UFC on FOX December 13, 2014 Welterweight Matchup: Joe Riggs vs Ben Saunders By @fightnomics Big Picture: Before we get to the Heavyweight card on Big FOX on Saturday, there will be a solid afternoon of preliminary fights in Phoenix. Among those appetizer matchups is a sneaky good matchup between two known veterans each trying to make a second run at MMA’s biggest stage. While Ben Saunders recently made a triumphant return to the UFC after a long stint in Bellator, Joe Riggs is a more recent roster addition after his winning performance in Bellator’s first experimental season of Fight Master. With 80 professional MMA bouts between them, it’s unusual to see two fighters in this position, but perhaps fitting that they’ve been matched up together in what could turn out to be a fan-friendly fight between two guys trying desperately to become relevant to the division. Ben Saunders opened as the favorite at -245, with the underdog Riggs at +175. The fact that both men are resurrecting UFC careers makes for higher than usual volatility in the data. But since we do have reasonable sample size from prior fights, it’s worth looking at how they matchup. Summary Stats:
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Tale of Tape Matchup: There is a huge size discrepancy in this matchup, with Saunders having more than a 7-inch reach advantage that alone accounts for much of his betting line. Saunders has a very long reach for the division, while Riggs has a shorter than average reach. Even if we take some reported values of 71.5” for Riggs, the combination here will undoubtedly make for an extreme matchup. However, while their ages are very similar, most would assert that Joe Riggs is a little older in “fight years” having competing much longer and much, much more frequently. Riggs has been around so long that he owns a win over an opponent named Herb Dean over a decade ago – yes, that Herb Dean! But that amount of fighting takes a toll on a body, and Riggs has also had complications outside the ring, including a recent gunshot wound that delayed his return to the UFC. The Tale of the Tape and the history of these fighters are definitely relevant to the matchup analysis, and there are strong factors favoring Saunders throughout. Striking Matchup: The striking metrics also favor Saunders, pretty much across the board. Both men have been accurate wither their power strikes, but everywhere else there’s a clear advantage for Saunders. Saunders has thrown much more volume and generally operates at twice the average rate of striking while standing as Riggs. When Saunders connects, he’s also dropping opponents and doing more visible damage than Riggs. Defensively, the differences may be even more extreme. Both fighters have good defense, but Saunders’s strike avoidance is well above average, possibly due to that long range that helps him keep shorter opponents at a distance. Not only is Saunders avoiding strikes well, he’s much more resilient in taking strikes when he does get hit. The only knockdown he suffered from the clinch, while Riggs has been dropped five times in prior fights resulting in one of the lowest Knockdown Defense ratings I’ve ever see for a veteran fighter. None of this bodes well for Riggs on his feet, but it’s worth looking at the ground numbers because he’ll likely want to get the fight there. Grappling Matchup: Finally Riggs gets a few advantages in these metrics. His takedown attempt rate is well above average, as is his success rate, a testament to his clear strength in the cage. Although both fighters have spent a large portion of their fight time on the mat, Riggs will be the instigator here. Riggs has normally been in top control, while Saunders has been on his back most of the time. That likely is due to their stylistic backgrounds, with Riggs primarily stemming from a wrestling base while Saunders has the more advanced submission game. Therein lies a potential trap. If Riggs is too willing to take Saunders down, he may run right into one of Saunders’s strengths. Saunders’s long frame allows his submissions to come frequently and at odds angles. He also is able to advance position well. While Riggs’s wrestling does pose one possible path to victory if he can avoid submissions, there’s still risk in taking Saunders to the ground. Reed’s Pick: Saunders to Win (Inside the Distance) Click for latest MMA odds Reed’s Recommended Play: The significant sweep of advantages all aligning for Saunders make him a justifiable favorite here. There is definitely some uncertainty since most of the data is fairly old and has “decayed” while the fighters have continued to improve. But such strong advantages are hard to ignore. The price, however, is getting steep and could go higher. So play Saunders either via a parlay or look for an Inside the Distance prop for better value. The totals limit of 1.5 rounds is lower than usual, especially for Welterweights, demonstrating the finishing potential the public recognizes here. The Over is -175, the Under +135. A finish seems likely given the factors we’ve seen so far, but 1.5 rounds is not a lot of room to work with and Riggs’s wrestling could delay the inevitable. Instead, look for a Fight Does Not Go the Distance prop. “Fightnomics” the book is now available on Amazon! Follow along on Twitter for the latest UFC stats and MMA analysis, or on Facebook, if you prefer.