Analysis of UFC on Fuel: Barao vs. MacDonald Main Card

 

 

I’m crunching my usual thousands of stats preparing for a very solid card tomorrow on Fuel TV. The lineup is loaded with sluggers, and on the whole tomorrow’s fighters have scored 29 total knockdowns in their time in the Octagon. There’s also a title fight, and some future contenders in the making. And it’s all free and done in time for dinner. What’s not to like? So after running the numbers, here are some thoughts on the main card matchups.

 

Barao-McDonald:

The big question in the main event will concern the battle of pace versus precision. Barao can overwhelm opponents with his pace of attack, and keep them moving backwards. He outworks opponents by 50%, and this effectively wins rounds despite his accuracy stats just being so-so. Judges judge on volume, not effectiveness. On the other side is McDonald’s better accuracy combined with his power, which is phenomenal for a bantamweight. So given that he may have to rely on countering rather than controlling the pace and moving forward, we’re left with this pace vs. precision question.

McDonald has five rounds to catch Barao while he’s coming forward. For Bantamweights, for every landed power head strike there’s a ~3% chance it will drop an opponent. For McDonald, that number is much, much higher (17% to date). He has to land 6 clean head shots to put the numbers in his favor – and this time he has 25 minutes to do it. Unlike submission success rates, threat of knockout doesn’t drop in later rounds. So this plays to McDonald’s advantage, assuming his cardio is up for it (and he’s 22, it should be).

I’m still torn on this matchup. Normally for smaller weight classes I bet on pace and avoid knockout-hype, which clearly favors Barao. The interim champ has already been tested with an explosive striker for five rounds before in Urijah Faber. Pace beat precision and power. But there’s also an interesting pairing of a crisp jab by McDonald, and poor jab defense by Barao. If McDonald can stand his ground, he should win some exchanges, though normally I don’t predict an easy KO in the Bantamweight division.

Overall, 30% of fights with a clear betting favorite (like Barao is) will result in an upset. But finding the ingredients for the upset ahead of time is far more difficult. I pick Barao straight up by decision, but the line makes McDonald an interesting underdog with potential for KO if you’re into that sort of thing.

 

Swanson-Poirier:

Awesome fight here: two well-rounded and explosive fighters. I give an edge to Poirier on the ground and to Swanson on the feet. The stats say that if they stand and trade, Swanson is more accurate and more powerful, while Poirier’s defense is worse. That’s a good combination of factors favoring Swanson. But Swanson’s takedown defense is pretty low. Both fighters attempt at least one takedown per round on average, mostly from the clinch. Poirier’s takedown success has been low, much lower than Swanson’s, but Poirier’s defense has been better. Once on the ground, there’s a good chance Poirier will get a submission attempt in, and he has some slick transitions. Overall, that gives a little edge to Poirier on the ground as the more dangerous of the two.

So this should be a chess match, and a lot depends on coaching. I’m trying hard not to fall for the KO-hype from Swanson’s win streak, but I do think Swanson keeps this standing long enough to do some damage. It’s a very close call, and the betting line agrees. I’m leaning Swanson, as I believe he’ll have the better game plan and more dangerous hands. He only loses to contender/champion caliber opponents, so if he does drop this, Poirier makes a solid case for advancement in the division. This really is an intriguing matchup.

 

Manuwa-Diabate:

Take the under. Two light heavyweight sluggers with great striking stats, and both are well over 30 years old. Diabate is a huge, rangy (81″ reach!) southpaw, but he’s also 39 years old, which is way past my KO-risk threshold. Manuwa has to be careful against a crafty dangerous veteran, but he also only needs to land a few solids on Diabate chin before this thing is over. And that’s what I think will happen. Diabate is smart enough not to just eat shots and go down early, but Manuwa will keep attacking and eventually connect.

 

Nelson-Santiago:

Another Youth Advantage in effect here; the -8 year differential gives Nelson almost a ~2/3rds chance of winning straight up. Nelson was fast and efficient in his debut, while Santiago, a veteran that is older in cage years than his real age indicates, has generally not kept up with opponents. Santiago has power, but he’s also been knocked down a lot. Both have BJJ black belts, but those aren’t much help after getting rocked. This is Nelson’s fight to lose, but we should all be looking forward to seeing more of his repertoire here. And I’m looking for more data to figure out what makes him so good.

 

Te-Huna-Jimmo:

Jimmo’s stats are exceptional in a lot of ways thanks to his 7-second perfect debut, but they’re based on a really small sample size. The UFC fed him a 40-year old, knockout prone grappler as his first opponent. So let’s not get inflated with hype just yet.

Te-Huna’s striking stats are very good, and he’s done it for more time in the cage. Excluding anomalous Jimmo’s stats, Te-Huna has the second highest Significant Strike pace on the main card (Barao) and third highest Significant Strike Accuracy (Nelson, Manuwa). Aside from getting rocked by 2nd best in class Gustafsson, Te-Huna has been dominant. Surprisingly, he has also attempted takedowns at a frenzied pace, higher than anyone on the card. These guys have the size to suggest eventually one of them gets hurt. I think Te-Huna wins the exchanges, even if he doesn’t get the finish, and he’ll be looking to vary his attack with some takedowns as well.

 

Riddle-Mills:

Riddle is straight up bad at striking. He has low striking accuracy and terrible defense. So it’s no surprise he spends as little time standing and trading as possible. Instead, he attempts multiple takedowns every round, and gets past full guard 2/3rds of the time. Mills on the other hand, has decent standup stats, but his takedown defense is bad. While he definitely will have an advantage in the standup, Mills has to worry about the takedowns, which can hurt a striker’s offensive gameplan.

So the key to this fight will be who gets to put the fight into the position that favors their style. Riddle is a veteran; literally every single one of his 11 pro MMA fights has been under the UFC banner, a rarity these days. He’s willing to grind this out (and get booed like crazy). He’s even been preparing the audience for this approach by suggesting UK refs are too quick to stand fighters up for booing fans. But the heat of the moment sometimes gets the better of him and he wants to trade a few swings now and again. If he falls for that trap, Mills has an opening. Otherwise Riddle has the potential to grind out a decision. If we’re hunting for an upset based on stats and styles, this one has potential.

 

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