In my Fighter Performance Rating statistic, one very important component to the formula is an adjustment for each fighter’s rating based on his strength of competition. Right now, I use historical Fight Matrix data to estimate this, and I’ve found the Fight Matrix ratings to be a pretty good indicator of how strong each fighter and opponent happens to be.
Even so, I’ve had difficulty figuring out the best way to translate the Fight Matrix ratings into an opponent strength modifier. One great example of a fighter I feel is overrated by my statistics is Erik Perez, who has performed extremely well against a very low level of competition. I currently have Perez rated as the #5 UFC bantamweight despite having the highest penalty in the division for a lack of strong opponents. When Perez faced off against his toughest opponent yet in Takeya Mizugaki, his looping striking style was exposed and Mizugaki took a split decision victory.
I feel like a similar situation is happening here as Mizugaki is taking on Francisco Rivera. I have Rivera rated highly (although not as highly as Perez), mostly due to strong striking performances against poor competition. In his last four fights, Rivera has earned victories against George Roop, Edwin Figueroa, Roland Delorme (the win was later overturned), and Alex Soto. While Rivera deserves full credit for winning convincingly in all of those fights, Mizugaki represents a serious step up in competition for him.
At the same time, I view Mizugaki as being more of a mid-tier UFC bantamweight than a high-level competitor. He’s the kind of fighter who is pretty good in all areas but not exceptionally good in any one area. Mizugaki keeps up a pretty good pace with strikes (3.49 per minute) but he doesn’t have the world’s greatest defense (3.20). In his last fight, Nam Phan landed 100 significant strikes in three rounds on Mizugaki (of course, because he’s Nam Phan, he also absorbed 152 significant strikes from Mizugaki).
Mizugaki’s best offense is his takedown game. He’s landed 65 percent of his takedowns overall, and at least two takedowns in eight of his 13 fights in the UFC and WEC. This is important for a fighter whose fights usually go to decision, especially since Mizugaki often struggles to separate himself from his opponent with strikes alone.
This is a tricky fight to call because Rivera’s striking has been very effective in recent fights but mostly against opponents who simply aren’t great strikers themselves. My suspicion is that Rivera will have a much tougher time keeping up with Mizugaki’s pace. I see the striking portion of this fight being closer to a toss-up than anything.
To Rivera’s credit, he’s showcased very good punching power by bantamweight standards, landing four knockdowns in his six UFC fights. By contrast, Mizugaki has landed a whopping 661 significant strikes in the UFC and WEC and has just two knockdowns to show for it. If Rivera wins this fight, it will probably be by knockout.
What I think will be Rivera’s downfall is the takedown game. Roop, Figueroa, and Delorme are all non-wrestlers, but Soto took him down three times and Reuben Duran took him down twice. Rivera enters with a respectable takedown defense rate of 66 percent, but again, that number has to be filtered through a low level of competition overall by UFC standards. Mizugaki is likely to land at least a couple takedowns in this fight.
In the end, I think the step up in competition will expose Rivera the same way it exposed Perez, although I also view this as a very competitive fight and wouldn’t favor either fighter too strongly.
Pick: Takeya Mizugaki by decision