Alexander Gustafsson vs Jimi Manuwa – UFC Fight Night 37 Statistical Analysis and Fight Pick

UFC Fight Night 37 March 8, 2014 Light Heavyweight Matchup: #1 Alexander Gustafsson vs #11 Jimi Manuwa By Reed Kuhn, @Fightnomics   Big Picture:  The main event from London will feature a home-cage, rising prospect in Jimi Manuwa against the division’s number one contender (and top European fighter), Alexander Gustafsson. We haven’t seen much from Manuwa to date, as all three of his UFC fights have ended with a stoppage due to injury or doctor intervention. But Gustafsson is now a pretty established veteran, having most recently gone five rounds with the current champion Jon Jones. The #1 ranked Gustafsson opened as a heavy favorite, and the market has pushed him even further to -470, with Manuwa the underdog at +375. That’s a really steep line in the main event, and the second longest odds on the night. So the question, is it worth it?   Summary Stats:

Fightnomics Uber Tape Gustafsson-Manuwa To see more Uber Tales of the Tape for this UFC fight card, check out MMA Oddsbreaker Premium.

  Tale of Tape Matchup: The Tale of Tape is a little misleading. The reported reach for Gustafsson by the UFC is below recent remarks about the same measurement, putting him closer to 80 inches in wingspan. That matches closely with Manuwa, so there probably won’t be much of a reach differential either way. The only real difference is age. Despite still being considered a “prospect” in the UFC (due to being undefeated but still early in his career on the biggest stage), Manuwa is already 34 years old, which is pushing the limits in MMA. He gives up a 7-year Youth Advantage to Gustafsson in this matchup, which is the only real differential on the tape worth noting.   Striking Matchup: The standup game is interesting here. While Gustafsson has faced some tough strikers like Thiago Silva, Shogun Rua, and Jon Jones, it’s possible that Manuwa is the most powerful striker he’s faced yet. The statline looks to favor Manuwa in terms of accuracy, pace, and defense. Gustafsson still has the edge in the overall Knockdown Rate in UFC action, although it’s hard to overlook Manuwa’s 10 career (T)KO’s prior to his UFC debut. Manuwa actually mixes up his attack with kicks more often than most fighters, which may be one reason his punches tend to land on target so often. One crazy metric not shown is the power ratio for head strikes. Manuwa swings for the fences often, only 29% of his head strikes are jabs. That same number for Gustafsson is a much more balanced 59%, which suggests he’s more patient in his striking attack. On defense neither fighter has been knocked down, or ever lost by strikes for that matter. But the head strike defense for Gustafsson is one of his only statistical flaws. That number was low even before he met Jon Jones, meaning he tends to eat more punches than he lands. The row just above that metric explains how he can afford to do that: his total standup striking ration is a very high 1.8, meaning he outworks opponents by 80% in volume. Despite eating a lot of punches, he overwhelms opponents. While we certainly must respect the level of competition that Gustafsson has handled in prior fights, the same game plan of pushing forward with high volume and relying on his stout (literally and figurative) beard to keep him upright may not be the best gameplan here. Manuwa’s power and precision could combine for some of the most damaging blows that Gustafsson has faced yet, which may also affect him worse than the blows that wobbled him against Jones. All that also means we should look at the ground stats to see what we can learn about Gustafsson’s Plan B, should he decide not to risk the early threat of Manuwa’s power striking.   Grappling Matchup: Both fighters attempt takedowns at an average rate for the division, and also land them at an average success rate. But again, we are likely to be biased towards favoring Gustafsson due the fact that he became the first ever fighter to takedown Jon Jones. Not much happened, but that takedown alone showed that he has really improved his wrestling during his UFC career that began with a debut submission loss to Phil Davis. Gustafsson has also shown solid takedown defense, and overall has been in control more often than not despite facing a history of accomplished grapplers. Manuwa on the other hand has been more likely to be on his back despite a similarly high takedown defense (against admittedly fewer elite grapplers). Once on the mat, Gustafsson has been much more likely to advance position and go for submissions, which earned him two taps from rear naked chokes against other strong strikers Cyrille Diabate and James Te-Huna. That could be the big hint here. Why take chances trading leather with a guy like Manuwa who has literally made a career of finishing opponents when you can test his ground game?   Reed’s Pick: Gustafsson Inside the Distance (click for latest MMA odds)   Reed’s Recommended Play:  It’s a much closer fight on paper than the odds suggest, but Gustafsson’s strength of schedule adds a lot of context here. Fans just saw him go five rounds with one of the pound for pound best in a fight that had some screaming robbery. That’s usually enough to boost a fighters stock, and in this case the market is giving him an 83% chance of victory. Gustafsson has been in the cage with the best in the business, and performed impressively. But given the wildcard nature of Manuwa’s striking abilities and Gustafsson tendency to get hit, the normal “puncher’s chance” is an important caveat to this matchup. Gustafsson may get thrown into parlays, but a straight up pick at these odds is not advisable. In the light heavyweight division eating a couple punches from a power striker could be all that’s necessary for a monster upset. The over is currently +105 for 2.5 rounds, the under -135. The better value play here is an early finish, but Inside the Distance is running -350. That’s a safe bet, as Manuwa has literally never in his career been to round three – but not a great line. Gustafsson’s strategy for this fight could be to intentionally take Manuwa into deep waters in the hopes that fatigue makes him a more vulnerable opponent. Most light heavyweights end inside of three rounds, and the amount of violence these two fighters in particular are capable of makes that an even more likely scenario. There’s some risk on the Over/Under due to Gustafsson’s tendency to clinch and wear guys down (see the Rua fight) and the resiliency of both fighters, but the longer the fight goes the easier it will be for Gustafsson to impose his will one way or another. For that reason Gustafsson Inside the Distance at -175 is reasonable value.

Written by Reed Kuhn

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