UFC Fight Night 59 January 18, 2015 Lightweight Matchup: Benson Henderson vs Donald Cerrone By @fightnomics Big Picture: Before the main event at the UFC’s event in Boston this weekend that could crown the next contender at Featherweight, we have an almost-as-important and much, much more competitive matchup at Lightweight in the co-main event. Former champion Benson Henderson is now three fights removed from his title reign, having gone 2-1 in that time. That puts him at #5in the highly competitive division, while Donald Cerrone, who has never challenged the UFC belt, has leapfrogged Henderson to the #3 spot. That’s thanks to Cerrone’s dominant victories over four consecutive top-11 opponents just since April of last year: Edson Barboza, Jim Miller, Eddie Alvarez, and just two weeks ago, Myles Jury. Henderson opened as the favorite, and after some bouncy action in the market, currently maintains a slight edge at -135, the comeback on Cerrone at +115. The line here is understandably close. Despite getting the better of the first two bouts, Henderson’s recent surprise TKO loss and Cerrone’s frenzied pace of accumulating victories has some believing the underdog can finally get the win over his long-time opponent. Cerrone’s recent losses are to the very same two men as Henderson’s, the current champion Anthony Pettis, and his upcoming title challenger Rafael Dos Anjos. There’s a lot of history here, and also a lot of data. So let’s check the Uber Tale of the Tape to see how these guys have fared in their careers, and if there’s any hints as to how this might play out. Summary Stats:
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Tale of Tape Matchup: The traditional tale of the tape shows contrasting advantages for these two fighters, with a three-inch reach advantage for Cerrone, but a Southpaw advantage for Henderson. Both men are 31 years old, still in their prime window of opportunity. Overall, it’s a wash. Striking Matchup: The striking portion of the metrics definitely lean towards Cerrone. His Muay Thai base and aggressive striking style has led to 13 knockdowns in his WEC/UFC career, and a Knockdown Rate of 11%. That’s really, really good. Cerrone’s Knockdown Rate indicates that he drops his opponent once for every nine power head strikes that he lands. The same metric for Henderson is 3.9%, which is above average for the division, but not nearly as impressive as Cerrone. There’s also the flipside of the Knockdown Rate, and that’s the “Chin” rating. For Cerrone, despite eating more punches that his peers, he has withstood them much better than the average fighter. Henderson on the other hand, dipped below average with his most recent knockout loss. The contrast between power and resiliency is a critical piece to this matchup, as it suggests that Henderson should not want to stand and trade leather with his underdog opponent, as he is more vulnerable and less likely to a knockdown than Cerrone. While Cerrone may be the aggressor because of this, Henderson is still very good at staying away from dangerous strikes. The tradeoffs in the striking game will be very interesting to see play out, as there are very different profiles for these two fighters in terms of strengths and weaknesses. In their first fight that went five rounds, Cerrone succumbed to the wrestling of Henderson early and often, but rebounded later in the fight to use his standup striking more effectively than Henderson, with Cerrone winning two rounds. Both fighters have a diverse striking attack, using plenty of kicks to the body and legs – though Cerrone is a little more extreme in mixing things up than Henderson. When they do stand and trade, expect plenty of kicks back and forth. For Cerrone, that includes head kicks, which are especially dangerous, but also deflate his accuracy metric. Overall, the numbers still lean towards Cerrone in the standup striking department. But we should also note that the clinch game is a separate place for these two. And it’s here that Henderson has the advantage, having chosen to use the clinch more often, and usually controlling his opponents on the fenceline. It’s also how Henderson set up his second victory over Cerrone. Clinching is the key to stifling a dangerous striker, and it’s also a very effective way to setup your ground game by using higher percentage takedown attempts. Henderson should know this, so he should spend too much time trading kicks with Cerrone, and should instead close the distance and use his strength to pin Cerrone against the fence. Grappling Matchup: Once again, there are different strengths and weakness here, but both men are clearly very competent on the mat. While Henderson boasts superior grappling credentials, Cerrone most recently dominated another excellent grappler in Myles Jury on the mat. Surprisingly, Cerrone has far more victories by submission than he does by strikes, although the same is true and less surprising for Henderson. It’s now been almost five years since their second meeting that ended with a first-round arm bar by Henderson. In that time, Cerrone has taken on plenty of experienced grapplers and has not been submitted since. Henderson on the other hand, lost his belt in a surprise first-round arm bar from Anthony Pettis. The “MMA math” here gets messy, so let’s ignore and stick to their respective performance metrics. We can see the Henderson is much more likely to go for takedowns, and his overall success rate is above average. Cerrone is less likely to attempt takedowns, but his defense is above average. It’s a close call. Henderson has definitely succeeded in putting Cerrone (and many others) on the mat, but he has also been reluctant to advance position or go for many submissions. Henderson has a controlling and conservative top game, using strikes to set up opening, but not forcing anything in order to maintain it. Overall, Henderson has been in control the majority of his time on the ground. The same is not true for Cerrone, despite the fact that he attempts submissions at nearly double the rate of Henderson. That’s because Cerrone long frame is perfect for triangles from his back. Despite having fewer total cage minutes than Henderson, and a smaller share of that time on the matt, Cerrone has still attempted more than double the submissions of Henderson. Overall, the advantage here goes to Henderson, who is capable and fit enough to control Cerrone on the ground for extended periods while staying out of trouble from submissions. Reed’s Pick: Henderson by Decision (Click for latest MMA odds) Reed’s Recommended Play: This really is a close call both on paper, and in reality. The numbers reveal a close contest and some give and take between them, as does their prior fight history. There’s an edge to Cerrone standing, and to Henderson in the clinch and on the mat. But the tight turnaround for Cerrone is also a factor here. While he is certainly a live underdog, he’ll need his best conditioning to fend off Henderson’s wrestling attack and to keep the fight at a distance where he has the best advantage. Fortunately for Cerrone, it’s only a three round fight, but Henderson will be very fresh and highly motivated coming off his recent loss, and should look to control Cerrone early. The question will be whether he can do so without first getting caught by Cerrone’s powerful and precise attacks. The current odds are accurate, suggesting a slight edge to Henderson. Given the popularity of these fighters, we could see action push the lines one way or the other, so there may be potential for a play if the line strays too far in either direction. Otherwise, avoid taking a side at the current price. The limit of 2.5 rounds is also appropriate, as this competitive division only sees finishes about half of the time. But in this case the Over is -220, the Under +175. Once again, there’s low value taking the Over assuming that these two highly skilled fighters will likely cancel each other’s best weapons to force a decision. So that leaves us with the props. Henderson’s best path to victory will be avoiding Cerrone’s striking, and making it an up close and grinding three round affair. He’s certainly capable of that, making Henderson by Decision at +140 a more interesting play than a straight side. Contrasting, there’s also the mismatched knockdown ratings for each fighter, giving value to Cerrone Inside the Distance at +380. Should you play Henderson’s side, or use the Over in a parlay, hedge with a small play on the Cerrone ITD prop to ensure that a miraculous win for the Cowboy doesn’t empty your account. “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.