UFC 161 will take place this Saturday, and that means it’s time to dig into the statistics and break down the main event between Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson.
As always, a big thanks to Fight Metric for providing all the statistics here.
Striking (per 15 minutes)
Statistics can often be a reflection of the way a competitor fights, and this fight is a great example of that. Henderson is the more accurate striker, but is also easier to hit – this is reflective of Henderson’s plodding striking style. He likes to step into the pocket and exchange blows, knowing that he’s more likely than his opponent to win by knockout that way. Meanwhile, Evans is less accurate, but is also a lot harder to hit, which is reflective of his superior speed. Overall, Henderson has a slight advantage in ability to win on points.
Henderson is also more likely to win by knockout. He has 13 wins by TKO in 38 fights (34%), compared to six wins by TKO in 21 fights for Evans (29%). Both fighters are difficult to finish by strikes, but while Evans was famously finished by Lyoto Machida in his only career knockout loss, Henderson has never lost a fight by TKO. The longer Henderson fights, the more likely he is to be stopped by strikes, but it hasn’t happened yet.
If Evans chooses to stand and trade with Henderson, I believe he’ll be fighting at a disadvantage. It’s not a huge disadvantage, but the numbers favor Henderson in terms of both scoring points and potential to win by knockout.
Grappling (per 15 minutes)
Both fighters are identified as wrestlers, but in MMA, Evans has been much more successful at the takedown game. While Evans has about a 4:1 ratio of takedowns landed to takedowns allowed, Henderson’s ratio is much closer to 1:1. Henderson lands takedowns at a slightly higher percentage, but Evans lands them more frequently and has much tougher defense. Evans rates as one of the best wrestlers in the light-heavyweight division, while Henderson is barely above average.
A lot of people have speculated that since his loss to Jon Jones at UFC 145, Evans hasn’t been motivated to compete at a high level in the UFC. This was based on his lackluster performance against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156, a fight Evans lost by decision. However, even if Evans was motivated for that fight, Nogueira would have proven a tough stylistic match for him. Nogueira had both the boxing to out-point Evans and the takedown defense to keep the fight standing.
Evans has never been a very good striker – it’s common for him to win fights despite his opponent landing more strikes. Instead, Evans wins with his wrestling, and I anticipate that he will beat Henderson that way. Henderson may have impressive Greco-Roman wrestling credentials, but that hasn’t translated to having good takedown defense in MMA. I expect that Evans will win the takedown battle against Henderson; in an otherwise competitive fight, that should be enough for him to win by decision.
On the other hand, if Evans chooses to engage Henderson in a striking battle, then I favor Henderson to win. Henderson isn’t a vastly better striker than Evans, but on paper, he’s better at landing a greater quantity of strikes, and better at winning fights by knockout.
Overall, I slightly favor Evans in this fight, because of what should be a distinct wrestling advantage. At the same time, I can’t call Evans more than a slight favorite, because I don’t trust him to implement the right game plan to beat Henderson. This should be a very competitive match, but a match that hinges on how Evans chooses to fight.