UFC 166 October 19, 2013 Heavyweight: Daniel Cormier vs. Roy Nelson By Reed Kuhn, @Fightnomics Big Picture: For some reason Daniel Cormier really wanted to fight Roy Nelson, and for some other unknown reason this is the fight that finally made Roy Nelson go on a diet. Whatever those reasons are, we have two top 10 heavyweights in the emergency injury-reserve position on a heavyweight title card. It could be Cormier’s last appearance at heavyweight, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be any less motivated to get a win over a big-name opponent to support his case for a future title shot, potentially at light heavyweight. Cormier is currently a huge -600 favorite over Nelson at +450. Let’s see what the numbers say. Summary Stats:
Tale of Tape Matchup: In terms of “frame-size,” these are actually two undersized heavyweights at heights of only 5’ 11” and 6’ 0” and reach lengths that would be considered average for welterweights. I know, it’s minblowing. Although Nelson has a slight reach advantage, he is also 37 years old, which is well into the range of decreased performance after years of brutal heavyweight slobberknockers. Both fighters are relatively fresh from fights in the last six months, and notably Nelson has taken his diet seriously for perhaps the first time. In this weight class not being battleworn is a big advantage, and Cormier’s late career move into MMA works to his advantage in that he has yet to take any serious damage in the cage. Overall, I give a slight edge to Cormier for this reason on the tale of the tape, despite the metrics being essentially even. Striking Matchup: Impressively, Cormier has demonstrated accurate standup striking, superior volume, and a solid overall pace despite the usual size disadvantage he gave up to prior opponents. His defense is excellent, and he has yet to be dropped. Nelson on the other hand comes in with big power in his overhand right, but otherwise sub-par offensive striking metrics in terms of accuracy, cage control, and pace. The most damning metric is his head striking defense, which is abysmally low. Yes, he’s shown that his incredible beard is both literal and figurative, but that only prolongs the punishment he absorbs when out-classed on his feet. Because these are heavyweights and Nelson has demonstrated a clear ability to land KO’s in the past but is also 37 years old, I must caveat with the notion that a striking finish by either fighter is certainly possible and that always keeps the door open for an upset finish. On the other hand, the stats align for a near clean sweep for striking advantages to Cormier, and we should expect to see him be the more active and accurate striker getting in and out of range on Nelson, likely exploiting the older fighter’s lax defense. Grappling Matchup: On the ground we have a wrestler versus grappler matchup that is usually tough to predict, but again we have another near clean sweep favoring Cormier on the statline. Cormier will be the one more likely to attempt takedowns, more likely to land them, and has historically been in clear control for 99% of his time spent on the ground. Cormier’s takedown defense is currently perfect, so it’s unlikely that Nelson will be able to do what Barnett and Mir could not. While Cormier is unlikely to use his wrestling to finish the fight, it’s the mix of these takedowns that will wear Nelson down, win the rounds, and add an extra element of surprise to Cormier’s striking entrances. All that will factor into Cormier’s ability to be on the offensive for 15-minutes straight, leaving few openings for Nelson to mount any sort of attack. Reed’s Pick: Cormier by Unanimous Decision (click for latest MMA odds) Reed’s Recommended Play: Cormier is a huge favorite, but one that is supported by the stats. Still, at -600 there’s not a ton of value in the line except to be used in parlays to boost the value of riskier plays. But if you want to invest in Cormier on Saturday night, consider splitting your bet to include a -170 play on Cormier by decision, which is the likeliest outcome to this fight. Nelson’s saving grace is his undeniable durability, even amidst brutal defeat. He may get beaten all over the cage, but he’s never been finished in the UFC, and he’s never been submitted in his entire career. Amazingly, the “inside the distance line” for this fight is minus 165. Heavyweights….expected to the go the distance! Truly amazing, and yet probably accurate. The macro trends is always to take an inside the distance play on heavyweights if there’s plus money, but given how tough these two are, with almost no chance of a submission finish, it’s hard to bank on one fighter getting exposed for the first time.