In the main event of the first UFC pay-per-view event of the year, heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic will put his title on the line against Francis Ngannou. Both fighters enter the fight riding impressive knockout streaks, but only one can leave as the champion. While the fighters have recently had similar results, there are key stylistic differences between them.
The following is a look at the statistical categories that highlight these differences and could be a determining factor on Saturday.
One thing is clear after Ngannou's first-round destruction of former Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem: The heavyweight contender has power. During his six-fight UFC career, he has landed 1.83 knockdowns per 15 minutes, which is the highest rate among ranked heavyweights. Ngannou is also one of only three ranked heavyweights to average more than one knockdown per 15 in the UFC, with Cain Velasquez (1.36) and Overeem (1.17) being the other two. Miocic has his fair share of knockouts in the UFC, but he does not really compete in terms of this metric. The champion averages only 0.62 knockdowns per 15 minutes, which is only ninth best among ranked fighters. However, in his recent fights, he has been able to show off more power. Over his past four fights, Miocic has managed to land 4.29 knockdowns per 15 minutes. Both of these fighters have the ability to finish this fight with power strikes. In theory this should favor Ngannou, but Miocic's recent success with power strikes is hard to ignore.
Significant strikes per minute
Miocic has been a much more active striker in his UFC career. During his run, he has landed 5.15 significant strikes per minute (SLpM). Over his past four fights, he has been even more offensive. Since defeating Mark Hunt in 2015, Miocic has landed 8.67 SLpM against Andrei Arlovski, Fabricio Werdum, Junior dos Santos and Overeem. On the other hand, Ngannou has landed 3.41 SLpM during his UFC career. To this point Ngannou has been reliant on his finishing ability to win fights. If he is unable to stop Miocic, the champion might be able to outpoint the challenger due to his higher striking output.
Miocic wrestled in college at Cleveland State and was an NCAA national qualifier at 197 pounds in 2003. While he has diversified his skill set in MMA, he is still a viable takedown threat. In the UFC, he has landed only 35 percent of his takedown attempts, but because of his persistence, he still averages 2.10 takedowns per 15 minutes. The champion has the fourth-highest takedown rate among ranked heavyweights. Ngannou, on the other hand, has never landed a takedown in the UFC. He uses his wrestling in reverse to stay on his feet and has been highly successful. During his UFC career, Ngannou has stopped 75 percent of his opponents' takedown attempts. He has been taken down four times in the UFC, but half of his opponents have had better takedown rates than Miocic.
Taking this fight to the ground might benefit Miocic. It will allow him to land offense while avoiding power strikes from Ngannou. While he has the skill to score takedowns, the challenger will not make it an easy task.
If Miocic does come out with a wrestling-centric game plan, he will need to be able to land significant strikes on the ground to be successful. In theory, this should not be a problem. In Miocic's UFC career, 21 percent of his significant strikes have come on the ground. In his last five fights, 42 percent of his significant strikes came on the ground. While Miocic is a quality ground striker, he might struggle to implement this offensive attack against Ngannou. Despite being taken down four times in the UFC, the challenger has not allowed an opponent to land a single significant strike against him on the ground. If Ngannou can get back to his feet without absorbing damage, the fight could turn out to be a struggle for Miocic.