I remember when the UFC was so excited about how deep its light-heavyweight division was. Shortly after the UFC absorbed PRIDE, it seemed that the UFC had an extremely talented roster of 205 pound fighters. Not only did the UFC have its proven stars (Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, etc.) and prospects on the rise (Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin), it now had PRIDE’s best talent and prospects as well. It was hard not to be excited about the outlook of that division at the time.
Since then, many of those light-heavyweights have faded into retirement, but not many fighters have emerged as credible options to fortify the division. That’s why I have no doubt that the UFC would love to have guys like Ryan Jimmo and Ovince St-Preux establish themselves as long-term mainstays of the division. Jimmo and St-Preux will fight each other on the opening fight of the UFC 174 main card and I have little doubt that the winner will get an opportunity to test himself against a top ten opponent.
Jimmo is a guy who sounds great on paper – a fighter with a 19-3 overall record, good striking skills, very good knockout power, and good takedown defense as well. For a fighter who many feared would be terribly boring to watch in the UFC, Jimmo has actually turned out to be quite exciting and fun to watch for the most part. He’s landed 157 significant strikes in 44 minutes of UFC action so far for an average of 3.55 per minute, a welcome change from the fighter who turned a five-round match against Sokoudjou into an exercise in scoring 10-9.5 rounds in MFC.
Jimmo has certainly been more exciting in the UFC, but part of that excitement comes from him being relatively easy to hit. James Te Huna landed 49 significant strikes against Jimmo despite nearly being knocked out early in that one. Jimi Manuwa landed 48 significant strikes in less than two rounds, winning by stoppage because of a Jimmo injury. In Jimmo’s last fight, UFC newcomer Sean O’Connell was keeping pace with Jimmo for the better part of the first round before Jimmo suddenly knocked him out. Overall, Jimmo’s significant strike defense stands at a very low 42 percent.
It seems that St-Preux should be able to take advantage of Jimmo’s poor defense. St-Preux is a decent volume striker, having landed 3.02 significant strikes per minute through ten UFC/Strikeforce fights. He enters having landed 1.6 significant strikes for every one his opponents land, with four knockdowns to none for his opponents. St-Preux has also shown an above-average ability to land takedowns at a 62 percent rate to go along with a good guard passing game and the occasional submission.
There’s no obvious knock against St-Preux’s statistics, but his level of competition has simply not been up to UFC standards. The toughest opponent he’s defeated in his current 12-1 run is your choice of Cody Donovan, Gian Villante, Benji Radach, or Antwain Britt. As a data analyst, one of the challenges I have to deal with is when a fighter’s statistics are inflated by lesser than average competition. Against a far tougher opponent in Gegard Mousasi, St-Preux’s offense was mostly shut down.
My expectation is that this fight will stay standing more often than not, and that it will be a very close contest, both in terms of how many strikes each fighter lands and in terms of how likely each fighter is to win by knockout. I believe that St-Preux is a little more likely to try taking the fight to the ground, but Jimmo is a strong fighter with good takedown defense at 85 percent. St-Preux’s better defense is enough for me to pick him in what I see as a coin flip fight, but I’m not confident about the pick at all.
Pick: Ovince St-Preux by decision