*FPR supplemented by video scouting due to lack of Fight Metric data.
Whenever I hear commentators talk about Aaron Riley, it seems they always refer to him as a “tough veteran.” There are two reasons for this. The first is that it’s basically true. In 86 minutes of fighting tracked by Fight Metric, Riley has only been knocked down twice and has yet to be placed in a submission hold.
The other reason Riley is referred to as “tough veteran” is that there’s nothing remarkable about his ability to fight. How do you describe a fighter like Riley? He’s not an exceptional striker, doesn’t hit hard, and isn’t a great wrestler. He’s at least shown very good BJJ defense, but that’s not what defines a fighter. The only thing left to say is that he’s “tough.”
The reality is that Riley has fought pretty evenly against a relatively low level of competition. His career UFC wins have been against Jorge Gurgel, Shane Nelson, and Joe Brammer – not a list of all-stars in the sport.
By contrast, Justin Salas is a good wrestler who hasn’t fought for nearly as long as Riley. That gives Salas two key advantages. One is that I expect Salas to take Riley down in each round. Riley defends 58% of takedowns attempted against him, which is average like all of his other statistics. Salas should be good enough to take down an opponent with average takedown defense.
The other advantage Salas has is that he isn’t a 16 year veteran of the sport like Riley is. Riley is only 32 years old, but has been losing in ways consistent with a fighter who is very old in “fight years.” Against Tony Ferguson, Riley lost because of a jaw injury sustained by eating one of Ferguson’s punches. Against Ross Pearson, Riley was stopped by TKO due to a cut. As tough as he is, his body is not cooperating with his desire to fight.
If Riley wants to win, his best chance is to keep the fight standing. That’s not to say Riley is a good striker, because he’s not. He was out-struck 31-11 by Ferguson and 59-15 by Pearson. The reason Riley has hope of winning a striking match is because Salas is weak there too. Salas was hit by 26 strikes in just 66 seconds in his TKO loss to Tim Means.
Despite that dreadful performance, I would still favor Salas in a striking match against Riley. This fight should be pretty competitive on the feet, but Salas doesn’t share Riley’s history of losing by doctor stoppage or injury.
When I look at everything, I see Salas being a little better in all areas, and a lot better at takedowns. Combine that with Riley’s history of losing by sudden TKO because something breaks, and Salas has to be the pick.
Pick: Justin Salas by TKO