(Coming up, there are four UFC events in two weeks. There’s UFC Fight Night in Abu Dhabi on Friday, followed by the TUF Nations Finale on April 16th, UFC on Fox on April 19th, and finally UFC 172 on April 26th. That’s already too many events in too short a time for me to write at length about each fight, but on top of that, I’m on vacation for most of this time. So I’m going to write ahead of time on the main event and co-main event of each of these shows.)
I’m still amazed at how many people expected Tatsuya Kawajiri to lose to Sean Soriano in his UFC debut. Kawajiri, a former mainstay in the PRIDE lightweight division and a perennial top ten ranked fighter, was expected to lose to an opponent making his debut in a major organization in Soriano. I didn’t understand the thinking. Soriano is talented for sure, but he was completely unproven against the kind of opponent he was matched up against. Perhaps people thought Kawajiri was washed up, or maybe they just thought very highly of Soriano’s talent. Either way, Kawajiri broke through Soriano’s initial strong takedown defense and ended up winning by second-round submission.
Now Kawajiri is matched up against a much more established opponent in Clay Guida, and it amuses me that the betting lines for the fight are very similar to what they were for the Soriano fight – that is to say, fairly even. In some ways, Guida is similar to Kawajiri. Both fighters have a wrestling base and land takedowns on a frequent basis. Guida lands 3.4 takedowns per 15 minutes while Kawajiri lands 3.9. Neither fighter is a precise striker, especially Guida, who sometimes looks like he’s most comfortable just closing his eyes and winging wild hooks at his opponent.
Kawajiri opened as the betting favorite against Guida, but once again, the betting action has gone against Kawajiri, making Guida the slight favorite to win the fight. If the statistics are to be believed, that betting action is misplaced as Kawajiri has statistical advantages over Guida in every category.
Guida lands 39 percent of his takedown attempts while Kawajiri lands 56 percent. Guida lands just 1.97 significant strikes per minute at 30 percent accuracy; Kawajiri lands 2.28 significant strikes per minute at 46 percent accuracy. Kawajiri also absorbs fewer strikes than Guida – 1.65 per minute for Kawajiri, 2.23 per minute for Guida.
The reason I expect this to be a more competitive fight than the Soriano match is that it’s possible Guida could win the takedown battle. Both fighters defend takedowns at a 69 percent rate and Guida often makes up for a lack of efficiency with sheer determination. If Guida can take down and control Kawajiri in two rounds out of three, that’s all he needs to win by decision, even if he’s less active on the ground than his opponent (much to the chagrin of many fans including myself).
However, I do see Kawajiri as the more efficient wrestler and more likely to win the takedown battle. When a fighter can combine high volume (3.9 takedowns per 15 minutes) with high efficiency (56 percent), he has to be considered among the elite in his division in terms of takedown offense. Guida is very good at takedowns but Kawajiri is better.
Kawajiri’s losses in MMA have been to a couple fighter types. One is the fighter who can “sprawl and brawl,” keep the fight standing and punish Kawajiri on the feet. Eddie Alvarez, Gilbert Melendez, and Takanori Gomi all fit this description, and all defeated Kawajiri. The second fighter type is Shinya Aoki, who really just deserves his own category as a submission wizard competing with a very friendly rule set.
Guida might be good at the sprawling, but he’s not so good at the brawling. I think Kawajiri has advantages in both takedowns and striking and deserves to be the favorite, as much as I’m concerned that Guida’s wild movement might hypnotize the judges into scoring the fight for him, Diego Sanchez style.
Pick: Tatsuya Kawajiri by decision