I have to tip my cap to UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby. They’ve put together a fight card with a lot of fights that I have as virtual coin flips. This is reflected in the betting lines, where no fighter is better than a 2-1 favorite at the time of this writing. If you like competitive fights, you’ll like this UFC Fight Night event.
Tim Boetsch vs. Dan Henderson
Dan Henderson is back and once again attempting to defy the natural aging process of the human body. Henderson is now 44 years old, heading into his 44th professional MMA fight and is 1-5 in his last six fights (in fairness, fights against top-tier competition). Henderson has reached an age at which even athletes legendary for their career longevity have struggled to compete at a high level. It’s true that Randy Couture defended his UFC heavyweight championship against Gabriel Gonzaga at the age of 44, but that was probably the last time Couture could have been accurately described as a top-tier fighter.
Describing Henderson that way is becoming more and more difficult, to the point where I don’t think it can be done anymore. Henderson’s statistics – which have to be put into the context of consistently facing elite opposition – have gone from mediocre to just plain bad. Henderson enters with 358 significant strikes landed against 485 absorbed in the UFC. He’s been knocked down six times, and with two recent TKO losses, it can also no longer be said that Henderson recovers well from being hurt by strikes.
Henderson might have a history of excellence in Greco-Roman wrestling, but that aspect of his game is basically obsolete now. Since Henderson returned to the UFC after becoming the champion in Strikeforce, he’s landed a grand total of two takedowns in seven fights. At this point in his career, Henderson is a fighter who desperately swings his right hand at his opponent and hopes for a knockout. With the exception of poor Shogun Rua, Henderson hasn’t been able to finish opponents that way.
As much as I think it would be best for Henderson to hang up the gloves, he’s at least getting an opponent who isn’t in the top ten this time. As far as MMA is concerned, Tim Boetsch is a jack of all trades and master of none. He can strike a little and wrestle a little, but isn’t technically superior in either area. Boetsch’s biggest strength as a fighter is his ability to endure punishment – he hasn’t suffered a knockdown yet despite absorbing 448 significant strikes.
That’s bad news for Henderson, who has been relegated to searching for knockouts for a few years now. If this fight comes down to points, it’s likely to go to Boetsch, who is simply the more effective striker and wrestler than Henderson has proved to be recently. Chances are better that Boetsch – who possesses above-average knockout power – will clip Henderson and finish the fight by knockout himself. One of the saddest things about MMA is that some fighters don’t know when to quit. I hope that Henderson can figure it out before his long-term health is seriously compromised.
Pick: Tim Boetsch by KO
Matt Mitrione vs. Ben Rothwell
Ben Rothwell is basically a less extreme version of Roy Nelson. He’s defensively challenged (3.63 significant strikes absorbed per minute, adjusted for regression) but makes up for it by having a fantastic chin and knockout power. Rothwell also rates as having below-average takedown defense and a history of gassing out if he can’t finish the fight early. (Rothwell’s UFC 135 decision loss to Mark Hunt was particularly embarrassing.) Rothwell doesn’t get hit quite as much as Nelson, nor does he hit quite as hard, but the similarities are there.
Now, when Matt Mitrione fought Nelson, the fight ended in a first-round knockout loss for him. It’s good that it’s still Mitrione’s only KO loss but it also raises questions about how well Mitrione will do against a guy like Rothwell. Mitrione is the better athlete and better technical striker for sure; he’s a clear favorite to win if this fight goes the distance. But with guys like Mitrione and Rothwell, going the distance is highly improbable – they have a combined 43 career wins and only four of those were by decision.
If this fight comes down to who can knock out who first, I think Rothwell is the favorite in that scenario, but it’s very close. I have a little more faith in Rothwell’s chin than Mitrione’s, but in reality, this fight is probably just a coin flip.
Pick: Ben Rothwell by KO
Yancy Medeiros vs. Dustin Poirier
This is a battle of aggressive lightweights who have some sting in their strikes. Medeiros and Poirier are both below-average defensively as well, so this figures to be an intense action fight for as long as it lasts. Poirier has to be considered the favorite, as he lands strikes at a higher rate than Medeiros and enters as the more proven fighter overall. The biggest problem for Medeiros is that I can’t find an area where he can claim a clear advantage over Poirier, so this seems like a straightforward pick.
Pick: Dustin Poirier by TKO
Brian Ortega vs. Thiago Tavares
Gracie Academy fighter Brian Ortega is also known as “T-city” due to his talent and affinity for the triangle choke. He put his submission skills on display in a win over Mike De La Torre and promptly failed a drug test. Now Ortega is back from suspension and taking a massive step up in competition against Thiago Tavares. Ortega is the rising prospect while Tavares is the seasoned veteran, but with Tavares being the far more accomplished fighter and an excellent submission grappler himself, I’m skeptical that Ortega will be well-rounded enough to win this fight using other MMA skills.
Pick: Thiago Tavares by decision
Anthony Birchak vs. Joe Soto
This is a re-booking of a fight that was supposed to take place at UFC 177. Soto instead got called up to fight T.J. Dillashaw on a day’s notice, and was predictably out-classed (while showing great toughness in a respectable effort). For Birchak’s part, his UFC debut turned out to be a heel hook loss to Ian Entwistle, which says almost nothing about Birchak, other than his need to practice defense against heel hooks. This fight is really going to test the limits of how well my model can use statistical information to predict fights. But here goes…
Pick: Anthony Birchak by decision
Alex Caceres vs. Francisco Rivera
Rivera is coming off an eye poke loss to Urijah Faber, while Caceres was last defeated by Japanese slugger Masanori Kanehara. Rivera’s biggest edge will be in knockout power – his is excellent for the bantamweight division while Caceres “can’t bust a grape”. Caceres also can’t wrestle if his life depended on it, but he makes up for it with very good striking volume, movement, and a slippery/aggressive guard game. The model likes Caceres (barely) but I wonder if Rivera’s superior power will make Caceres think twice about engaging as much as he normally likes to.
Pick: Alex Caceres by decision
- Shawn Jordan over Derrick Lewis, and I’ll be shocked if it goes the distance
- Brian Ebersole over Omari Akhmedov in another super close fight
- Christos Giagos over Chris Wade, as I risk being wrong about Wade for the third time in a row
- Joe Proctor over Justin Edwards. I’m amazed that Edwards is still in the UFC.
- Ricardo Abreu over Jake Collier
- Jose Quinonez over Leonardo Morales