UFC 161 June 15, 2013 Light Heavyweights: Dan Henderson vs. Rashad Evans By Reed Kuhn, @Fightnomics Big Picture: In an odd turn of events, two former champions and potential future contenders are each coming off losses, yet have gone from mid-card placement to main event status via a more intense than usual injury card-shuffle. But he were are, and the main event we’re left with is an amazingly competitive and close match up. Current odds have Rashad Evans as an ever so slight favorite at -125, while the comeback on Henderson is +105. Don’t be surprised if the line shifts and neutralizes or even flips during fight week. Now let’s see how they stack up. Summary Stats:
Tale of Tape Matchup: The two fighters are similarly sized without enough of a difference to create any significant size or stance advantage. But the big difference is in age. Evans will have a 9-year Youth Advantage over his opponent, which historically leads to the younger fighter winning 2/3rds of the time. Standup Game: In terms of pace and cage control the two fighters are evenly matched. Henderson may have more confidence in his power, and therefore may be the one doing the early pressing. Or, thanks to one too many swings and misses against Machida, he may want Evans to come to him. But what happens once they do start exchanging leather? In terms of striking Henderson does indeed have a lot of power, but also the more vulnerable chin. Both his offensive and defensive knockdown metrics are much higher than average. Which is good when he lands, but bad if Evans connects first. Neither fighter is very accurate, but Evans’ striking defense is very good, a factor of his well-known speed. Part of the trouble in solving this matchup riddle is how even these stats are. For each small advantage, there’s an equal and opposite disadvantage for each fighter. Either fighter has power if they can connect, but with sub-par accuracy against good defense, getting close enough to exchange may tempt them to go for a takedown. Ground Game: Despite Henderson’s wrestling credentials, Evans believes he’ll be able to set a UFC takedown record this week. That may be far-fetched, but the numbers do reveal that Evans has been much more successful on the ground than his opponent. Despite very similar takedown success and defense metrics, Evans attempts takedowns far more frequently. Once on the ground, he has dominated opponents with ground and pound and controlled 86% of his minutes on the mat. Henderson on the other hand, has only controlled 41% by the same metric, less than half as successful. Lastly, submissions don’t appear to be a significant threat for either fighter, as neither uses them often, nor falls prey either. Fight Prediction: Both fighters are coming off losses that left a bad taste for them. There may be a few moments of feeling out, but when the time comes there will be fury. If Evans is successful with an early takedown, look for him to neutralize the “H-Bomb” by ground and pound and wearing Henderson down early. If that’s the case, fortunately this fight is only three rounds. Reed’s Pick: Evans by Decision Reed’s Recommended Play: There’s a few ways to go here, but given how even the betting line is (currently near pick ‘em), Evans straight for the win straight up at -125 presents decent value based on the grappling advantages and Henderson’s battle-weary chin. Henderson inside the distance is +287, and Evans inside the distance is +551. Normally these would present a lot of value for fighters in a bigger division. A finish at light heavyweight occurs 59% of the time, but both these guys have below average finish rates, and are even tougher to be finished themselves. If the fight were five rounds, there’s more of a chance for a TKO after fatigue sets in, but in this case a decision is a reasonable outcome. Either fighter is capable of hurting the other on their feet, but both have shown resilience in avoiding the finish and neither has been susceptible to submissions. Due to Henderson’s age, I actually think there’s more value on Evans for a finish.