Fighter Performance Rating is a big fan of Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante. It ranks him as the fifth best light-heavyweight in the UFC, behind Jon Jones, Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira, and Daniel Cormier. It’s also an example that inspires me to look at the formula behind FPR and try to improve it. Quite frankly, I don’t buy FPR’s assessment that Cavalcante is a top tier fighter.
Now, there are two things Cavalcante is very good at: takedown defense and knockout power. If I could choose only two things to be good at as a fighter, those would probably be the two things (or strike defense and takedown defense). A fighter who can consistently stay standing (80 percent takedown defense) and is a constant threat to knock people out (nine knockdowns, 25.1 significant strikes per knockdown) always has a chance to win a fight.
The problem is that Cavalcante’s tendency is to get into firefights. He’s landed strikes at a high pace throughout his career (3.86 per minute) but absorbed strikes at almost the same rate (3.52). This means that Cavalcante is both a favorite to win a striking match most of the time and never a strong favorite to win that striking match. This dynamic was on full display in his fight against Thiago Silva. Cavalcante got off to a strong start, but gassed out in about half a round. Silva responded by landing 37 significant strikes in the first round and finishing Cavalcante by knockout.
My belief is that FPR overvalues Cavalcante’s ability to finish fights by knockout, and doesn’t penalize him enough for his elevated rate of strikes absorbed.
It’s an interesting dichotomy. Cavalcante always has at least a decent chance of winning but can never be considered a very strong favorite, unless he was to face an opponent from near the bottom of the UFC light-heavyweight division. Cavalcante’s opponent this time is Ryan Bader, a fighter who is far from the bottom of the division but in danger of becoming a high-level gatekeeper if he loses this fight.
We know Bader’s strengths, weaknesses, and limitations at this point. He’s a good wrestler/boxer type who is at his best when he’s able to land takedowns and punish his opponent with ground and pound consistently. Against an opponent like Anthony Perosh who had no answer for Bader’s takedowns, it made for a lopsided and somewhat uncomfortable fight to watch. Cavalcante should be far more difficult to take down and defeat that way.
Bader’s biggest weakness is his ability to take a punch, which makes the Cavalcante match particularly treacherous for him. Bader has been knocked down three times in the UFC, and while that doesn’t sound horrible, that means he’s been knocked down once every 56 significant strikes he’s absorbed. The only UFC light-heavyweights with a worse ratio are James Te Huna (who is moving to middleweight) and Krzysztof Soszynski.
In this fight, we have a fighter who hits very hard and has good takedown defense in Cavalcante, facing a wrestler who has difficulty absorbing punishment in Bader. Sounds like a tailor made victory for “Feijao,” right? Well, that’s where Cavalcante’s history of taking too much punishment makes me nervous. Bader has very good knockout power himself, and if recent history is any indication, has the better conditioning as well.
I believe Cavalcante probably has one round to finish Bader, and maybe just a portion of one round, before things start to fall apart for him. The good news is that he hits like a ton of bricks and Bader is “chinny,” so there’s a very high chance that Cavalcante will get that quick knockout. The bad news is that if Cavalcante gasses out, I don’t see any realistic path to victory for him at that point. I have so much respect for his knockout power that I’m willing to call this fight another coin flip. This time, however, I’m going to slightly side with the betting favorite in Bader, who I believe has more paths to victory available to him here.
Pick: Ryan Bader by KO