Why the UFC's Fight Stats Need an Overhaul

Jose Aldo did more than just deliver a striking clinic on Saturday - he exposed the UFC's shoddy stat tracking

If you tuned in to UFC 265 this past weekend, you no doubt witnessed MMA legend Jose Aldo put on a technical striking masterclass in the night's co-main event. His superb defense, lightning fast hands, slick boxing, and lethal kicks were on full display as he stayed one step ahead of the incredibly durable Pedro Munhoz over the course of fifteen minutes.


Putting on a striking clinic wasn't the only thing Aldo accomplished on Saturday however - he also exposed the UFC's official striking stats as nothing short of garbage.


If you've watched a few UFC cards, you're no doubt familiar with the UFC broadcast team's love of introducing fighter stats both before and after a fight, and often during bouts as well, typically noting things such as takedowns landed versus defended, control time on the ground, significant strikes landed, and various other tidbits of information.


This information is provided by FightMetric, and hardcore fans are no doubt familiar with their official UFC Stats website which provides detailed statistics of every fight in UFC history (as well as most fights from now-Zuffa-owned organizations such as the WEC, Strikeforce, and PRIDE) along with overall career stats for all of its fighters. There's no doubt it's a great tool for fans of statistics and for the most part, the information is pretty accurate.


When it comes to the striking stats however, it can be downright laughable.


If you're a fan of the UFC or even a newcomer that has seen a few fights on TV, you'll no doubt be familiar with "significant strikes" - they also sometimes refer to total strikes if they differ, indicating there's clearly a difference between a normal strike and a significant one.


Now, most people assume that in order for a significant strike to be counted it has to, well, be significant - a clean punch, kick, knee, etc. that lands on the opponent with notable impact. And that is exactly where the problem lies.


From FightMetric, their definition of significant strikes is as follows: "significant strikes refer to all strikes at distance and power strikes in the clinch and on the ground. It does not include small, short strikes in the clinch and on the ground".


Now this may seem fine at first glance, but it's important to note that they take the time to distinguish between small and short strikes in the clinch and on the ground and power strikes in those areas, but any strike landed at a distance is automatically counted as significant.


It doesn't take a genius to realize that seems like a very poor system - why distinguish significant strikes properly in the clinch and on the ground, but count all strikes on the feet as being equal?


In both boxing and kickboxing for instance, while they often use different terms (in boxing for instance, they separate "jabs" from "power" shots), they clearly distinguish between lighter, less impactful or glancing strikes and damaging blows.


Longtime fans will no doubt remember thinking "how is that possible?" during certain fights when striking stats are presented during the broadcast that don't seem to coincide with what they're viewing - even the commentators regularly comment on this, often stating that sometimes those stats can be deceiving or you may miss something when you're watching it live. Well, it turns out, you likely didn't miss anything and the stats aren't "deceiving" - they're just counted in an illogical way.


The most recent and glaring example of the stats being outright ridiculous was in the afforementioned fight from UFC 265 between Jose Aldo and Pedro Munhoz.


At first glance, the final stats from the bout don't appear to be odd - after all, though Aldo clearly won the fight, Munhoz was competitive throughout and landed his own offense as well, so the significant (and total since they're identical) strikes standing at 114-75 seems legitimate.


A closer look however becomes downright baffling.


Looking at the target areas of the strikes landed, you'd think Pedro Munhoz absolutely demolished Jose Aldo's legs on Saturday - after all, according to the official stats, he landed thirty seven leg kicks.

Despite Aldo's stellar defense, it turns out that blocking a strike doesn't count for anything in the world of FightMetric - only avoiding a strike entirely does. Punches and kicks that land on forearms, that are of course not counted as power strikes landed in other combat sports, not only count, but are deemed significant by the official statistics provider of the UFC.


The art of checking kicks therefore, which unlike blocking a strike with the forearms or hands, can actively injure the kicker rather than the one defending, is completely lost on whoever is tallying up the UFC's fight stats.


Munhoz repeatedly tried to execute the dreaded calf kick against the former featherweight champion on Saturday, but Aldo showed all MMA fighters how a master deals with a low kicker - virtually every time Munhoz threw his powerful leg kicks, Aldo either turned his knee outward so Munhoz's shin/foot would hit a harder target and instead of damaging Aldo would instead hurt Pedro's leg, withdrew his leg with Pedro's kick so that it barely touched his retreating shin, or evaded the strike entirely.


Well, as long as Munhoz's leg touched Aldo somewhere, that was counted as a significant strike.


The same goes for a blocked kick or punch anywhere else - trying to kick an opponent in the liver and hit their blocking arm's elbow instead? You still scored a significant strike according to the official stats. Flick a light jab to occupy your opponent's sight while you load up your next shot? If it touched them, that's significant enough for FightMetric. Graze an opponent's guard with a hook? Yep, that's another significant strike.


Perhaps the most egregious example of why this makes no sense is the official stats for Chris Weidman's fight against Uriah Hall from back in April.


Those who witnessed Weidman's horrific leg break may recall that Hall checked the very first kick of the fight thrown by Weidman, causing Chris' lower leg to snap in half. Yet, the official UFC stats page from the fight credits Weidman with the only significant strike landed of the fight - that same leg kick that injured him, not his opponent who blocked his kick.


Now, in this case, you could argue that Weidman's strike was significant - after all, it caused the fight ending injury - but it certainly shouldn't be included as a significant strike landed by Weidman when it was completely ineffectual to his opponent.


It's a problem that completely skews the data the UFC collects not because it's necessarily wrong from a statistical standpoint - it is accurate according to the definitions FightMetric has set - but that definition is completely non-sensical and causes the UFC's striking stats to become a terrible metric for measuring what actually happened during a fight.


When a fighter can put on a defensively incredible performance like Aldo did on Saturday night, yet the fight stats show Munhoz landed a very high 41% of his significant strikes, it shows there is something very wrong with the records, and it turns out, they've been flawed from the outset thanks to an incredibly dumb way of counting strikes.


In reality, while the way they count total strikes can stay the same, the way they score significant strikes needs to change. It's a very simple change - apply the same criteria for distance strikes as they already use for clinch/ground strikes. With that in mind, Munhoz's significant strikes landed in UFC 265's co-main event should realistically be about half of what the official stats suggest, and there are plenty of other fights that would see rather different statistical shifts.


The problem of course, is that in order for comparisons and historical data to be accurate, they'd have to update all of the thousands of past fights in the UFC as well to accurately portray their striking stats, which is likely why we won't see them fix this issue anytime soon - if at all.


At the very least, the UFC should change this metric going forward. It would clear up a lot of confusion and considering virtually everyone watching believes that a significant strike should be, well, significant and not just anything that even touches the other fighter, it would much more accurately portray the action.


Once that's implemented, then they can go back and rewatch all of the old fights to meticulously recalculate the striking stats they fucked up in the first place.