Lyoto Machida vs. Luke Rockhold
When this fight was first announced, my initial reaction was the same as it was for most people. I saw Machida and Rockhold as two of the top five fighters in the middleweight division and thought the fight itself would be very tough to call. Betting markets currently have Rockhold as the -160 favorite, a number that has nudged upwards from an opener of -140. It’s easy to see Machida as the old stalwart who is about to be passed by against the younger Rockhold.
That’s why I was so surprised to put this fight through my statistical model, and come away with an estimate that not only is Machida the favorite to win, but he’s actually a fairly substantial favorite.
To illustrate why this is, I want to highlight two key factors. The first is the number of significant strikes Machida and Rockhold both absorb. The statistic I use to estimate this is called “regressed significant strikes absorbed per minute,” or rSAPM for short. This is more predictive than the SAPM number found on Fight Metric due to using data from UFC fights only and regressing that number to the mean:
| Lyoto Machida
| Luke Rockhold
Rockhold’s striking defense is above average, but he’s never been able to shut down his opponents in the same way Machida has. Rockhold will have height and reach advantages, but Machida is arguably the best fighter in the sport at controlling distance and manipulating his opponent’s movement.
The second factor is how well each fighter absorbs strikes. It should be noted that both of Rockhold’s losses were by TKO, against Vitor Belfort in his UFC debut and against Tony Rubalcava in his second professional MMA fight. Being knocked out by Belfort is forgivable, but it’s much more of a red flag that Rockhold was knocked out by a relative unknown in his early career. To date, Machida’s only been finished by TKO once, in his famous title loss to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in 2010. Here is each fighter’s regressed knockdown absorbed rate:
| Lyoto Machida
| Luke Rockhold
Historically, Machida’s biggest problem has been that he gets so focused on defending his opponent’s strikes that he neglects to land too many strikes of his own. This cost him in decision losses to Phil Davis and Quinton Jackson, and nearly cost him against Dan Henderson. If Machida goes all five rounds against Rockhold, it’s easy to envision another decision loss if he doesn’t pick up the volume.
Even so, this profiles as a striker vs. striker match, and one in which Machida is the much better defender with the much better chin. Subjectively, I think Rockhold’s chances are better than my statistical model gives him credit for, but Machida’s recent performances have been strong enough for me to feel good about picking him to win despite being the underdog.
Pick: Lyoto Machida by TKO
Chris Camozzi vs. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza
It’s deeply disappointing that Yoel Romero was forced to withdraw from this match, as a fight between him and Jacare was every bit as compelling as Machida-Rockhold in my view. Chris Camozzi has stepped up on short notice to fight Jacare for a second time; all I can say is that Jacare vs. an overmatched opponent is better than no Jacare at all.
This is just a brutal stylistic matchup for Camozzi. His takedown defense is mediocre at best and he tends to struggle on the ground. Camozzi is at his best when his opponent is willing to engage him in a striking match, but even then, Camozzi lacks power and relies on volume to win decisions. To be blunt, I would favor Jacare to win this fight even if he never attempted a takedown, but Jacare’s world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game, strong takedowns, and aggression should be far too much for Camozzi to handle. My respect goes to Camozzi for doing what it takes to earn another UFC contract, but this is not a competitive fight.
Pick: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza by submission
Max Holloway vs. Cub Swanson
Swanson is a good featherweight who rode a hot streak into title contention, only to be humiliated by Frankie Edgar when he reached the verge of a title shot. He’s back to face Max Holloway, a boxer who absorbs a lot of strikes, but makes up for it with great volume, decent power, and an excellent chin. Holloway should be vulnerable against wrestlers; it could be argued that he’s been coddled for not having fought a wrestler since his loss to Dennis Bermudez. Swanson is not that type of fighter, though. He’s a guy who will mix in a takedown once in a while, but will otherwise engage with an aggressive and diverse striking arsenal. I’m anticipating a split decision in this one.
Pick: Max Holloway by decision
Felice Herrig vs. Paige VanZant
Deserved or not, Paige VanZant has received a tremendous amount of attention for winning her UFC debut match against Kailin Curran five months ago (which I suspect has very little to do with her actual fighting). Her striking activity was great in that match but she failed to defend any of Curran’s five takedowns. My expectation is that VanZant will have the striking advantage against Felice Herrig, who will have the grappling advantage against VanZant. VanZant’s nine year youth advantage is enough for me to pick her to win, but I’m not confident.
Pick: Paige VanZant by decision
Beneil Dariush vs. Jim Miller
This is a quick turnaround for Dariush, who is coming off a big win against Daron Cruickshank just last month. He’s taking a short notice fight against Jim Miller, a veteran fighter who has competed at a high level, but has turned in middling to poor performances against his toughest opponents. Miller’s strength is on the ground, but that’s Dariush’s strength as well, and I believe Dariush has developed a better overall takedown game. If this fight took place a year ago, I would never have made this pick, but today…
Pick: Beneil Dariush by decision
Patrick Cummins vs. Ovince St-Preux
This is a very intriguing fight. Cummins has been statistically dominant in the UFC, but only against a relatively low level of competition. St-Preux’s statistics aren’t particularly remarkable, but he’s proven himself against much tougher opponents. Cummins should have the clear advantage in takedowns, but I expect St-Preux to be tougher to take down, and more dangerous both standing and on the ground, than Cummins’ previous opponents. I’m very curious to see if Cummins’ game will work against an opponent as tough as St-Preux, or if Cummins has managed to expand his skill set. For now, I have to see this as a coin flip fight.
Pick: Ovince St-Preux by TKO
Corey Anderson vs. Gian Villante
As dismal as some of Villante’s performances have been, he should consider himself lucky to still be on the UFC roster. Villante’s striking defense is porous and his conditioning is a huge question mark. He serves as proof that training with a fighter like Chris Weidman can only take a fighter so far. As it stands, Villante looks like he’s being used as a low-level gatekeeper to test a much better prospect in Corey Anderson.
Pick: Corey Anderson by TKO
Takeya Mizugaki vs. Aljamain Sterling
I’ve been keeping my eye on Sterling as a fighter who could break into title contention in the bantamweight division. The problem is that everybody else has been keeping an eye on him too. Sterling is currently a -350 favorite to beat Mizugaki, a number consistent with a top-tier bantamweight, not a fighter who we simply know has the potential to make it to the top tier. Sterling is good everywhere but Mizugaki is well-rounded and should be his toughest opponent yet. I’m not about to pick Mizugaki here but the underdog price is awfully enticing…
Pick: Aljamain Sterling by decision
Tim Means vs. George Sullivan
Sullivan is a pressure fighter who looked good in wins against both Mike Rhodes and Igor Araujo, but now faces a tougher opponent in Tim Means. Means will likely want to keep the fight at distance and pick Sullivan apart with punches, while Sullivan is likely to clinch and make this more of a brawl. Neither man has the talent to make a true run at 170 pounds but this should be a good action fight at the very least.
Pick: Tim Means by decision
Diego Brandao vs. Jimy Hettes
This is a re-booking of a fight that should have taken place in January, and it remains very tough to call. Hettes is a submission wizard but the ground game is Brandao’s strength as well. Brandao’s power advantage should make him the more effective striker, but his suspect cardio and poor defense could open the door for Hettes to win with a greater volume of strikes. It’s a weird matchup of skills; no outcome of this fight would surprise me unless Hettes somehow knocks Brandao out.
Pick: Jimy Hettes by decision
Chris Dempsey vs. Eddie Gordon
This is the one fight on this card that doesn’t really interest me too much. Dempsey got trucked by Ilir Latifi in his UFC debut and may not have what it takes to fight at this level of competition. Gordon looked a lot better against Josh Samman before getting knocked out. I have to think Gordon is the better prospect although the -450 betting price is really pushing it.
Pick: Eddie Gordon by TKO