UFC157 Lyoto Machida vs Dan Henderson: Statistical Matchup Analysis

Just before the historic debut of women in the Octagon at UFC 157, two former champions will face off in the light heavyweight division. Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida are the #1 and #2 ranked contenders according to the new UFC rankings, making what normally could be assumed to be a title eliminator matchup. But the accessibility of a title shot at 205 remains uncertain thanks to the recent development of potential new contenders like Alexander Gustafsson, Gegard Mousasi, and even Glover Teixeira.

Both Henderson and Machida have seen potential matchups with Jon Jones disappear. Henderson was set to face Jones at the ill-fated UFC 151 event, while Machida outshined his 205 pound peers at the same UFC on FOX event which Dana White suggested would decide Jones’ next challenger. But that was before the epic trash talking of Chael Sonnen and an Ultimate Fighter season that stepped in the way. So instead, these two champion-caliber veterans will face each other in a fresh matchup that will cement one man’s position has a top contender, and potentially destroy the other’s chances of ever getting another title shot. Each man is also working to beat the ticking clock of Father Time to return to a title fight while they are still able to capitalize on that opportunity.

Henderson and Machida have fight histories like Hall of Fame lists, as well as over 16,000 Fight Metric data points. There’s a lot to analyze, but we’ll start with the Tale of the Tape.

Though identically sized, there are some noteworthy findings here that differentiate the two. First and foremost, Dan Henderson is 42 years old. That’s a big deal. He’s now the oldest active member of the UFC roster. With age (and cumulative fights), fighters become increasingly susceptible to knockouts, and this number alone is reason for worry. Machida is 34, no spring chicken, but still just within the age range for peak performance. Overall, an eight-year age discrepancy favors the younger fighter almost two to one.

Another glaring point here is Henderson’s layoff of 462 days. His last appearance was a grueling five-round Fight of the Year victory over Shogun Rua in November of 2011. Henderson did not compete in the cage for the entirety of 2012. Since 1997, he has never gone a full year without a fight. Until now. The unfortunate timing of injuries kept Hendo on the bench after a particularly busy and epic 2011. It’s hard to predict how a fighter will deal with such a long layoff combined with progressing further into his 40’s, but as fans we’ll all be hoping to see the H-Bomb unleashed at full speed. The realities of history and the human body, however, are against it. Rewind to April of 2011 at UFC 129, when Machida’s jumping front kick ended the Hall of Fame career of then 47-year old Randy Couture. Mixing Machida’s explosive and precise striking with a human brain with over four decades of age and experience has been a bad combination before.

Machida and Henderson each have impressive highlight reels of fight ending knockouts, and each has a Knockout of the Year to their credit. The H-Bomb right that posterized Michael Bisping and the crane kick that retired Randy Couture remind us that in addition to titles, experience, and top caliber opponents, both Henderson and Machida have the skill and power to finish a fight in a single strike. But that doesn’t mean this analysis is a wash, we need to take a closer look at the data.

Machida’s karate background underlies a very explosive style of striking attack. His 38% power accuracy when striking opponents’ heads is amazingly high. Average for light heavyweights is 25%, and Henderson comes in below average at 22%. Both men are more accurate with their jab, but again Machida outperforms.

On defense, Machida is again a statistical winner, making opponents miss often while Henderson comes in about average. When looking down the entire list of these stats, Machida has an advantage in every single one, including his Southpaw stance. The Dragon’s evasiveness on defense, combined with his flurries of accurate strikes make for a formidable combination that has led to 11 knockdowns in his 13 UFC appearance. Machida’s lone loss via strikes came in his championship loss to Shogun Rua, but he has gotten the better of a variety of opponents before and since.

Despite his “average” statistical profile, Henderson still brings a threat with his power. He too has knocked out a who’s who list of top talent, including a trio of Strikeforce opponents. And though Hendo has never once been knocked out or finished by strikes, he has been dropped on three occasions. So we have an interesting striking matchup that will play out on Saturday, with clear technical advantages to Machida, and the obvious “puncher’s chance” for Henderson.

Both fighters also bring grappling skills to mat, but in very different styles. Here’s how they’ve performed on the ground so far.

As a former Olympian, Dan Henderson’s wrestling credentials are as solid as they come, with competitive accolades dating back to the 1980’s. But how has he translated those skills to MMA? Based on his performance so far, we see a fighter who certainly attempts his fair share of takedowns. On average Henderson attempts about one takedown per round, landing just under half of those, and on defense opponents have had a hard time getting him down. But once on the ground, Henderson’s activity is somewhat muted. He tends to get out worked by opponents, and doesn’t advance position often. Rarely does he get to a dominant position, such as side control or mount. But Henderson has been facing top talent for a long time, and his wrestling remains a security outlet if he’s ever in trouble. Fortunately for him, this fight is three rounds, not five. Despite gassing late against Mauricio Rua, he controlled the fight early on. He’ll be hoping to implement a similar game plan against Machida.

Machida’s grappling stats show a very different profile. He attempts fewer takedowns, but is more successful in landing them. Once on the ground he’s been aggressive advancing, has secured dominant positions, and generally outpaced his opponents in striking almost three to one. Despite only one submission finish, Machida holds a black belt in BJJ to compliment the other he holds in karate. We’ve seen him face solid wrestlers like Rashad Evans, Randy Couture and Ryan Bader, avoiding takedowns and finishing each one by KO. But we also saw him falter against Jon Jones, being choked out cold after he was rocked. So Machida isn’t perfect, though his statistical profile is among the best.


The Final Word

The oddsmakers currently have Machida as a -230 favorite, implying a 70% chance of victory for the Brazilian, and bucking the official UFC ranks that indicate Henderson above Machida. The significant “Youth Advantage” Machida has over Henderson is consistent with that betting line. The striking stats point to clear advantages for Machida, but Henderson’s power remains a threat and Machida isn’t getting any younger. If Henderson gets this to the ground, we’ll see a stylistic battle between wrestling and BJJ, and between Henderson’s brute strength and Machida’s finesse. But getting Machida to the ground may open Henderson’s already soft defense to Machida’s accurate flurries, a mistake other wrestlers have made. And yet, we’ve seen Henderson surprise fans and younger opponents alike with the power in his hands.

The stakes are high here, because both fighters are potentially towards the end of their careers. Winning rightly justifies a title shot that might not come till the end of the year or 2014. But losing, and the time it will cost, may mean never again competing for a UFC title. So, before the women make history in the main event, we see two legends write their own history, competing for the right to keep their championship hopes alive.

So what do you think? Any particular stats you think reveal the difference in this matchup? Who wins and how? I’ll be back next month to run the numbers on Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz who will (finally) face off at UFC 158…we hope.


Like Fightnomics on Facebook, or follow on Twitter @Fightnomics to hear when new research and blog posts are available. Raw data provided by FightMetric. This post also appeared on Sherdog.com.



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