It boggles my mind that the UFC is willing to take a fight like Luke Rockhold vs. Michael Bisping – a fight that has serious potential to make Rockhold a star – and put it on UFC Fight Pass. I’m amazed at how badly the UFC is being run as a business right now. Instead of being a company holding a decent number of quality events, with each event setting up the next, the UFC is putting on far too many shows with far too many fighters. The product has become so diluted that fights like Edgar Garcia vs. Hector Urbina are on the main card of upcoming pay per view shows. Sometime soon, I’m going to write a VERY long rant about the downward spiral of the UFC – and how the promotion can turn things around.
For now, there are two watered-down UFC shows this week (again), so let’s look at the first of the two: UFC Fight Night in Sydney, set to take place this Friday (Saturday locally in Australia).
Michael Bisping vs. Luke Rockhold
Bisping is a fighter who wins by pushing a high pace, landing strikes with tremendous volume and just wearing his opponents out. Bisping is able to get TKO finishes despite lacking knockout power because his opponents simply take too much damage. Bisping is also a decent, if unremarkable, grappler, meaning that he isn’t particularly weak in an area British fighters are notorious for struggling with.
Bisping’s weaknesses are his effective striking defense and his chin. To some extent, Bisping is able to limit his opponent’s offense by landing his own strikes, but when he’s attacked, his defense isn’t really that great. Against an opponent like Luke Rockhold, it’s a terrible situation for Bisping. Not only is Rockhold a well-conditioned fighter who can keep up with Bisping’s pace, Rockhold hits a lot harder than Bisping does – Rockhold has a ratio of 32.3 significant strikes per knockdown, one of the best rates in the middleweight division.
Rockhold is also younger than Bisping (both in terms of age and career length), is significantly taller, and has a significantly longer reach. Rockhold has also shown the ability to beat top-tier middleweight competition with wins against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Tim Kennedy. As good as Bisping is against mid-tier UFC opponents, he’s consistently fallen short when given the opportunity to fight tougher guys.
That’s why Rockhold is a very strong favorite (-440 at the time of writing) to beat Bisping. Rockhold is an excellent striker and simply better than Bisping where Bisping is strongest. With Rockhold’s plus finishing ability and Bisping’s suspect chin, a TKO finish seems to be in the works here.
Pick: Luke Rockhold by TKO
Statistical model estimate: Luke Rockhold 78.2%, Michael Bisping 21.8%
Al Iaquinta vs. Ross Pearson
While Al Iaquinta’s UFC career hasn’t always been smooth sailing, his problems have generally come on the ground. Multiple opponents have taken Iaquinta’s back and threatened submissions, with both Michael Chiesa and Mitch Clarke managing to finish their respective fights against him. When Iaquinta has had the opportunity to stand and strike, he’s been a very effective volume and pressure striker.
It would seem like Ross Pearson represents a good style matchup for Iaquinta. Pearson also likes to stand and strike, and actually represents the same fighter type – the high-volume sprawl-and-brawl points striker with a little bit of power to go along with it. However, before I call this a 50-50 fight, I have to point out a few discrepancies.
First: Pearson has fought a higher level of competition than Iaquinta. While Iaquinta has been facing mostly fringe UFC competition (Clarke, Rodrigo Damm, a very raw and debuting Kevin Lee), Pearson has faced guys like Cub Swanson, Edson Barboza, and Dennis Siver. In that context, Pearson’s significant strike margin of +1.08 is more impressive to me than Iaquinta’s margin of +1.57.
The other problem for Iaquinta is that effective defense tends to translate to higher levels of competition better than effective offense – and Iaquinta has actually absorbed more strikes per minute than Pearson in their respective UFC careers. My belief is that Pearson will be the more effective striker here in a somewhat competitive fight.
Pick: Ross Pearson by decision
Statistical model estimate: Ross Pearson 73.8%, Al Iaquinta 26.2%
Clint Hester vs. Robert Whittaker
I’ve mostly gone against the hype when it comes to Robert Whittaker. He had a very nice showing on The Ultimate Fighter but there is a major hole in his game – his ability to effectively defend strikes. In Whittaker’s defense, he’s faced some very good volume strikers like Stephen Thompson and Court McGee. Even so, Whittaker has absorbed a whopping 4.38 significant strikes per minute, which counts as a serious red flag in my book.
It’s not a good statistic to have for a fighter who is moving up a weight class to face Clint Hester. While I wasn’t blown away by Hester’s stint on TUF, I’ve been very impressed by his performances in the UFC – he’s been an active and punishing striker who has cleaned up his submission defense. He figures to land strikes early and often against Whittaker. Even though Whittaker is a very good offensive striker, I can’t imagine him being able to match Hester’s output and damage potential.
Pick: Clint Hester by decision
Statistical model estimate: Clint Hester 70.8%, Robert Whittaker 29.2%
Walt Harris vs. Soa Palelei
Harris returns to the UFC to take on Soa Palelei on short notice, but I can’t imagine him suddenly finding success. Harris is a huge guy with a ton of raw power but very little polish to his MMA game. As a striker, Harris is a fighter who throws an occasional jab, straight punch, or body kick with very low volume. Unless Harris reinvents himself as an attacker, his only real way to win UFC fights will be with sudden knockouts due to landing wild haymakers – strikes Harris doesn’t land nearly enough.
That’s not to say that Palelei is some kind of world beater, or even a fighter who should be favored too strongly to beat Harris. But Palelei packs a ton of knockout power himself and has a more well-rounded, polished MMA game. Palelei figures to land more strikes here, so he should have the better chance of winning by knockout as well, especially since Harris already has a quick TKO loss to Nikita Krylov on his record.
Pick: Soa Palelei by KO
Statistical model estimate: Soa Palelei 62.7%, Walt Harris 37.3%
- Jake Matthews over Vagner Rocha
- Guto Inocente over Anthony Perosh
- Dylan Andrews over Sam Alvey
- Louis Smolka over Richie Vaculik
- Chris Clements over Vik Grujic
- Luke Zachrich over Daniel Kelly
- Marcus Brimage over Jumabieke Tuerxun