The UFC returns on Saturday from a brief hiatus with an event headlined by welterweight contenders. Rory MacDonald and Stephen Thompson are both well-rounded mixed martial artists, which comes across in the statistics. However, there are key differences that could end up being the determining factor this weekend.
Significant strikes landed per minute
In eight UFC fights, Thompson has landed 4.79 significant strikes per minute. That is the best rate among fighters currently ranked among the top 15 UFC welterweights and is nearly 21 percent higher than that of MacDonald (3.96). On top of that, Thompson lands 50 percent of his significant strike attempts compared to 42 percent for the Red King. MacDonald is usually able to control distance and pace with his jab and lead strikes. He might not have that advantage against Thompson, who has been more active and accurate during his UFC career.
Thompson's best defense is his good offense. Wonderboy is coming off two-straight first-round knockouts. In those bouts, Thompson only absorbed 12 significant strikes combined. In their UFC careers, MacDonald actually has the advantage in significant strikes absorbed per minute 2.54 to 2.98. However, MacDonald has taken a lot more damage of late, absorbing 3.45 significant strikes per minute against his last two opponents, Tarec Saffiedine and Robbie Lawler. To be successful, MacDonald will need to return to his defensive form. In the UFC, he is only 2-3 when opponents land at least three significant strikes per minute against him. Thompson has never been held under 3.5 significant strikes landed per minute in a UFC fight.
Average fight time
Thompson's average fight is 8:25 compared to 12:45 for MacDonald. One of the biggest contributing factors to Thompson's shorter fight time is that he has scored first-round knockouts in half of his UFC fights. While MacDonald has been knocked out twice in his career, both of those losses occurred well into the fight (14:53 against Carlos Condit and 21:00 against Lawler). Since a first-round finish for Thompson seems unlikely, could MacDonald turn this fight into a marathon and take over in the later rounds? In fights that go past the first round, MacDonald has seven UFC wins, while Thompson has only three. While it is hard to say which fighter would have the cardio advantage, MacDonald does have more experience in prolonged bouts.
MacDonald has a clear advantage in terms of takedowns landed per 15 minutes: 2.06 to 1.11. This makes sense considering Thompson has a more traditional striking background compared to the Canadian's diverse game. MacDonald is not afraid to ditch his striking when he feels he has the wrestling advantage. Against Nate Diaz, he attempted 10 takedowns and landed seven en route to a unanimous-decision victory. MacDonald might employ a similar strategy here. In Thompson's lone professional defeat, Matt Brown took him down five times and scored five dominant positions. However, trying to wrestle against Thompson might not be the easiest strategy these days. He has not been taken down since the Brown fight over four years ago.
MacDonald is normally very active. His average layoff between fights in the UFC is only 195 days. However, on Saturday he will be returning from a knockout loss for only the second time in his career. When MacDonald makes the walk to the cage, it will have been 343 days since his grueling battle with Lawler that left him medically suspended because of a fractured nose. Momentum clearly favors Thompson, who returns to action only 133 days after the biggest win of his career over Hendricks, while MacDonald is coming off of a physically and psychologically difficult defeat.