As far as my UFC predictions and degenerate gambling go, last week was the “final straw” for me. It became clear that what I was doing was unsuccessful for long enough that it’s worth trying a different approach to predicting the fights.
Earlier this week, I had a sudden burst of creativity, and decided to create a model that would estimate each fighter’s chances of winning a fight. This model would take numerical inputs in ten categories: striking volume, striking defense, knockout power, chin, takedown volume, takedown accuracy, takedown defense, submissions, submission defense, and level of competition. Each fighter would be rated on a scale from 1-5 in each category. The model would take those inputs and spit out each fighter’s chances in a 3 round fight and in a 5 round fight.
The model I’ve come up with requires some fine-tuning, and I’m not about to suggest that it’s a finished product yet. What I am going to do is use it and see how it holds up. If it turns out to be accurate… then let’s just say I might end up developing a new fighter rating system to replace FPR, based on this model.
Unfortunately, the time I put into building this model has taken away from my time to actually study this weekend’s fights. With 23 fights taking place, I wouldn’t have had time to break them all down anyway, but that problem has now been exacerbated.
The result is that I’m going to provide detailed coverage of a handful of select fights only. I believe it’s probably better to give quality coverage of a few fights instead of giving poor coverage of all the fights. Since there’s a three-week gap between this weekend and the next UFC event (UFC 179 on October 25th), that should give me more than enough time to not only cover all the fights on that card, but develop a lot of fighter ratings as well.
Now with that out of the way, let’s get into some of the fights taking place this weekend:
Gunnar Nelson vs. Rick Story
Model estimate: Gunnar Nelson 64%, Rick Story 36%
The biggest problem for Rick Story leading up to the main event in Stockholm is that this is a five-round fight. That means Gunnar Nelson gets 25 minutes to find a way to submit Story… and that has to be considered the most likely outcome of this fight.
That might sound surprising, given that I usually argue there’s betting value on Rick Story. This fight is no exception, since Story is a large underdog at +300, but this really is not a good style matchup for him. Story is a punishing offensive fighter but his ground game can be a bit shaky at times. Story isn’t terrible on the ground by any means, but he doesn’t have polished positional grappling and is known to give up his back on occasion.
Demian Maia punished Story for giving up his back, and there’s no reason to think Nelson won’t do the same. In fact, Maia might be a really good comparison for Nelson overall: a fighter whose striking and takedowns are limited, but whose ground game is so good that it changes the way his opponents fight. Opponents don’t want to take Nelson down because they know what he’s capable of on the mat.
The question is: if Story has no desire to take Nelson down, can Nelson take Story down instead? It’s interesting because Nelson doesn’t really spam takedown attempts. In fact, Nelson often chooses to stand and strike with his opponent until that opponent makes a mistake and leaves a giant opening for Nelson to land the takedown.
It’s likely that Story will give Nelson that opening. Story is an aggressive and punishing striker who likes to constantly move forward and force his opponent’s back to the fence. However, Story’s takedown defense (62%) isn’t nearly as good as his offense. With Nelson’s prodigious talent on the ground and Story’s flawed submission defense, it seems likely that one takedown will be all it takes for Nelson to eventually force Story into a tapout.
Pick: Gunnar Nelson by submission
Rory MacDonald vs. Tarec Saffiedine
Model estimate: Rory MacDonald 81%, Tarec Saffiedine 19%
Tarec Saffiedine broke into the top ten in the welterweight division by winning the Strikeforce welterweight championship in an impressive kickboxing display against Nate Marquardt. For many, it seemed like Saffiedine had “arrived” as a legitimate UFC title threat at 170 pounds.
Here’s why I’m so pessimistic about Saffiedine’s chances on Saturday against Rory MacDonald. It appears strongly that Saffiedine’s performance against Marquardt was by far his best to date – and that Saffiedine normally does not perform so well in fights. In his lone UFC appearance so far, Saffiedine engaged Hyun Gyu Lim – a talented fighter but by no means a title contender at this point – in a slugfest. Saffiedine landed 120 significant strikes but Lim landed 122. I don’t like my title contenders absorbing 122 significant strikes in a fight (Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler excepted).
For the most part, Saffiedine has delivered “good” performances against fighters who would be on the fringes of the UFC. 67-53 in significant strikes against Roger Bowling. 46-28 in a split decision win over Tyler Stinson. 21-20 before winning by TKO against Nate Moore. 51-41 against Seichi Ikemoto.
This is the reason Saffiedine is a big underdog: he’s taking a big step up in competition to face arguably the division’s best fighter in Rory MacDonald. Saffiedine has clear defensive striking liabilities while MacDonald is typically good at limiting his opponent’s offense.
By no means do I think MacDonald is going to dominate Saffiedine, but it seems very likely that MacDonald will land more strikes, mix in a couple takedowns, and win this fight by decision. Saffiedine might take a round somewhere with his (very good) volume striking but it’s hard to see him winning three rounds out of five.
Pick: Rory MacDonald by decision
Raphael Assuncao vs. Bryan Caraway
Model estimate: Bryan Caraway 50%, Raphael Assuncao 50%
I’m not buying the narrative with Raphael Assuncao. No, winning an incorrect decision against T.J. Dillashaw in Brazil doesn’t automatically make Assuncao an elite bantamweight. It’s easy to emphasize what Assuncao does well – boxing, takedown defense – and ignore what he doesn’t do well. Namely, Assuncao is not a significant threat to finish fights against high-level opponents… unless you consider Vaughan Lee and Issei Tamura to be “high-level.”
Bryan Caraway is not going to beat Assuncao in a kickboxing match but that’s not his style anyway. Instead, Caraway is a relentless wrestler/grappler who is excellent at taking his opponent’s back in scrambles. It will be tougher to take down Assuncao but Caraway has been able to land two or three takedowns very consistently in the UFC.
Caraway is also very good at finishing fights by submission; 17 of his 19 career wins are by that method. It’s easy to think Assuncao’s ground game is too good for him to lose that way, but he was submitted by Urijah Faber and is down 5-8 in submission attempts in his combined UFC and WEC career. There is definitely potential for Caraway to win with takedowns and effective grappling.
Even so, my pick would be Assuncao if my life depended on it. Assuncao is easily the better boxer and defends takedowns well enough that he should at least make Caraway’s job difficult. I think Assuncao is a decent/good bantamweight whose stock is way too high right now, but the most likely outcome is that Assuncao will out-point Caraway with strikes and takedown defense and win by decision.
Pick: Raphael Assuncao by decision
Akira Corassani vs. Max Holloway
Model estimate: Max Holloway 83%, Akira Corassani 17%
Corassani is a striker who is extremely easy to hit and has a glass chin. Obviously that’s a terrible combination of attributes, but even more so against Max Holloway. Holloway is an excellent volume striker who also has a bit of sting behind his punches. Unless Corassani can find a way to knock Holloway out (and Holloway has not been as much as knocked down yet in the UFC), he’s in serious danger of losing by TKO for the fifth time in his MMA career.
Pick: Max Holloway by TKO
Jan Blachowicz vs. Ilir Latifi
Model estimate: Ilir Latifi 56%, Jan Blachowicz 44%
Latifi is a bull of a human being and a powerful wrestler, but he’s not a very prolific striker. Blachowicz makes his UFC debut after a successful run as the KSW light-heavyweight champion. He’s a better striker than Latifi but his takedown defense and striking defense are average at best. Blachowicz has a pretty good submission game but it will be difficult to beat Latifi that way. Latifi’s problem is that he often hesitates to shoot for takedowns – if he hesitates too much in this fight then he’s likely to lose a decision based on striking volume. I think Latifi can land enough takedowns and control top position enough to win but this is a competitive fight.
Pick: Ilir Latifi by decision
Daron Cruickshank vs. Anthony Njokuani
Model estimate: Daron Cruickshank 50%, Anthony Njokuani 50%
That’s right, the model has Cruickshank-Njokuani a 50-50 fight. Njokuani should have the advantage standing, as he’s the better volume striker and is significantly taller and longer than Cruickshank. However, Njokuani’s takedown defense and overall grappling are major liabilities. Cruickshank can potentially make up for a striking deficit with well-timed takedowns. It’s just enough to pick Cruickshank to win outright, but a bet on Njokuani at +145 is awfully tempting…
Pick: Daron Cruickshank by decision
Niklas Backstrom vs. Mike Wilkinson
Model estimate: Niklas Backstrom 82%, Mike Wilkinson 18%
Backstrom is a very talented prospect with brutal knees, sharp kicks, and an ability to catch opponents in sudden submission holds. He’s also a very tall and lanky featherweight with questionable striking defense/boxing and vulnerable takedown defense. He’s facing Wilkinson, a grappler and volume striker who struggles badly to defend strikes or land takedowns of his own. Backstrom is far ahead of Wilkinson as a prospect. I expect Backstrom to hurt Wilkinson badly with clinch strikes and finish the fight by TKO.
Pick: Niklas Backstrom by TKO
All other picks for this weekend will be shared in tomorrow’s degenerate gambling post. See you then!