At first glance, the UFC on Fox title fight between Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez doesn't offer all that much to analyze.
Johnson has been the flyweight champion since defeating Benavidez for the belt in the first-ever flyweight title fight. Since then, the two have remained the best flyweights in the world. Benavidez has won three fights since his title fight loss, and Johnson has turned back two challengers to his belt.
If they're still the two best flyweights in the world, why would we expect the rematch to go any differently than it did the first time around?
Two words: Duane Ludwig.
In a feature over at CagePotato.com, noted mixed martial arts statistical guru Reed Kuhn broke down exactly what Ludwig has done for Team Alpha Male since becoming their head coach. They've improved in literally every single striking metric Kuhn tracks. As a team, they were always good with grappling. I'm not saying they were not good strikers, but it was clearly the second asset in their toolbox.
Since Ludwig took control, however, the numbers are staggering.
|Duane Ludwig's Effect on Team Alpha Male Striking|
|Head Jab Accuracy||28%||33%||+16%|
|Power Head Accuracy||21%||27%||31%|
|Clinch Power Head Accuracy||48%||55%||14%|
|Standup Strike Ratio||0.98%||1.20%||+22%|
|Head Striking Defense||77%||78%||+1%|
|Knockdowns Received Rate||2.0%||0%||-100%|
|Reed Kuhn, @fightnomics|
"The results are astounding. They improved as a group in literally every single striking metric," Kuhn said. "In wrestling they are choosing to go to the ground less, but are more effective when they do."
We already knew Ludwig had a noticeable effect on his new camp of fighters. Now, we can see it detailed in cold, hard numbers.
Tale of the Tape
First, we'll look at our regular tale of the tape, because small advantages can often be found here.
Johnson is the younger fighter at 27, but Benavidez isn't much older at 29. Fighters who are much younger than their opponents typically have a strong advantage based solely on age; here, the difference is negligible at best.
Johnson is 63 inches tall, with Benavidez clocking in at 64. Again, not enough of a difference here to have any sort of impact on the fight.
Johnson fights orthodox, while Benavidez is a southpaw. As Kuhn details in his excellent new book Fightnomics, the southpaw advantage is a very real thing. But Johnson has proven adept at dealing with southpaws in the past.
Benavidez's distance head jab accuracy (21 percent) and head power accuracy (18 percent) lie below the UFC average; luckily for him, Johnson's just barely within the average limits at 31 percent and 24 percent.
Benavidez's biggest asset is his power. Even as a flyweight, he has finishing power. He causes 13 percent visible damage per round to his opponents, which is above the UFC average. Johnson, meanwhile, falls below the average at just 2 percent. He's more accurate than Benavidez, which often helps him accrue points from the judges.
But he's not much of a threat for consistent knockouts, especially with Benavidez having such a strong chin; his distance knockdown defense—a number that shows how good a fighter's chin is—is 100 percent. Johnson's DKD rating of 98 percent is only slightly lower than Benavidez's, but it's also on the low end of the UFC average.
The picture these numbers paint is just about what we expected.
Johnson will have more volume to his strikes than Benavidez, but the New Mexico native will do more damage with the strikes he throws. Benavidez is a very real threat for a knockout here, and the truth is that he'll be a little above his own averages due to the Ludwig effect we showed earlier. If Benavidez ends up being more accurate with his punches than Johnson, he gets a sizeable advantage in the striking department.
We see many of the same reflections when looking at significant striking. Benavidez attempts more significant strikes than his opponents, but Johnson is far more accurate. Benavidez's accuracy in this department (30%) is actually poor, while Johnson is above the average at 51 percent. But again, Benavidez will receive a boost from the Ludwig effect, and I fully expect to see his accuracy percentages rise over time.
This is where Johnson shines. He's not that difficult to take down—his takedown defense rating is only 62 percent, which isn't great—but Benavidez's takedown accuracy is only 22 percent.
That's largely because Benavidez prefers standing, and his takedown attempts are often feints to set up hooks and kicks. He rarely commits to the takedown with the intention of putting his opponents on their backs and keeping them there, at least from a traditional wrestling style. If he goes to the ground, he's looking for a submission, as his 0.4 submissions attempts per minute on ground shows.
Johnson attempts more takedowns per round than Benavidez, and he's more accurate when he does so, but historically he retains less control once he secures the takedown.
By the numbers, this is a closely matched contest, and the current odds reflect the matchup. Neither man has a gigantic advantage over the other in any department. Johnson is more accurate than Benavidez. Benavidez is a threat for a knockout with his striking, while Johnson is not. Johnson defends more takedowns than Benavidez, but Benavidez retains more control once the fight goes to the ground.
As you can see, it's hard to pick a winner here. But I believe Benavidez's power is the biggest asset available to either fighter, and the effect Ludwig has on Benavidez's accuracy will make all the difference in the world here. Even if Benavidez improves only marginally on his striking, it will be enough to make him a considerable favorite for a TKO (given that Johnson does not have the best chin), and that's what I'm predicting here.
Benavidez finishes the fight before the end of the third round and captures the flyweight championship.
Data and stats courtesy of Reed Kuhn and his new book, Fightnomics.