The UFC Heavily Underrated Sean Strickland's Strike Defense Statistic

Feb. 08, 2022

While watching this past weekend's main event, I was continuously frustrated with the UFC's framing of Sean's opponent accuracy rate. While it is true that he has the lowest opponent striking accuracy he is actually second in standing strike opponent accuracy to Darren Till (41% vs 43%). While this is incredibly dumb to be mad about (I recognize that). I wanted to dive deeper to give Sean his full credit because the UFC and ESPN are actually underrating him with their faulty stat presentation. To understand this we need to dive in a little deeper.

The stat the UFC utilizes is total strikes, this means any strike, be it clinch, ground or standing. Sean ranks high due to the fact that he is able to keep opponents from taking him down... effectively. The most accurate strikes in the UFC come from head strikes on the ground, aka "Ground and Pound". For fighters like Daniel Cormier and Khabib Nurmagomedov, these strikes are their bread and butter which artificially raises their accuracy stats. Why does this matter? I could make the argument that Khabib is a better striker than Conor because Khabib's overall strike accuracy is higher than Conor's. But would anyone actually accept that?... No. In effect, this hurts the case for the utilization of statistics in MMA and this is the key reason for my frustration. So to solve this we have to make a simple distinction. We need to rate fighters in the 3 key areas of strike defense: clinch, ground and standing. As Sean is a standup oriented fighter, we need to limit his stats to standing only and this is where he enters second place.

Don't let the above fool you into thinking that I see Sean as "overrated", on the contrary, he is actually being underrated by the UFC overlooking his actual numbers. To accomplish this in a deep dive we need to first talk about what actually matters and then do the math to see who comes out on top.

One of the keys to Sean's striking defense is his ability to make opponents miss, Hermansson missed a UFC Middleweight record 172 significant standing head strikes against Sean. As such, missed strikes is actually a substantially better metric for making the point the UFC was trying to make. So to visualize this, I am going to display Sean's stats against MW contemporaries Darren Till and Israel Adesanya who are both prodigious strike defenders in their own right.

Opponent's Missed Standing Strikes among Top Middleweights
Opponent's Missed Standing Strikes among Top Middleweights
Fighter Missed Total Rounds Missed per round
Sean Strickland 1525 43 35.5
Israel Adesanya 781 38 20.6
Darren Till 565 32 17.7

Take a look at the per round stats, isn't that a much better descriptor than opponent accuracy alone? In English, Darren Till may have a lower opponent standing striking accuracy score but Sean's opponents miss two times as many distance strikes per round compared to Till. That is astounding. Let's break this out a bit further to individual targets: head, body and leg.

Standing Head Misses
Standing Head Misses
Fighter Misses Misses per round
Sean Strickland 1227 28.5
Israel Adesanya 720 18.9
Darren Till 499 15.6
Standing Body Misses
Standing Body Misses
Fighter Misses Misses per round
Sean Strickland 245 5.7
Darren Till 31 .97
Israel Adesanya 32 .84

Sean's opponent standing body misses need to be highlighted. Just wow.

Standing Leg Misses
Standing Leg Misses
Fighter Misses Misses per round
Sean Strickland 53 1.23
Darren Till 35 1.1
Israel Adesanya 29 .76

Sean Strickland is ELITE at strike defense. There is no question about that. He dwarfs incredible defenders like Israel and Darren in these statistics and a simple one number statistic like opponent accuracy doesn't do him full justice.

Now I can hear the statisticians in the back of my head "but Jason, what about the context of opponents they faced?" Great question voice in my head. For those that have had enough math, thank you for reading check out our newsletter here. For those who want to get a little dirtier with some math let us trek on.

The voice in my head brings up a great point, what do we do about the lack of context these stats I present have. What I mean is that I can't attribute every miss to Israel/Darren/Sean's skills. There are a multitude of factors that play into this. So we need to weight strikes based on who threw them.

So what I did was take every opponent of our three fighters and calculated their accuracy rates standing overall and to each location and took the inverse. What I mean by this is let's say Paulo Costa lands standing body strikes at a rate of 85%. Inherently, he missed standing body strikes at a rate of 15% then correct? I utilized this logic across all opponents and then multiplied that rate by the total attempts in the fight. So if Paulo attempted 100 standing body strikes against Adesanya in their fight (hypothetically) we would expect him to land 85 and miss 15. I called this figure expected misses and labeled them by what type of strike they were (standing, standing head, standing body, standing leg).

With this theoretical stat, we can compare actual results to that of the expected values. So in the above Paulo 100 body strike example, if he missed 20 instead of 15: Israel would be given a +5 to his body defense score. Conversely if he only missed 10 instead of 15 he would've gotten a -5. Then we divide by rounds and get our rate figures. below is a table summarizing my analysis:

Misses by Location per round
Misses by Location per round
Fighter Overall Head Body Leg
Darren Till 5.098 5.05 .12 .498
Sean Strickland 3.051 3.05 .665 -.019
Israel Adesanya 2.202 2.12 -.095 .268

Summarizing the above table in English: Darren Till is the top of this simple data mining exercise for who makes opponents miss more than expectation with Sean coming in a decently close second. While it would've been nicer if Sean was #1 to hammer home my point further, If you look at Sean's upperbody (i.e. not leg) stats you can again see just how incredibly talented he is as a defensive striker. Also considering that both Izzy and Darren fight in more counter oriented styles whereas Sean is bit more of a brawler, these stats really prove just how incredibly technical Sean is as a fighter contrary to the way he describes himself.

Thank you for indulging in my little frustration exercise, send us a DM on instagram if you have any further questions or thoughts! If you like this kind of content, check out our newsletter here and our YouTube Channel here.

Fighters Mentioned: