Fantasy Fights

Intelligent, unique MMA analysis

UFC 135 Preview: Matt Hughes vs. Josh Koscheck

Remember the post I made about Takanori Gomi and his upcoming fight with Nate Diaz? Remember how I explained that SILVA struggles with evaluating fighters who were once great, but are now on the decline? Well, here we go again. Matt Hughes was 41-4 at one point in his career, the UFC welterweight champion, and hands down the greatest welterweight fighter of all time. Then Hughes declined, beginning almost exactly at the point that he had been competing for nine years as a professional (just saying). Hughes is 4-4 since. Now, his four losses are to Georges St. Pierre, Georges St. Pierre again, Thiago Alves, and B.J. Penn. If you’re going to lose four fights in the welterweight division, that’s a pretty tough group of fighters to lose to. But Hughes’s list of wins is perhaps just as telling: Chris Lytle, Matt Serra, Renzo Gracie, and Ricardo Almeida.

Lytle and Serra are largely overrated UFC journeymen. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I’m just saying that they were largely mediocre fighters in relation to the talent level of the UFC welterweight division. Hughes defeated Lytle without too much trouble, but wasn’t as inspiring as he should have been against Serra or Gracie. Only the win over Almeida was truly impressive, but then again, how many fighters would you call great for beating Ricardo Almeida?

Now, Hughes was originally slated to face Diego Sanchez, who was replaced on about three weeks’ notice by Josh Koscheck. If you’re experiencing some deja vu here, you’re not alone. In 2008, Koscheck replaced Sanchez on relatively short notice against Thiago Alves. In that fight, Alves largely out-struck Koscheck, as Koscheck was completely unable to take Alves to the ground. Some (including me at the time) attributed Koscheck’s relatively weak effort to the short notice. While short notice may have had something to do with it, I think it needs to be considered that Koscheck may not really be all that good.

To support this statement, here is the list of opponents Koscheck has defeated in his last 10 fights:

  • Paul Daley
  • Anthony Johnson
  • Frank Trigg
  • Yoshiyuki Yoshida
  • Chris Lytle
  • Dustin Hazelett

Meanwhile, Koscheck has two losses to Georges St. Pierre (who seems to have a knack for beating opponents multiple times), and losses to Thiago Alves and Paulo Thiago in that time period. It’s not a bad resume in the least, but it isn’t really the resume of a fighter who supposedly is one of the very best welterweights in the world. The best win is what? Anthony Johnson? Paul Daley? Chris Lytle?

Let’s talk conventional wisdom for a second. Conventional wisdom holds that Matt Hughes is a good wrestler, but Koscheck is better, and that Matt Hughes is an only OK striker, meaning that Koscheck is better. On the subject of wrestling, I’m inclined to agree: in Koscheck’s UFC career, he’s only been taken down once by an opponent not named Georges St. Pierre. On the subject of striking, I’m not so sure. In fact, in terms of Significant Strikes, Fight Metric has Koscheck being out-struck on the whole in his UFC career. While a lot of this had to do with Koscheck’s UFC 124 loss to St. Pierre, very few of Koscheck’s UFC fights show him out-striking his opponent by a significant margin.

I can’t blame those who believe that Koscheck is a better striker than Hughes, mostly because Hughes typically looks somewhat “wooden” when he strikes. His punches and kicks don’t seem to “flow” the same way a high-level striker’s punches and kicks would. His fight against Renzo Gracie in particular made him look bad; people may forget that Hughes arguably lost the first round against Gracie, who hadn’t been relevant for many years. Josh Koscheck is far from the best striker in MMA, but he at least throws with power.

SILVA PREDICTION: MATT HUGHES (43.66) OVER JOSH KOSCHECK (32.60)

You may think that, since I already picked against the faded Takanori Gomi, that I’m going to pick against Matt Hughes as well. This is not the case, despite lopsided betting lines in Koscheck’s favor. I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that Josh Koscheck is a much better fighter than Matt Hughes is. If Koscheck takes Hughes down (a distinct possibility), then he’s in good shape. But there’s also a chance that Hughes would be able to take Koscheck down, and I actually think Hughes, as flawed as he is, is a better striker than Koscheck. You might think I’m crazy, but in this case, I feel that it’s a situation of a fighter in Koscheck being seriously overrated. I’ll take the upset.

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