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Category Archives: TUF

What Wild Speculation is Worth

I have to hand it to the competitors of The Ultimate Fighter 17. Thanks to what was a series of exciting and compelling fights, they have done something I didn’t think was possible – they have revived my interest in the reality show. From what I’ve seen online, I’m not the only one, because there was a lot of wild speculation about what would happen before each and every episode this season. Of course, this wild speculation turned out to be dead wrong almost every single time. Here are the best examples of such speculation falling flat:

“Tor Troeng will be the terror of TUF 17”

On paper, Tor Troeng may not have been the most talented fighter on the show, but he was arguably the most accomplished. Of the fighters I measured, Troeng had the highest ELO rating. As a result, when Dana White declared that one of the fighters on TUF 17 was the “terror” of the season, a lot of people believed it would be Troeng. As a rebuttal before the season got started, I made the point that people thought Joe Duarte would turn out to be the fighter Dana White was comparing to Anderson Silva on season eight, and he didn’t even make it into the house.

As it turns out, Troeng was knocked out by Josh Samman, and fell short of the quarterfinals. There’s no doubt that Troeng is a quality fighter, as he showed with last weekend’s submission win over Adam Cella, but there was no real basis for the speculation stating that he would be the fighter who supposedly “terrorized” the rest of the fighters.

“A black guy was shown being taken away in an ambulance. This must mean that Adam Cella is the one who lands a brutal knockout against Uriah Hall”

After the second episode of the season, the producers of TUF teased that the “most brutal knockout in TUF history” would take place in the following week’s episode. This was accompanied by a short clip showing a fighter being carted into an ambulance. Because the person being carted happened to be black, this led to a lot of people confidently declaring that Adam Cella would be the one to knock out Uriah Hall in brutal fashion.

I don’t think any smart people covering MMA actually believed this, but regardless, this was something that real people were really saying. Whatever you think of the producers of TUF, it is seriously insulting to their intelligence to suggest that they would slip up and reveal the outcome of the fight with sloppy editing in their teaser. The inclusion of the ambulance clip was purposeful – both to get people thinking that Cella was the one who scored the brutal KO, and to provide a compelling visual that would “hook” people into watching the third episode of the season.

Of course, this was just misdirection, as the actual ambulance clip didn’t get shown until the ninth episode. (It was also very anti-climactic; the clip showed Kevin Casey being taken to the hospital for evaluation after he quit on the stool against “Bubba” McDaniel.) When the actual fight took place, it was Hall who scored the brutal KO, knocking Cella unconscious with a perfectly timed spinning hook kick to the chin.

“A commercial for NOS showcased Uriah Hall and Josh Samman. Those must be the two fighters who will be competing in the finale”

This line of thinking gained a lot of traction after Hall and Samman both made it to the semifinals. It helps that Dana White decided not to match Hall and Samman against each other, instead having Hall fight Dylan Andrews, and Samman fight Kelvin Gastelum. Hall got the job done by picking apart Andrews, but Samman lost to Gastelum by first-round submission. I thought Samman would beat Gastelum as well, but a NOS commercial had nothing to do with it.

To make matters worse, after Samman lost his fight, there were people saying it meant Hall would lose to Andrews, because then Hall could still fight Samman at the finale, and fulfill the prophecy of the NOS commercial. I don’t know how serious they were, but even if they were only half-serious, it was still enough to make me shake my head.

I know that I’m picking on easy targets here, but the point of this post is to communicate something very valuable that I’ve learned the hard way – smart people know what they don’t know. If an event is uncertain, and there is no good or reliable information about the event, then there is simply no way for me to figure out what actually takes place at that event. The idea that I can figure out what is unknown by virtue of nothing but a moment of genius is at best misguided, and at worst narcissistic. I’m not a mind reader, and I don’t have a crystal ball.

Smart people – including people who are much better than me at predicting fights – understand this. Knowing that there is no good information about something is much better than filling that void with bad information or bad speculation. I genuinely enjoyed watching TUF 17, and part of that was a refusal to get caught up in the hype surrounding the show. Instead, I simply sat down and watched each episode with a clear mind. Instead of sifting through junk information trying to find hidden clues, I threw that junk information in my mental trash can. I was better off for it.

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The Ultimate Fighter 17 Episode Nine Preview: Kevin Casey vs. Bubba McDaniel

Last week, I expressed happiness at finally getting to see my top-ranked fighter, Zak Cummings, compete on The Ultimate Fighter. Then I saw him fight, and happiness was the last thing I felt. It’s not that I was rooting against Dylan Andrews, his opponent, it’s that I was really hoping to see a good fight out of Cummings. Instead, what we saw was a one-sided fight in which Cummings had no idea what to do when placed on his back. Early in the first round, Cummings looked good, landing a few strikes and attempting a D’Arce choke, but unfortunately for him, that was the most success he had in the fight. While on his back, Cummings made perhaps one or two poor attempts at a sweep, and that was about it. The remainder of the fight consisted of Andrews maintaining top position, landing a few strikes, and doing what he needed to do to win.

My TUF 17 fighter rankings are now a dismal 2-5 actually predicting fights. This is a reflection of two things. First is the dubious idea of using statistics to rate fighters, especially fighters with very little experience in professional MMA. Take a fighter like Jimmy Quinlan for example – Quinlan is just 3-0 in his career. There’s no way that any type of statistical analysis can take such a small sample of fights and come to any confident conclusions. When it comes to MMA, and especially TUF, scouting and tape study are the best ways to evaluate two fighters and how they match up. If I know that Quinlan has excellent Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Clint Hester is prone to being submitted, that is valuable qualitative analysis that can be a tremendous help in making a fight pick.

The other thing my system’s poor record reflects is the unpredictable nature of TUF. For about four seasons in a row now, my attempts at rating the competitors on the show have been completely futile. In early seasons of TUF, there was an enormous skill gap between the best and worst competitors on the show. For example, you probably don’t need statistics to tell you that Jason Thacker was not going to beat Forrest Griffin or Stephan Bonnar. By contrast, in the last few seasons of TUF, that skill gap has shrunk to the point where every competitor has a legitimate chance of winning the tournament. The result is that statistics alone are no longer enough to know who the true favorites to win TUF are.

Despite what I just said, I’ll post my rankings again anyway:

  1. Zak Cummings – 8.022 (Team Sonnen)
  2. Uriah Hall – 7.383 (Sonnen)
  3. Tor Troeng – 7.348 (Sonnen)
  4. Luke Barnatt – 7.127 (Sonnen)
  5. Josh Samman – 7.009 (Jones)
  6. Dylan Andrews – 6.532 (Jones)
  7. Robert McDaniel – 6.421 (Jones)
  8. Kevin Casey – 6.234 (Sonnen)
  9. Clint Hester – 5.995 (Jones)
  10. Gilbert Smith – 5.917 (Jones)
  11. Jimmy Quinlan – 5.893 (Sonnen)
  12. Kelvin Gastelum – 5.655 (Sonnen)
  13. Adam Cella – 5.428 (Jones)
  14. Collin Hart – 5.154 (Jones)

I really thought Clint Hester would get a chance to come back in the wild card fight, but that idea went out the window when Dana White decided to simply let the coaches pick who would compete. To represent his team, Chael Sonnen selected Kevin Casey, who was perhaps the least impressive loser of the first round of fights. In fairness, Sonnen’s only other choice was Zak Cummings, who wasn’t exactly impressive in his fight either. To face Casey, Jon Jones chose “Bubba” McDaniel over Hester, explaining that McDaniel has been fighting longer, and was therefore more deserving of the opportunity. Of course, it’s likely that Jones simply decided to do McDaniel a favor, as Jones and McDaniel are training partners in the Greg Jackson/Mike Winkeljohn camp.

Kevin Casey vs. Robert McDaniel

I like to make a distinction between MMA fighters who have good Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and BJJ fighters competing in MMA. Casey is a great example of the latter- he has very good BJJ as a student of Rickson Gracie, but is far from having the well-rounded skill set needed to win fights at a high level. Casey’s striking is very rudimentary, and he’s not a particularly good wrestler either – just ask Collin Hart, who was able to take Casey down and completely neutralize his ground game.

Still, Casey is a physically strong fighter, and can be very dangerous early in fights. When Casey gets his opponent to the ground, he’s very good at passing guard and maintaining a dominant position. As a Rickson Gracie student, Casey is the kind of fighter who will emphasize position over submission. He has good fundamentals on the ground, and will methodically advance position and land strikes until his opponent gives Casey the opening he needs to secure a submission hold.

By contrast, McDaniel is a fighter who is very aggressive on the ground, but doesn’t have a polished ground game. McDaniel likes to attack his opponent with submissions from almost any position, but struggles to finish, and often loses position in the process. This lack of polish causes McDaniel to make mistakes on the ground, and while most of his wins are by submission, that’s how he loses most of his fights as well.

That means that McDaniel might be in trouble early in this fight. McDaniel doesn’t have good takedown defense, so I anticipate that Casey will be able to take him to the ground. While there, McDaniel will put up a fight, but Casey should prove to have the better overall grappling. There’s absolutely a chance that Casey submits McDaniel in the first round.

The problem for Casey is that the longer the fight goes, the better it is for McDaniel. McDaniel’s conditioning is far better than Casey’s – while McDaniel can fight for three hard rounds, Casey usually gasses out in the second round. That means that if Casey doesn’t get the early submission finish against McDaniel, he’s going to be in big trouble, because I expect Casey to get exhausted early, while McDaniel will still be fresh. If that happens, I expect McDaniel to capitalize by punishing Casey with some hard strikes, and perhaps winning by late TKO.

Overall, Casey just doesn’t have enough tools for me to be confident in him winning this fight. While he has a very good ground game, that’s pretty much all Casey brings to the table. Even then, Casey probably needs to finish McDaniel early if he wants to win this fight. I can see that happening, but I think it’s more likely that McDaniel will survive the first round, and come back strong to punish Casey in the second and third rounds. My pick is McDaniel by TKO.

The Ultimate Fighter 17 Episode Eight Preview: Dylan Andrews vs. Zak Cummings

Last week, we saw Clint Hester, the top pick of Team Jones, take on Team Sonnen grappler Jimmy Quinlan. The first round was mostly controlled by Hester, who was able to thwart Quinlan’s wrestling and land a number of hard strikes from awkward positions. Luke Barnatt argued for Quinlan winning the round because of takedowns, but that brings up a point I like to mention for scoring rounds: what good is landing a takedown if a fighter can’t do anything with it? Hester won the first round for sure.

In the second round, however, Quinlan did something with the takedown, advancing to dominant position and finishing Hester with a rear naked choke. It was a body blow to Team Jones, which was clearly hoping for great things out of Hester in the tournament. The talent level of TUF is much maligned, but even there, it’s important to be well-rounded, particularly with striking defense and submission defense. Hester has talent, but he just hasn’t tightened up his submission defense enough to compete at a UFC level. The silver lining is that we probably haven’t seen the last of Hester – he’s almost a lock to be one of the wild card participants.

For Quinlan, it wasn’t a performance that blew me away. Quinlan is one of the least experienced fighters in the house, and it showed with the lack of variety in his attacks. Against Hester, he was able to overcome the rough start to pull off the victory, but it’s hard to see Quinlan going all the way in this tournament. I have nothing but respect for his BJJ credentials, but it takes more than that to win consistently in MMA.

TUF 17 FIGHTER RANKINGS

  1. Zak Cummings – 8.022 (Team Sonnen)
  2. Uriah Hall – 7.383 (Sonnen)
  3. Tor Troeng – 7.348 (Sonnen)
  4. Luke Barnatt – 7.127 (Sonnen)
  5. Josh Samman – 7.009 (Jones)
  6. Dylan Andrews – 6.532 (Jones)
  7. Robert McDaniel – 6.421 (Jones)
  8. Kevin Casey – 6.234 (Sonnen)
  9. Clint Hester – 5.995 (Jones)
  10. Gilbert Smith – 5.917 (Jones)
  11. Jimmy Quinlan – 5.893 (Sonnen)
  12. Kelvin Gastelum – 5.655 (Sonnen)
  13. Adam Cella – 5.428 (Jones)
  14. Collin Hart – 5.154 (Jones)

Dylan Andrews vs. Zak Cummings

Finally, in the last fight of the first round, we’re going to see my top-ranked fighter in action. There’s been a lot of hype around Uriah Hall, and a lot said about Luke Barnatt, Josh Samman, and even Tor Troeng and “Bubba” McDaniel, but barely anything has been said about Zak Cummings. Cummings might not have the raw upside of fighters like Hall and Barnatt, but he has easily the most impressive record out of anybody in the house. Cummings began his MMA career at a perfect 10-0, earning a chance to fight Tim Kennedy in a Strikeforce Challengers show. He was submitted by Kennedy, and then defeated by Elvis Mutapcic, but followed those losses with five wins in six fights. The other loss was by decision to Ryan Jimmo, who is not only a very good fighter, but also much bigger than Cummings. Overall, Cummings enters at 15-3, and while he hasn’t beaten many big names, he does have a plethora of victories against quality opponents with winning records.

His opponent is Dylan Andrews, the last fighter to be picked by a team, but almost certainly not the worst fighter in the house. At 15-4, Andrews has a similar record to Cummings, although his level of competition hasn’t been quite as high. So far, Andrews’ fight history has been one of beating low-level opponents, and losing when he steps up in competition. The biggest name Andrews has beaten is Shonie Carter (a perfect example of a fighter who has competed far too long), and his most notable losses are by TKO against Brian Ebersole, and by submission against Jesse Taylor. But that doesn’t mean Andrews is a slouch – 10 of his 15 wins are by TKO, and a few of those are against fairly good opponents.

Three of Andrews’ four losses are by submission, so Cummings, who has eight submission wins, will probably want to take him to the ground. If Cummings is successful in doing so, he should have a big advantage, but if Andrews can keep the fight standing, he may prove to be the better striker. My model, which has been much maligned by myself, thinks Cummings has an 82 percent chance of winning. As usual, his real-world chance of winning is probably lower than that, but I do expect Cummings to win the fight tonight.

The Ultimate Fighter 17 Episode Seven Preview: Clint Hester vs. Jimmy Quinlan

Last week, Team Sonnen chose Tor Troeng and Josh Samman to fight each other, in a move Sonnen explained by saying nobody on his team wanted to fight Samman, and nobody on Jones’s team wanted to fight Troeng. The result was a tough fight for both men, but Samman was the eventual winner, as he was the more assertive striker, and was able to knock Troeng out in the first round. I had noticed on tape study before the fight that Troeng wasn’t very aggressive on the feet at all, and while he had well-rounded skills, he also had the tendency to wait too long for his opponent to do something. That was absolutely the case against Samman, although Troeng did himself no favors by dropping his guard at the worst possible time.

It’s great news for Team Jones, whose only other fighter to win thus far was Collin Hart, a fighter who also happens to be at the bottom of my TUF 17 rankings. With Samman making it into the second round, Jones now has a fighter with a legitimate chance of winning the tournament in the quarterfinals (I don’t mean to disrespect Hart, but I’ll be shocked if he’s the one that goes all the way). And since Troeng, Adam Cella, and Gilbert Smith all lost by knockout, and Kevin Casey was cut, that leaves “Bubba” McDaniel as the clear favorite to be the wild card at this point. But with two more first-round fights to go, that’s still somewhat uncertain.

Here are the TUF 17 rankings I alluded to:

  1. Zak Cummings – 8.022 (Team Sonnen)
  2. Uriah Hall – 7.383 (Sonnen)
  3. Tor Troeng – 7.348 (Sonnen)
  4. Luke Barnatt – 7.127 (Sonnen)
  5. Josh Samman – 7.009 (Jones)
  6. Dylan Andrews – 6.532 (Jones)
  7. Robert McDaniel – 6.421 (Jones)
  8. Kevin Casey – 6.234 (Sonnen)
  9. Clint Hester – 5.995 (Jones)
  10. Gilbert Smith – 5.917 (Jones)
  11. Jimmy Quinlan – 5.893 (Sonnen)
  12. Kelvin Gastelum – 5.655 (Sonnen)
  13. Adam Cella – 5.428 (Jones)
  14. Collin Hart – 5.154 (Jones)

While my model is currently 2-3 predicting the actual fights on TUF 17, there’s still a very good chance that four of the top five fighters will make it to the quarterfinals. And like I’ve said on numerous occasions, it’s not like my model is anything to go crazy about.

Clint Hester vs. Jimmy Quinlan

With the chance to tie Team Sonnen at three wins apiece, Team Jones selected Clint Hester to fight Jimmy Quinlan. Hester is 7-3 overall, a mediocre record for a TUF competitor. His best wins are over Tomar Washington (5-2-1) and Dymond Jones (5-2). He also has two wins over Aaron Johnson (12-10), one by doctor stoppage, presumably due to a cut, and the other by knockout at just 42 seconds of the first round. While five of Hester’s seven wins are by KO/TKO, two of his three losses are by submission, and the ground game figures to be where Hester is relatively weak. To Hester’s credit, he did make it to decision against Douglas Lima, who is an excellent finisher, but his other losses, against Cale Yarbrough and Roger Carroll, are not particularly inspiring.

Against Jimmy Quinlan, Hester figures to have the advantage whenever the fight is standing, and Quinlan figures to have the advantage on the ground. And by “advantage on the ground,” I mean an enormous advantage. Quinlan is an excellent grappler – according to his own website’s bio, he’s not only won multiple Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu championships, but he has a very good wrestling background as well. That would be great even if the ground game wasn’t Hester’s weakness, but because it is, Hester will need to keep this fight standing at all costs.

Of course, all my model knows about Quinlan is that he’s 3-0 with wins against opponents whose records are currently 18-37-1, 8-11-1, and 1-10. And a fighter might have terrific BJJ credentials, but what matters is his ability to transfer those skills into the cage. My model slightly favors Hester to win, giving him a 53 percent chance. But fights like this are why only so much faith can be placed in statistical models in MMA. We’ll see which one of these fighters can impose his will on the other tonight.

The Ultimate Fighter 17 Episode Six Preview: Josh Samman vs. Tor Troeng

Last week’s episode of TUF featured the second upset in as many weeks, as Team Sonnen’s Kelvin Gastelum was able to defeat Team Jones’s “Bubba” McDaniel by submission due to rear naked choke in the second round. It was a back-and-forth match punctuated by neither fighter’s ability to hold onto an advantageous position. It seemed that McDaniel was doing more damage and threatening with more attacks in the first round, and I had him up 10-9 going into round two. In that round, Gastelum not only got McDaniel down, he was able to take McDaniel’s back and finish with a rear naked choke, a move which seemed to shock the arrogant McDaniel.

That fight represents why I didn’t just go with ELO ratings for my TUF 17 ranking. ELO is a good tool for examining what a fighter has achieved, not how good a fighter really is. If I went by just ELO, McDaniel would have been the #2 ranked fighter on TUF 17. Instead, by mixing the ELO ratings with other metrics, McDaniel was only ranked #7, and should not have been considered one of the favorites to go all the way.

Now up 3-1, Team Sonnen selected Tor Troeng to face Josh Samman of Team Jones, in what figures to be one of the more competitive fights of the season. Here are those fighter rankings I alluded to:

  1. Zak Cummings – 8.022 (Team Sonnen)
  2. Uriah Hall – 7.383 (Sonnen)
  3. Tor Troeng – 7.348 (Sonnen)
  4. Luke Barnatt – 7.127 (Sonnen)
  5. Josh Samman – 7.009 (Jones)
  6. Dylan Andrews – 6.532 (Jones)
  7. Robert McDaniel – 6.421 (Jones)
  8. Kevin Casey – 6.234 (Sonnen)
  9. Clint Hester – 5.995 (Jones)
  10. Gilbert Smith – 5.917 (Jones)
  11. Jimmy Quinlan – 5.893 (Sonnen)
  12. Kelvin Gastelum – 5.655 (Sonnen)
  13. Adam Cella – 5.428 (Jones)
  14. Collin Hart – 5.154 (Jones)

Josh Samman vs. Tor Troeng

Speaking of ELO ratings, Tor Troeng would have easily been the #1 fighter on my list based on just ELO. Troeng has an overall professional record of 15-4-1, and is 11-1-1 in his last 13 fights. The thing is – I wasn’t really blown away by Troeng on tape. He’s the kind of fighter who will fight very methodically, look for a clinch or double-leg takedown, and then control position on the ground, looking for submissions. The best thing about Troeng is that he’s not a mistake-prone fighter – he doesn’t often leave his hands down or sacrifice position. I just wasn’t dazzled with his striking or his takedowns.

By contrast, Josh Samman is a very aggressive fighter who attacks from the opening bell with punches and knees. On the ground, he’s much more a fighter who will ground and pound than a fighter who will look for submissions, and he’s famous for the “Samman Smash,” where he will hit his opponent with both hands simultaneously. While I think Samman will be more dangerous than Troeng standing, I also think Samman may be more susceptible to making mistakes and giving up position. If Troeng can stay disciplined, land takedowns, and control position, he can definitely win by either decision or maybe submission. My very flawed model thinks Troeng has a 58 percent chance of winning this one. We’ll see what happens tonight.

The Ultimate Fighter 17 Episode Five Preview: Kelvin Gastelum vs. Bubba McDaniel

I’ve been saying that I got the impression that Team Sonnen knew what it was doing, and Team Jones didn’t. After last week’s episode, I take it back a little bit with Team Jones. They did a nice job of preparing Collin Hart to take on Kevin Casey, and followed that up with a nice fight pick – more on that a bit later.

With that said, Casey put on a uniquely uninspiring performance against Hart. Hart did a nice job of landing a takedown off the opening bell, but when he did, my immediate thought was: “OK, now we get to see what Casey is made of on the ground.” But Casey just wasn’t active at all. By the time Casey got back to his feet, it appeared he was already fading, and while he did get the better of Hart in the few standing exchanges that took place, it just wasn’t nearly enough.

One of the most important aspects of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is energy expenditure. The idea is that a good Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter will allow his opponent to waste energy on inefficient techniques, and when the opponent is exhausted, the submission will come soon afterwards. Because Casey has such a muscled physique, he simply doesn’t have the build of a fighter ready to go even two five-minute rounds. As a result, when the fight against Hart went into round two, and Casey needed to make something happen, he just wasn’t able to.

So it was a nice upset win for Collin Hart, who showed that he does have the wrestling to at least be a threat on the show. I still highly doubt that Hart will make it too deep into the tournament, but nobody can be counted out completely.

Here are my TUF 17 fighter rankings:

  1. Zak Cummings – 8.022 (Team Sonnen)
  2. Uriah Hall – 7.383 (Sonnen)
  3. Tor Troeng – 7.348 (Sonnen)
  4. Luke Barnatt – 7.127 (Sonnen)
  5. Josh Samman – 7.009 (Jones)
  6. Dylan Andrews – 6.532 (Jones)
  7. Robert McDaniel – 6.421 (Jones)
  8. Kevin Casey – 6.234 (Sonnen)
  9. Clint Hester – 5.995 (Jones)
  10. Gilbert Smith – 5.917 (Jones)
  11. Jimmy Quinlan – 5.893 (Sonnen)
  12. Kelvin Gastelum – 5.655 (Sonnen)
  13. Adam Cella – 5.428 (Jones)
  14. Collin Hart – 5.154 (Jones)

Kelvin Gastelum vs. Robert “Bubba” McDaniel

Instead of being down 3-0, like I thought would happen, Team Jones is now down 2-1, and will probably tie things up 2-2 after this fight. But Gastelum is not somebody to just dismiss – he’s a good wrestler who has the potential to take Bubba McDaniel to the ground and stifle him. He also hits reasonably hard, and one thing that has haunted McDaniel in the past is that he has been stopped by one-strike TKO multiple times.

But this really is McDaniel’s fight to lose. He profiles as the type of fighter who has a lower ceiling, but has made the most out of his talents. McDaniel is a grinding kind of fighter who is at least somewhat skilled in all areas, and just as Gastelum has the potential to take McDaniel down, McDaniel could do the same thing to Gastelum. The difference is that McDaniel figures to be the better striker and grappler as well.

My model gives McDaniel a 68 percent chance to win this fight, and this is the first time I’ve felt that it wasn’t overestimating a fighter’s chances of victory. Even Chael Sonnen admitted that McDaniel is the favorite to win this one. We’ll find out what happens tonight.

The Ultimate Fighter 17 Episode Four Preview: Kevin Casey vs. Collin Hart

The UFC had been teasing a brutal knockout ever since this season of The Ultimate Fighter started, and unlike so many things the UFC hypes up, Uriah Hall’s KO of Adam Cella lived up to that hype. What made the KO so vicious wasn’t just that the kick landed flush, it was that Hall really whipped the kick and put a ton of torque on it. The result was a kick that was even nastier than the one Edson Barboza landed against Terry Etim.

While I do consider Hall one of the favorites to win this season of TUF, it was far from a perfect performance for him. I’m not a huge fan of Hall’s go-to striking defense of lifting his chin and backing up, and I would have liked to see him not take as many strikes from Cella as he did. Don’t get me wrong, Hall absolutely was winning the fight, unlike what some have suggested, but he’ll need to improve his striking defense for me to think he’s a potential title contender in the UFC.

Last week, I remarked that it seemed that Team Sonnen knew what it was doing, and Team Jones didn’t. I feel even more strongly about that now. We all have our opinions of Chael Sonnen’s methods of self-promotion, but watching him sit down and talk to Hall was genuinely fascinating. Going into this season, I thought TUF was going to be all about Sonnen just talking trash and getting under Jones’s skin, not unlike the 12th season with Josh Koscheck and Georges St-Pierre. Instead, Sonnen is focusing on being a coach first and foremost, and while that may make some people disappointed, for me, it’s made TUF a lot more enjoyable than I thought it was going to be.

Sonnen continued to affirm my belief that he’s the superior coach by calling out Collin Hart to fight Kevin Casey. Hart is the single lowest-rated fighter in my ratings, and was called out one fight after Sonnen called out Cella, who was the second-lowest fighter in my ratings. Speaking of those, let’s look at the ratings right now:

  1. Zak Cummings – 8.022 (Team Sonnen)
  2. Uriah Hall – 7.383 (Sonnen)
  3. Tor Troeng – 7.348 (Sonnen)
  4. Luke Barnatt – 7.127 (Sonnen)
  5. Josh Samman – 7.009 (Jones)
  6. Dylan Andrews – 6.532 (Jones)
  7. Robert McDaniel – 6.421 (Jones)
  8. Kevin Casey – 6.234 (Sonnen)
  9. Clint Hester – 5.995 (Jones)
  10. Gilbert Smith – 5.917 (Jones)
  11. Jimmy Quinlan – 5.893 (Sonnen)
  12. Kelvin Gastelum – 5.655 (Sonnen)
  13. Adam Cella – 5.428 (Jones)
  14. Collin Hart – 5.154 (Jones)

 
Kevin Casey vs. Collin Hart

For somebody who is a cast member on TUF, Casey has had an interesting career in MMA. His debut was against none other than the very colorful Ikuhisa Minowa, a fighter who usually fights opponents who are either far, far better than him, or far, far bigger than him. Casey was neither, and Minowa was able to stop him by TKO. Casey is also known for a TKO loss to Matt Lindland at a Strikeforce Challengers show. His best wins are first-round submissions of Jimmy Mills (9-2) and Chad Vance (7-5). Overall, by TUF standards, Casey’s record is decent, but not spectacular. By contrast, Collin Hart is 4-1-1, with wins against Tramain Smith (3-7), Mike Arellano (3-10), Steve Goedert (1-1), and Steve Alexander (0-2). Hart has yet to win a fight against anybody as good as any of the TUF 17 cast.

Casey has trained Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Rickson Gracie, so he should absolutely be expected to look for submissions in this fight. Casey is also infamous for promoting himself to a black belt and getting temporarily banned from Gracie’s school. But Casey is genuinely a brown belt under Gracie, and that’s not insignificant. My model gives Casey a 75 percent chance of beating Hart in this fight, so look for Casey to get the job done in tonight’s episode and give Team Sonnen a commanding 3-0 lead.

The Ultimate Fighter 17 Episode Three Preview: Adam Cella vs. Uriah Hall

Last week, we saw Team Sonnen’s Luke Barnatt defeat Team Jones’s Gilbert Smith by knockout, due to a flying knee in the second round. It wasn’t a surprising result, as after Team Jones made that fight pick, seemingly everybody involved had doubts about Smith’s ability to win that fight. My new TUF rating system gave Barnatt a 77 percent chance to win, and while Smith did have a couple takedowns in the fight, his offense was mostly futile.

It’s always hard to tell, because reality TV producers are very good at manufacturing a narrative, but I got a very strong impression that Team Sonnen knew what it was doing, and Team Jones did not. One reason is that Team Jones showed an utter inability to properly motivate Smith for his fight, and made a poor fight choice to begin with. By contrast, when Team Sonnen got control of the fight selection, they chose Uriah Hall (#2 in my rankings) to face Adam Cella (#13). This came after Sonnen selected the top four fighters in my ratings (Zak Cummings, Hall, Tor Troeng, Barnatt). I won’t be surprised if this becomes one of the more lopsided seasons in terms of wins and losses for each team.

Then again, I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that Cella is going to knock Hall out, based on what I can only imagine was a frame-by-frame forensic analysis of the video footage showing a barely visible fighter being stuffed into the back of an ambulance.

Here are my fighter rankings for TUF 17:

  1. Zak Cummings – 8.022 (Team Sonnen)
  2. Uriah Hall – 7.383 (Sonnen)
  3. Tor Troeng – 7.348 (Sonnen)
  4. Luke Barnatt – 7.127 (Sonnen)
  5. Josh Samman – 7.009 (Jones)
  6. Dylan Andrews – 6.532 (Jones)
  7. Robert McDaniel – 6.421 (Jones)
  8. Kevin Casey – 6.234 (Sonnen)
  9. Clint Hester – 5.995 (Jones)
  10. Gilbert Smith – 5.917 (Jones)
  11. Jimmy Quinlan – 5.893 (Sonnen)
  12. Kelvin Gastelum – 5.655 (Sonnen)
  13. Adam Cella – 5.428 (Jones)
  14. Collin Hart – 5.154 (Jones)

 
Adam Cella vs. Uriah Hall

Cella has a 4-0 professional record with four first-round stoppage wins. That sounds good, but the wins were against Dominic Brown (16-22), Chance Moore (0-2), David Colter (0-2), and Willie Rose (0-2). Wins against that level of fighter really don’t tell us much about a fighter’s ability to compete at a high level. Sure, Cella did presumably all anybody could do by stopping all of them quickly, but it’s just not particularly useful information. By contrast, Hall is 7-2, with one of the wins taking place in Bellator, and the other eight fights taking place in the excellent regional promotion Ring of Combat. Five of Hall’s wins have been against opponents who currently have a winning record. And while I normally wouldn’t get too excited about a fighter whose record is 7-2, Hall’s losses are to Chris Weidman and Costa Philippou. Those are not normal early-career losses for a fighter to have.

According to my model, which is based on a less than ideal amount of data, Hall has a whopping 88 percent chance to defeat Cella in the third episode. In the real world, Hall’s chances of winning are probably lower than that, but still very good. Of course, my model also doesn’t account for the video footage of some mystery fighter being carted into an ambulance. Just keep in mind that my model might be the best model of anything that’s ever been produced, and it still allows for the possibility that Hall loses. Let’s just watch the episode and see what happens.

The Ultimate Fighter 17 Episode Two Preview: Fighter Ratings Complete

I’ve just finished work on a new method for rating competitors on The Ultimate Fighter. To do so, I gathered all the data I possibly could on TUF competitors of the past, and tested each and every data point to find out what had predictive value.

Out of everything I put into my SPSS program, it returned a grand total of two statistics that were decent predictors of a fighter’s performance.

The first was a variant of an early version of SILVA. This version of SILVA worked by simply giving each fight on a fighter’s record a rating based on the record and strength of schedule of the opponent. Wins were given a positive score, losses a negative score, and draws could be either positive or negative, depending on the strength of the opponent. The resulting SILVA score was the average of every individual fight rating.

The other decent predictor was a fighter’s ELO rating, as displayed in my top 25 rankings here on this blog.

I already published the ELO ratings of all 14 fighters who have made it into the house. That list is as follows:

TUF 17 ELO RATINGS

  1. Tor Troeng – 2403
  2. Robert McDaniel – 2268
  3. Uriah Hall – 2160
  4. Zak Cummings – 2110
  5. Josh Samman – 2102
  6. Luke Barnatt – 2086
  7. Dylan Andrews – 2062
  8. Kevin Casey – 2021
  9. Clint Hester – 1931
  10. Gilbert Smith – 1917
  11. Kelvin Gastelum – 1833
  12. Jimmy Quinlan – 1796
  13. Adam Cella – 1783
  14. Collin Hart – 1732

One good way to think of ELO ratings is a way of measuring a fighter’s divisional relevance – fighters with high ELO ratings tend to have had more recent success. This is exemplified by Tor Troeng, who is 11-1-1 in his last 13 fights, and “Bubba” McDaniel, who is on a six-fight winning streak and is 8-1 in his last nine.

Now, here is the list of fighters, with their ratings according to the SILVA variant:

SILVA VARIANT

  1. Zak Cummings – 37.62
  2. Uriah Hall – 30.77
  3. Luke Barnatt – 29.68
  4. Josh Samman – 28.30
  5. Tor Troeng – 26.14
  6. Dylan Andrews – 24.55
  7. Jimmy Quinlan – 23.28
  8. Kevin Casey – 22.49
  9. Clint Hester – 21.85
  10. Gilbert Smith – 21.37
  11. Kelvin Gastelum – 20.50
  12. Robert McDaniel – 19.86
  13. Adam Cella – 19.17
  14. Collin Hart – 17.51

Another way to think of these SILVA scores is as an estimate of how successful a fighter will be based on his first 12 fights. Fighters who are SILVA success stories – Daniel Cormier, Chris Weidman, Johny Hendricks, and Chad Mendes, to name a few – all rated at 45.00 or higher in this metric.

I believe that the best predictor would be to combine SILVA with ELO. In other words, to combine the estimate of a fighter’s potential with the estimate of that fighter’s real-world accomplishments.

Here is the resulting list:

OVERALL TUF 17 RATINGS

  1. Zak Cummings – 8.022 (Team Sonnen)
  2. Uriah Hall – 7.383 (Sonnen)
  3. Tor Troeng – 7.348 (Sonnen)
  4. Luke Barnatt – 7.127 (Sonnen)
  5. Josh Samman – 7.009 (Jones)
  6. Dylan Andrews – 6.532 (Jones)
  7. Robert McDaniel – 6.421 (Jones)
  8. Kevin Casey – 6.234 (Sonnen)
  9. Clint Hester – 5.995 (Jones)
  10. Gilbert Smith – 5.917 (Jones)
  11. Jimmy Quinlan – 5.893 (Sonnen)
  12. Kelvin Gastelum – 5.655 (Sonnen)
  13. Adam Cella – 5.428 (Jones)
  14. Collin Hart – 5.154 (Jones)

Despite all the work I’ve put in to this, these rankings still have to be taken with a grain of salt (or maybe even a shaker full of salt). The first reason is that there just isn’t a long enough history of TUF fights to draw precise conclusions about the accuracy of this model. The second is that there will always be a lot of variance – even if these ratings are a perfect measure of how good these fighters are (not even close), stuff happens. Upsets happen. Like I’ve said before, there was no information anywhere that would have suggested that Colton Smith would win the last season of TUF. At some point, I have to acknowledge that my attempts to rate these fighters and predict these fights will only get so good.

By performing a binary logistic regression on past TUF fights (you have to be a true stats nerd to know what that is), I’m able to translate these ratings into a probability of one fighter winning against another. Again, take it with a lot of salt.

With the disclaimers out of the way, my estimate is that Luke Barnatt has a 77 percent chance to beat Gilbert Smith in the first announced fight. At first glance, it appears to be a poor first fight choice for Team Jones. But I’m saying that with a completely unproven model. We’ll find out what happens in the second episode.

The Ultimate Fighter 17 Preview: ELO Ratings

I’ve mentioned before that I’m working on a system that will give a rating to each man competing on The Ultimate Fighter. That system is still being worked on, and I’ll have ratings for the 14 fighters who win their preliminary fight to get into the house.

But since the first episode of the new season is tonight, I’ll go ahead and produce the ELO ratings of all 28 fighters we’re going to see. ELO ratings will eventually be one part of the overall formula.

  1. Tor Troeng – 2403 ELO rating
  2. Robert McDaniel – 2268
  3. Uriah Hall – 2160
  4. Kito Andrews – 2120
  5. Zak Cummings – 2110
  6. Joshua Samman – 2102
  7. Luke Barnatt – 2086
  8. Dylan Andrews – 2062
  9. Andy Enz – 2044
  10. Fraser Opie – 2031
  11. Kevin Casey – 2021
  12. Timothy Williams – 2016
  13. Nik Fekete – 2014
  14. Mike Jasper – 1991
  15. Scott Rosa – 1956
  16. Clint Hester – 1931
  17. Leo Bercier – 1927
  18. Gilbert Smith Jr. – 1917
  19. Eldon Sproat – 1892
  20. Eric Wahlin – 1839
  21. Kelvin Gastelum – 1833
  22. Nicholas Kohring – 1808
  23. Jake Heun – 1797
  24. Jimmy Quinlan – 1796
  25. Adam Cella – 1783
  26. Ryan Bigler – 1768
  27. Collin Hart – 1732
  28. Mike Persons – 1697

There’s been a lot of talk about Dana White’s statement that one of the fighters turned out to be the “terror” of the season. First of all, Dana White is a promoter. He says whatever he can to get people to watch his programming. For the last season, the best he could do was to say that coaches Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson hated each other. Then the season was aired, and Carwin and Nelson barely said anything about each other.

I also remember when White hyped up a mystery fighter in the eighth season, saying the fighter reminded him of Anderson Silva. Speculation ran rampant as to who it could be, and the name specifically mentioned was Joe Duarte. Not only did Duarte not turn out to be that mystery fighter, but Phillipe Nover, who White was talking about, turned out to be a bust in the UFC. We should know by now not to take what Dana White says seriously, especially when it comes to The Ultimate Fighter.

With that said, I’ve seen it speculated that Tor Troeng is the fighter White is talking about this time. That may or may not be the case, but it’s worth noting that Troeng enters this season with easily the highest ELO rating of the 28 fighters. We’ll see what happens in the first round of fights tonight.