Last week, I expressed happiness at finally getting to see my top-ranked fighter, Zak Cummings, compete on The Ultimate Fighter. Then I saw him fight, and happiness was the last thing I felt. It’s not that I was rooting against Dylan Andrews, his opponent, it’s that I was really hoping to see a good fight out of Cummings. Instead, what we saw was a one-sided fight in which Cummings had no idea what to do when placed on his back. Early in the first round, Cummings looked good, landing a few strikes and attempting a D’Arce choke, but unfortunately for him, that was the most success he had in the fight. While on his back, Cummings made perhaps one or two poor attempts at a sweep, and that was about it. The remainder of the fight consisted of Andrews maintaining top position, landing a few strikes, and doing what he needed to do to win.
My TUF 17 fighter rankings are now a dismal 2-5 actually predicting fights. This is a reflection of two things. First is the dubious idea of using statistics to rate fighters, especially fighters with very little experience in professional MMA. Take a fighter like Jimmy Quinlan for example – Quinlan is just 3-0 in his career. There’s no way that any type of statistical analysis can take such a small sample of fights and come to any confident conclusions. When it comes to MMA, and especially TUF, scouting and tape study are the best ways to evaluate two fighters and how they match up. If I know that Quinlan has excellent Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Clint Hester is prone to being submitted, that is valuable qualitative analysis that can be a tremendous help in making a fight pick.
The other thing my system’s poor record reflects is the unpredictable nature of TUF. For about four seasons in a row now, my attempts at rating the competitors on the show have been completely futile. In early seasons of TUF, there was an enormous skill gap between the best and worst competitors on the show. For example, you probably don’t need statistics to tell you that Jason Thacker was not going to beat Forrest Griffin or Stephan Bonnar. By contrast, in the last few seasons of TUF, that skill gap has shrunk to the point where every competitor has a legitimate chance of winning the tournament. The result is that statistics alone are no longer enough to know who the true favorites to win TUF are.
Despite what I just said, I’ll post my rankings again anyway:
Zak Cummings – 8.022 (Team Sonnen)
- Uriah Hall – 7.383 (Sonnen)
Tor Troeng – 7.348 (Sonnen)
Luke Barnatt – 7.127 (Sonnen)
- Josh Samman – 7.009 (Jones)
- Dylan Andrews – 6.532 (Jones)
Robert McDaniel – 6.421 (Jones)
Kevin Casey – 6.234 (Sonnen)
Clint Hester – 5.995 (Jones)
Gilbert Smith – 5.917 (Jones)
Jimmy Quinlan – 5.893 (Sonnen)
- Kelvin Gastelum – 5.655 (Sonnen)
Adam Cella – 5.428 (Jones)
Collin Hart – 5.154 (Jones)
I really thought Clint Hester would get a chance to come back in the wild card fight, but that idea went out the window when Dana White decided to simply let the coaches pick who would compete. To represent his team, Chael Sonnen selected Kevin Casey, who was perhaps the least impressive loser of the first round of fights. In fairness, Sonnen’s only other choice was Zak Cummings, who wasn’t exactly impressive in his fight either. To face Casey, Jon Jones chose “Bubba” McDaniel over Hester, explaining that McDaniel has been fighting longer, and was therefore more deserving of the opportunity. Of course, it’s likely that Jones simply decided to do McDaniel a favor, as Jones and McDaniel are training partners in the Greg Jackson/Mike Winkeljohn camp.
Kevin Casey vs. Robert McDaniel
I like to make a distinction between MMA fighters who have good Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and BJJ fighters competing in MMA. Casey is a great example of the latter- he has very good BJJ as a student of Rickson Gracie, but is far from having the well-rounded skill set needed to win fights at a high level. Casey’s striking is very rudimentary, and he’s not a particularly good wrestler either – just ask Collin Hart, who was able to take Casey down and completely neutralize his ground game.
Still, Casey is a physically strong fighter, and can be very dangerous early in fights. When Casey gets his opponent to the ground, he’s very good at passing guard and maintaining a dominant position. As a Rickson Gracie student, Casey is the kind of fighter who will emphasize position over submission. He has good fundamentals on the ground, and will methodically advance position and land strikes until his opponent gives Casey the opening he needs to secure a submission hold.
By contrast, McDaniel is a fighter who is very aggressive on the ground, but doesn’t have a polished ground game. McDaniel likes to attack his opponent with submissions from almost any position, but struggles to finish, and often loses position in the process. This lack of polish causes McDaniel to make mistakes on the ground, and while most of his wins are by submission, that’s how he loses most of his fights as well.
That means that McDaniel might be in trouble early in this fight. McDaniel doesn’t have good takedown defense, so I anticipate that Casey will be able to take him to the ground. While there, McDaniel will put up a fight, but Casey should prove to have the better overall grappling. There’s absolutely a chance that Casey submits McDaniel in the first round.
The problem for Casey is that the longer the fight goes, the better it is for McDaniel. McDaniel’s conditioning is far better than Casey’s – while McDaniel can fight for three hard rounds, Casey usually gasses out in the second round. That means that if Casey doesn’t get the early submission finish against McDaniel, he’s going to be in big trouble, because I expect Casey to get exhausted early, while McDaniel will still be fresh. If that happens, I expect McDaniel to capitalize by punishing Casey with some hard strikes, and perhaps winning by late TKO.
Overall, Casey just doesn’t have enough tools for me to be confident in him winning this fight. While he has a very good ground game, that’s pretty much all Casey brings to the table. Even then, Casey probably needs to finish McDaniel early if he wants to win this fight. I can see that happening, but I think it’s more likely that McDaniel will survive the first round, and come back strong to punish Casey in the second and third rounds. My pick is McDaniel by TKO.