UFC 168 December 28, 2013 Middleweight Matchup: Chris Leben vs Uriah Hall By Reed Kuhn, @Fightnomics Big Picture: Right before the most expensive Pay-Per-View broadcast in UFC history begins, the UFC is hoping to close out the preliminary card with a bang. In a strange twist, they’ve selected a combination of fighters who are coming off 5 straight losses between them, but who still have great upside potential for putting on an exciting fight. The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) finalist and hyped striker Uriah Hall faces old-school TUF competitor and long-time veteran brawler Chris Leben. Hall comes in as a strong -300 favorite over Leben at +250. This will of course be the third time in a row that Hall is favored in an Octagon appearance (which is to say, every time he has entered the Octagon) despite having yet to record an official UFC win. Let’s see if the stats give us a hint as to how this fight will go down, and who is more likely to salvage a roster spot in the UFC’s middleweight division. Summary Stats:
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Tale of Tape Matchup: The Tale of Tape is interesting whenever Uriah Hall gets measured. His freakishly long wingspan gives him a reach advantage over every middleweight in the UFC, and in this matchup means a huge 7+ inch reach advantage over Leben. There’s also a tangible Youth Advantage favoring Hall here. Leben is now 33 years old, but in “fighter years” is much older given the wars he’s been through. Hall is still very fresh and now in his physical peak age range. One saving grace for Leben is his Southpaw stance which will cause Hall to be a little less confident in pulling the trigger. Will that be enough to compensate for the other Tape differentials? Probably not. Hall has his back against the wall and knows how important it is that he fights a good fight here. Backing down against Leben is not an option. Striking Matchup: The striking metrics tell us a few things that should be obvious, but hide a few other important factors that have gone unmeasured. Hall has a huge reach, and even in his losses against solid wrestlers, he landed nearly half of all his jabs, which is unusually high. In terms of their power head strike accuracy, the fighters are more evenly matched, as they are in stand-up volume. Leben has recorded plenty of knockdowns and has a Knockdown Rate that is on par with the Middleweight division average. Hall on the other hand, definitely has superhero-like power, but has yet to put any on record in official UFC fights (TUF fights aren’t recorded). The biggest difference here – and in my opinion the key to deciphering this matchup – is Leben’s head strike defense. Gritty fighters are sometimes able to overcome a hole in their defense by pressing forward and brawling. Leben has essentially eaten three shots in order to deliver two. Over and over again. Against a powerful striker like Hall, that could spell disaster. If Hall has been more hesitant to engage against his recent opponents who mixed in solid wrestling to stifle some of Hall’s attack, that shouldn’t be the scenario here. Instead, Leben has now accumulated five total knockdowns in his UFC career, and has been hurt with strikes a number of other times. This one line item I think is the most meaningful stat on the Uber Tale of the Tape. Whenever I look at a power striker like Hall, I always check his opponent’s head strike defense. This appears to be one of those cases that could cause a perfect storm for destruction. Grappling Matchup: Hall and Leben aren’t especially known for their grappling, but the threat of Hall’s standup game might have Leben thinking twice about his usual stand and bang strategy. They both spend a third of their fight minutes on the ground, and of those minutes spend the majority of their time on their back. That means each man is susceptible to losing rounds should he wind up on the mat, but then neither fighter attempts many takedowns to begin with, and they are both around average in their success rate. In terms of takedown defense they are again both around average. That makes the ground game the wild card here. While neither fighter differentiates positively in their use of grappling, if one is successful in pushing forward and getting top control, that would negate the clear standup patterns. Presumably, Hall has been focusing on improving his wrestling defense (and if not one seriously has to question his desire to remain in the UFC). Leben’s wrestling could result in a slow round won for the top control fighter. Overall, this doesn’t seem likely, but we can’t ignore it. Reed’s Pick: Hall by TKO (click for latest MMA odds) Reed’s Recommended Play: Hall straight up will cost you some serious juice, and he has burned plenty of parlays in his past two fights. Though I was one of the folks who profited on the unjustifiably high line in his last fight, that was a different matchup against an under the radar opponent who was dangerous and motivated in different ways. This situation must be evaluated on its own. Hall has clear advantages in the Tale of the Tape, should he overcome his hesitancy to engage he should also be the crisper and more dangerous striker. Combined with Leben’s willingness to engage and sometimes sloppy defense, this fight seems tailor made for Hall. Leben’s grit and perseverance have gotten him through some tough spots in the past, but each one took a small toll. His Knockdown Resiliency is simply not the same now as it once was. If Hall can keep his distance, he may even be able to counter-strike his way to a TKO victory, but I expect at some point he’ll hurt Leben and then finish the fight with strikes. Even at this stage, Leben is still a tough dude, so the Over/Under of 2.5 rounds is still a risky play. If Hall gets the finish, it could come at any time, so the inside the distance play +115 at least gives you more return than a straight up pick and some wiggle room should a finish take time to develop. Though if you believe Leben can survive to a decision, Hall’s overall fight output should still get him the win, so consider using Hall straight up for parlays.