked featherweights, he has only really faced one viable takedown threat. Against Mendes, McGregor was taken down four times in seven attempts. Prior to that, he had fought off three attempts from Dennis Siver and two against Diego Brandao.
Aldo has the third best takedown defense among ranked featherweights. His 91 percent would currently qualify him for eighth best all time in UFC history. (However, he has not faced the minimum 20 takedown attempts to qualify per Fightmetric rules.)
Mike Goldberg would call the career StrikeScore numbers “Virtually Identical”
Aldo has a career StrikeScore of 283, while McGregor comes in at 286. StrikeScore is a proprietary stat that measures striking efficiency, read about it here. The similarity is interesting, because both fighters arrived at their scores differently. In recent fights, Aldo has taken a more technical approach, avoided the opposition’s attacks and landed his own. While McGregor has been willing to engage in exchanges with opponents and more often than not come out with the knockout finish. Don’t expect the UFC pay-per-view announcers to point out any such nuance on Saturday night. The following chart, shows the fighters’ last six performances.
In the midst of all the McGregor hype, here are some background numbers. This bout will be McGregor's first against a fighter with a Fight Matrix Highest Quarterly Ranking of number one, which is obvious since Aldo has held the mantle for the entirety of the interim champion’s UFC career. Aldo is 4-0 in his previous bouts against such fighters: Alexandre Franca Nogueira, Mike Thomas Brown, Urijah Faber and Frankie Edgar.
McGregor's career-high StrikeScore came in his first UFC fight against Brimage. He scored a 382. Aldo, on the other hand, only needed two landed significant strikes to notch his career-high StrikeScore of 6,800, netting him a quick knockout of Swanson
Aldo has fought 15 times in the UFC/WEC. McGregor has fought in the UFC six times. Aldo has fought for exactly 200 minutes in the cage, while McGregor has spent only a little less than 39 minutes fighting. So it’s noteworthy that even with a much larger sample size, Aldo’s striking stats are at the very worst on par with those of McGregor and call into question the validity of the Post’s headline and supporting analysis.