According to a number of people on Twitter over the weekend, using statistics to predict MMA fights is completely useless! I guess everything I’ve done on this blog has been a giant waste of time then!
Obviously my top 20 ranking on last year’s Sherdog pick’em challenge and current 58-27 record predicting fights so far this year suggests the opposite: that statistics can work for MMA… if they’re used correctly. The problem isn’t the idea of using statistics to predict fights, it’s the application of statistics to predicting fights. In other words, statistics need to be put in their proper context. Due to the constant problem of having a lack of data, this is an inexact science but I’m completely convinced that a statistical approach is not just valid, but effective.
I’m not going to claim to be the best there is at predicting MMA fights, because I’m not. For a long time, I struggled as I experimented with different ways of making stats work. In the last year I believe I’ve developed a very effective approach. As far as I’m concerned, the criticisms regarding statistics in MMA are largely ignorant.
Daniel Pineda is 3-3 in the UFC and might be fighting for his job in the first fight of UFC 171 against Robert Whiteford. Pineda has shown he’s capable of beating fringe UFC competition as he’s earned quick submission victories against Justin Lawrence, Mackens Semerzier, and Pat Schilling – none of whom are still in the UFC. Losses to Diego Brandao, Mike Brown, and Antonio Carvalho have exposed Pineda as a flawed fighter with limited upside, but I’m not sure Whiteford is a fighter who is well equipped to take advantage of Pineda’s flaws.
Pineda’s greatest strength is his submission game, as that’s been his method of victory in all three of his UFC wins. Pineda is a very aggressive grappler who is willing to take risks to go after submissions quickly, but his overall takedown game is very limited. Pineda has landed just 1.7 takedowns per 15 minutes at 27 percent accuracy, with 33 percent takedown defense. Pineda is also a respectable striker with a significant strike margin of +0.74 per minute, but his 2.82 significant strikes absorbed per minute, 48 percent striking defense, and knockout loss to Carvalho suggest that he’s relatively easy to hit.
That’s good news for Whiteford, whose biggest strength is easily his ability to land strikes at high volume. He’s an aggressive striker with accurate and powerful punches, and he out-struck Jimy Hettes 15-5 despite not getting much of a chance to keep the fight standing. Unfortunately, that may be Whiteford’s only real strength as an MMA fighter. His striking defense is much worse than his offense, his takedown defense is a huge question mark, and he has almost no ground game at all.
I don’t hold Whiteford’s submission loss to Hettes against him too much because Hettes is one of the best grapplers in the featherweight division, but tape study was not kind to Whiteford’s overall ground game. On one occasion, Whiteford landed a takedown only for his opponent to attack him with an armbar. On other occasions, Whiteford would land a takedown but then do absolutely nothing with it. At the very least, Whiteford lacks a polished ground game, and that means he’s at risk of being submitted quickly by Pineda.
Whiteford’s best chance of winning this fight is to do everything he can to keep the fight standing. His aggressive and punishing strikes should give him the advantage against Pineda on the feet. However, both fighters have limited ability to defend strikes, so I can’t give Whiteford more than a slight advantage there.
Overall, as flawed as Pineda is, I think Whiteford is even more flawed as an MMA fighter. Whiteford is a punishing striker but lacks the takedown defense and ground game that an aspiring UFC contender needs. In this particular matchup, Whiteford’s ability to land strikes doesn’t make up for what I believe will be a substantial advantage for Pineda on the ground.
Pick: Daniel Pineda by submission
DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER
I’ll probably stay away from this fight completely because I can’t be too confident in my analysis of Whiteford. He only has one UFC fight so my opinion of his abilities is based mostly on tape study. It’s probably best if I stay safe and just pass.