Here we go again.
I haven’t had the best of luck picking big underdogs recently. After successfully picking Rick Story to beat Thiago Alves at UFC 130, and picking Fabricio Werdum to beat Alistair Overeem at Strikeforce (and there’s an argument to be made that Werdum was the rightful winner there), my confidence was at an all-time high.
Today, I’m not nearly as confident. Not after a Strikeforce event in which my underdog pick of Scott Smith to beat Tarec Saffiedine turned out particularly bad. Not after UFC 132, where SILVA’s upset pick of Shane Roller to beat Melvin Guillard went splat. It doesn’t help that many favorites that I’ve picked recently have lost also, as UFC 132 in particular was filled with upsets.
Now, at UFC 133, SILVA is making another big underdog pick. This time, it’s Mike Pyle, who according to Best Fight Odds is currently more than a 2-1 underdog. So, in fear of getting burned again, I’m taking a particularly close look at this fight to see if Pyle is really a good underdog pick to make.
The first thing to look at is each man’s fight history. At 22 years old, Rory MacDonald doesn’t have much of one, but for what it’s worth, here are the Victory Scores of his top five career wins (MacDonald is 11-1):
- Michael Guymon, 69.36
- Clay French, 67.90
- Nate Diaz, 66.10
- Nick Hinchliffe, 63.97
- Kajan Johnson, 52.38
Don’t get too hung up on the specific scores: Victory Score is an approximate measure, and I do think that Nate Diaz is the best fighter on that list. Still, for comparison’s sake, here are Mike Pyle’s five most recent wins:
- John Hathaway, 76.89
- Jesse Lennox, 73.45
- Ricardo Almeida, 71.85
- Chris Wilson, 64.22
- Brian Gassaway, 56.19
Again, that’s Pyle’s five most recent wins against MacDonald’s five best wins. Even if you don’t like the individual Victory Scores, you have to acknowledge that Pyle has been winning against a higher level of competition than MacDonald has. Now, Pyle does have two recent losses, against Brock Larson and Jake Ellenberger, while MacDonald has lost only to Carlos Condit, so there is a possibility that MacDonald is capable of the same level of fighting as Pyle or better, and he just hasn’t had a chance to show it yet.
The next step is to take a closer look into the individual fights. For this, there’s no better resource available than Fight Metric’s database. Here is the link to the fight statistics of Mike Pyle. And here is the link to the fight statistics of Rory MacDonald.
While fully acknowledging the different opponents that Pyle and MacDonald have faced, here are what those statistics look like, first for Mike Pyle’s UFC fights:
- Pyle has a slight edge over his opponents in Significant Strikes, 149-141.
- Pyle has a slight edge in takedowns landed as well, 8-6.
- Pyle has attempted 8 submissions, finishing twice; his opponents have attempted two submissions and finished once.
Now, the statistics of Rory MacDonald in his UFC fights:
- MacDonald has landed fewer significant strikes than his opponents, 79-104.
- MacDonald has landed 12 takedowns while his opponents have landed none.
- MacDonald has attempted 2 submissions and finished one; his opponents have only attempted one submission.
The clearest advantage is in the area of takedowns, where MacDonald has a perfect 12-0 ratio (throwing Nate Diaz around had a lot to do with that). Still, MacDonald has been out-struck overall in his UFC career despite this. This is due to his UFC 115 fight against Carlos Condit. I know we all remember MacDonald’s performance in that fight very fondly, but Condit landed 72 significant strikes in that fight, compared to just 29 for MacDonald.
It seems that the biggest key in this fight is whether or not MacDonald will be able to take Pyle down. Pyle has pretty tough takedown defense, shutting down both John Hathaway and Ricardo Almeida, and will definitely represent the toughest opponent MacDonald has faced in that department, as neither Nate Diaz nor Carlos Condit are known for being able to defend takedowns. However, 12-0 is a pretty impressive edge for MacDonald.
Despite this, there’s nothing that suggests to me that MacDonald should be nearly a 3-1 favorite. MacDonald is not as accomplished as Pyle, and his fight statistics aren’t definitively better than Pyle’s either. So why is MacDonald such a heavy favorite here?
I have to believe it’s due to hype; particularly, the hype surrounding MacDonald’s age. MacDonald enters this fight against Pyle at just 22 years old. According to conventional wisdom, MacDonald has a solid five years of development ahead of him, and given that he’s already winning in the UFC, that means that he’s destined to become a superstar. After all, with a fighter as young as MacDonald, it’s not about what he has been, it’s about imagining what he could become.
My research, on the other hand, suggests that with MacDonald, not only is his development complete, he’s in the prime of his career. As a 5-year MMA veteran, MacDonald is probably not going to get much better despite his young age. If that seems ludicrous for me to say, think about all of the super-young fighters who have competed in the UFC. Remember when Nick Diaz fought Karo Parisyan in a battle of 21 year olds? Whatever you may think of the recent run of Diaz (and I happen to think that it’s a winning streak against mostly sub-par opposition), is his skill set any more developed than it used to be? What about Parisyan’s? How about fighters like Robbie Lawler, or to name a more recent example, Stefan Struve?
SILVA PREDICTION: MIKE PYLE (33.86) OVER RORY MACDONALD (29.36)
There are two things going for Rory MacDonald in this fight. One is that, historically, he has a ton of success in the takedown department. If he’s able to take Mike Pyle down consistently, he’ll be well on his way to victory. The other is that Pyle just last month hit the 9-year mark of his career. (Pyle’s MMA debut, against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, on 11/13/1999, is discounted because he didn’t fight again for nearly three years. For the purposes of the 9-year rule, Pyle’s effective MMA debut took place on 7/13/2002.) Looking at recent performances by 9-year MMA veterans, Pyle could be in some trouble. Still, all other objective data I can find suggests that Pyle should be the pick to win this fight, despite his underdog status. Either I’ll be right… or I’ll have to wipe the egg off of my face again. We will see.