I’m not going to pretend like I have enough knowledge of the fighters on this card to break down all the fights. Instead I’m going to focus on the main and co-main events.
Michael Bisping vs. Cung Le
If you ever try to develop statistics to rate sports teams or individuals, you’ll probably come up with some ratings that just look bizarre. For one reason or another, there will usually be some outliers that just look like they don’t belong. When I developed the FPR statistic, Cung Le was one example of a fighter whose rating just didn’t seem to make sense. After putting Le’s Fight Metric statistics into the formula, FPR gave him a rating of +5.44, making him a top ten fighter in the middleweight division. Until now, this hasn’t been a problem because Le hasn’t been fighting.
But Le is back now, which means I have to confront FPR’s output. Look at Le’s Fight Metric statistics and you’ll find out quickly why FPR likes him so much:
- Significant Strikes: Le 439, opponents 234
- Knockdowns: Le 11, opponents 3
- Takedowns: Le 10, opponents 1
- Guard Passes: Le 7, opponents 0
- Submission Attempts: Le 2, opponents 0
Of course, context is everything. It’s very important to take into account what kind of opponents Le has faced to earn those statistics. My strength of schedule modifier rates Le’s collective opponents at -1.18. This is the lowest mark of any UFC middleweight with at least 60 minutes of Fight Metric data. For perspective, Chris Weidman has the highest schedule modifier at +7.54 and Gegard Mousasi, who has faced no shortage of overmatched opponents, has a schedule modifier of +0.38.
Obviously Le hasn’t been as successful in the UFC as he was in Strikeforce. Instead of facing opponents like Scott Smith, Tony Fryklund, and Brian Warren, Le’s opponents in the UFC have been Wanderlei Silva, Patrick Cote, and Rich Franklin. In the UFC, Le’s Fight Metric statistics aren’t so amazing – he’s 95-106 in significant strikes and 1-1 in knockdowns. It’s also worth noting that Le enters this fight at the age of 42 years old.
At a high level, Le is a fighter who is a knockout threat with a strong kick-heavy striking offense, but questionable cardio and porous striking defense. Le is unlikely to win a decision against a volume striker like Bisping, who should have a major advantage in cardio – an advantage exacerbated by this being a five-round main event.
So I’m not prepared to argue that Cung Le should be favored to defeat Michael Bisping, because I simply can’t make a case for that happening, even with Le entering with the higher FPR. However, I am willing to argue that Le is being undervalued by the betting public. First of all, Bisping is no spring chicken himself. He enters at 35.5 years old with ten years of professional MMA fighting and eight in the UFC. If his fight against Tim Kennedy was any indication, Bisping’s skills very well might be diminishing.
Bisping has also never had the world’s greatest striking defense – ask Dan Henderson. He’s been knocked out twice and knocked down five times. Cung Le by knockout is absolutely in play here. Finally, I don’t want to throw around accusations, but take one look at Le’s physique. I dare you to tell me with a straight face there’s no extra “supplementation” taking place there.
As concerned as I am about Bisping’s chin and fight “mileage,” his advantages in striking volume and conditioning are more than enough for me to favor him here. The most likely outcome is one where Bisping lands a lot of jabs and straight punches, eventually winning on points or perhaps getting a late TKO stoppage. But I also see Cung Le as a “live” underdog here.
Pick: Michael Bisping by decision
Dong Hyun Kim vs. Tyron Woodley
There are three things that are very clear about Tyron Woodley. One is that he’s a tank of a welterweight who is nearly impossible to take down. Another is that he hits very hard and is a serious threat to win by knockout against most of his opponents. The third is that he’s not a very good kickboxer – at all.
Woodley enters this fight with 339 significant strikes landed and 369 absorbed. Woodley does fine when he can either dominate with takedowns or when he faces a fellow wrestler with flawed striking himself (Josh Koscheck). Against an opponent who can defend takedowns and strike, like Rory MacDonald? The results were pretty ugly.
The good news for Dong Hyun Kim is that he can definitely defend takedowns. He enters with a takedown defense rate of 81% – not as good as Woodley’s 91% but still very good. At least, good enough to probably force Woodley into a striking match, which should be the goal of just about anybody who faces Woodley.
The question is: can Kim strike? For most of his career, Kim has been a grinder, a fighter who used his Judo skills to land takedowns, earn dominant position on the ground, hold it, and win by decision. In recent fights, Kim has done a 180 – he’s morphed into a wild and exciting striker, but the results have been mixed. Erick Silva out-struck Kim 28-11 before Kim suddenly and unexpectedly knocked Silva out. In Kim’s last fight, he was an even 27-27 in significant strikes against John Hathaway before again winning by brutal knockout.
It’s clear that Kim’s newfound style full of spinning elbows and flying knees is great for potentially winning by knockout and not so great for actually landing more strikes than his opponent. My fear for Kim entering this fight is that he’ll leave his chin exposed on one of his spinning attempts, and Woodley will capitalize by landing one of those cinder blocks he calls fists. Woodley seems like the wrong opponent to play with fire against.
But if Woodley doesn’t knock out Kim, what then? Hathaway is a better kickboxer than Woodley and Kim was able to keep up with his striking output. Woodley has also been knocked out once before, by Nate Marquardt. Despite Woodley’s fight finishing power, this is a very tricky stylistic matchup for him. I see this as a 50-50 coin flip fight, and I’m giving it to Woodley because I think he’s the better overall fighter. It should be very interesting to see how it plays out.
Pick: Tyron Woodley by KO