I asked on the last episode of Tapping Vegas whether or not the UFC would fix the outcome of the Sean Strickland vs the Dricus Du Plessis fight if it went to decision. I was curious how the UFC felt about their bottom dollar as Strickland speaks about his views freely, no matter how controversial they may be. It indeed came down to a decision and the belt was ultimately given to Du Plessis. Both men came out bloodied in a close draw and it made me wonder how this fight stacks up against the other title fights. I didn't cherry pick, I went back to 1997 and recorded every title defense and upset in UFC history. The results were surprising.
The first thing that stood out to me is that choosing a sub in a championship fight is risky business but I'll save that for another day. There have been more championship defenses than upsets in every category which I expected and the largest discrepancy we see is in fights ending in decisions. The reigning champions have defended their titles 68 times by decision where the underdog has pulled through almost a third of that number (24 times). Underdogs on average have to land 40.125 strikes more than their counterpart in order to secure the upset. While takedowns are accounted for, the UFC uses the Unified Rules Of Mixed Martial Arts for their scoring criteria which judges Effective Striking, Effective Grappling, Effective Aggressiveness, and Fighting Area Control. This defines grappling as "Successful execution of takedowns, submission attempts, reversals and the achievement of advantageous positions that produce immediate or cumulative impact with the potential to contribute to the end of the fight, with the immediate weighing more heavily than the cumulative impact".
So now that we know that nearly 74% of decision wins go to the reigning champion, let's examine the 26.1% of decision upsets. Of the 24 Championship decision upsets, only 8 times, or 33% of the time, the underdog won while landing less punches than the champ. This was mainly due to the underdog getting more knockdowns or seriously controlling the fight with top work. Next, I combined the title defenses with the underdogs who won by decision who had the strike advantage into one category which made up over 91% of all the decisions in title fights. This shows that in 9 out of 10 fights, you better bring your A game to beat the champ. What does all this mean for Strickland vs Du Plessis?
Sean led the fight with 183 strikes and 173 significant vs Du Plessis 140 strikes and 137 significant. This gave Sean a 43 strike advantage and taking into account the underdog strike differential of 40.125 strikes needed to top the champ, this puts Du Plessis behind by 83.125 strikes. Sean had one less takedown defense than Dricus had takedowns while neither fighter had a knockdown or a sub attempt. It's important to remember that the judges don't award points for just takedowns or takedown defense. They award points based on what you can do with the takedown and how you are able to control the position and situation. While the UFC doesn't track ride time like collegiate and world wrestling, I fail to believe that Dricus's takedowns and control were enough to strip the reigning champ of his belt with such a large striking differential. Both men came out battered and bloodied from a war that the MMA community was able to greatly enjoy. Dricus became the 8th upset mentioned above and is in the 3.4% of all time championship fighters to win on decision while losing the striking battle. Only one other fight besides this one saw the underdog win while having 40 less strikes than their opponent. That puts Dricus in the 0.9%.
What do you think? Did the UFC fix the fight to get Sean Strickland away from the limelight? Did Dricus control the fight enough to pull off the upset fair and square? Let me know in the comments!
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