In Robert Whittaker’s last fight, he was the betting favorite to defeat Court McGee. I picked McGee to win the fight on the basis that it would probably be a striking match, in which McGee would out-pace Whittaker. That’s exactly what happened as McGee landed 88 significant strikes to Whittaker’s 48. Somehow the fight ended up being a split decision, but it went in favor of the right fighter in McGee.
Now Whittaker is a narrow underdog in his upcoming fight against Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. Thompson is the favorite at -135 with Whittaker the underdog at +115. It seems that Whittaker gets a lot of respect for his striking ability, which prompts me to ask the following question: are we sure Whittaker is a good striker?
Here are Whittaker’s striking totals in official UFC fights so far:
- 48-88: vs. Court McGee
- 53-33: vs. Colton Smith
- 83-55: vs. Brad Scott
In fights against Colton Smith and Brad Scott, Whittaker landed 136 significant strikes and absorbed 88. That’s impressive enough but let’s consider the competition. Smith isn’t very much of a striker at all – and Whittaker chose to leave a hand down throughout that fight for that very reason. Scott is a better striker than Smith but is very unproven at best.
What’s most troubling about the numbers for Whittaker is that he’s absorbed 4.33 significant strikes per minute, a much higher than average rate. Whittaker has landed 4.52 strikes per minute in the same time frame but it’s very difficult for a fighter to win consistently while absorbing strikes at such a high rate.
Now Whittaker is taking on an opponent in Stephen Thompson who is arguably a much better striker than McGee or anybody else Whittaker has faced. While the hype surrounding Thompson was out of control at one point, he is legitimately a very good striker. He’s landed 1.5 strikes for every one absorbed, and he’s landed three knockdowns without being knocked down once. Thompson’s offense is better than his defense as he’s landed 4.35 significant strikes per minute overall.
So here we have a fight between Thompson, who lands strikes at a very high rate, and Whittaker, who absorbs strikes at a very high rate. Why exactly is Thompson only a -135 favorite?
Now, I will acknowledge that Thompson’s ground game remains a huge question mark. Seeing Thompson gas out badly against Matt Brown is an image that remains burned in my brain. There’s certainly a chance that Whittaker could take advantage of Thompson’s flawed ground game in this fight.
But how likely is it that Whittaker will even attempt the takedown? In three UFC fights and 41 minutes of action, Whittaker has attempted exactly one takedown. He landed it, but it didn’t lead to any submission offense. Besides that, Whittaker has done nothing but strike.
Usually fighters don’t adapt their game plans based on their competition. I doubt that Whittaker will adapt in this fight. I have to assume that Whittaker will engage Thompson in a striking match, and in that kind of fight I absolutely must favor Thompson.
Pick: Stephen Thompson by TKO
DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER
This one seems straightforward to me. The fight will probably be a striking match, and Thompson should be considered a solid favorite in that kind of fight. With that said, a -135 price seems like a bargain to me, so I’ve risked $2.70 to win $2.00 on Thompson.