UFC Fight Night 78 November 18th, 2015 Featherweight Matchup: Ricardo Lamas vs Diego Sanchez By @fightnomics Big Picture: It’s an odd pairing between a former and still potential contender in Lamas, and an unranked Lightweight dropdown in Diego Sanchez. But the man formerly nicknamed both the “Dream” and the “Nightmare” still has the name recognition in his birth name to draw a crowd. And even in defeat, we can’t say Diego Sanchez is not exciting. But still, the co-main event from Monterey Mexico pits two former title contenders against each other, and only one is likely to ever challenge for a title again. The #4 ranked Featherweight Lamas is the overwhelming favorite at -600 over the UFC’s newest Featherweight Diego Sanchez. The line is steep, but we have plenty of data between these two to consider, so let’s see if Lamas is the justified favorite, and where the risk lies. Summary Stats:
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Tale of Tape Matchup: The traditional tale of the tape may come as a shock when you realize that Sanchez is still just 33 years old, and only a few months older than Lamas. But none would argue with the theory that Sanchez is actually much older than that in “fight years.” The primary driver isn’t just raw age and the associated physiological changes that go with it, but also the accumulated damage to the body. And Sanchez is just 11 head strikes away from absorbing 1,000 total head strikes in his UFC career (alone). That’s 4th all-time among Zuffa fighters. However, the Southpaw Sanchez is also dropping weight yet again, and will be facing the smallest opponent yet. Sanchez is set to become the second fighter ever to compete in four separate UFC weight classes, and will do so in the exact same four as his former UFC-debut opponent Kenny Florian, who was previously the only one to accomplish this. That’s a 40-pound drop for Sanchez since his TUF Season 1 Finale win at Middleweight, so one could argue that Sanchez may have been outsized throughout much of his career. And yes, the division averages would support that, so he’s now enjoying a reach advantage on top of his Southpaw stance. But that does assume that he can gracefully cut weight. Cutting pounds may give you more range on a smaller-framed opponent, but it can come at the cost of much needed muscle that allows you to absorb blows. And speaking of that, it’s important to discuss Sanchez’s striking defense in all this. Striking Matchup: The most interesting stats between the two are not necessarily their offensive striking prowess, but their defensive avoidance. Diego Sanchez is famous for brawling toe-to-toe. But throughout exchanges, Sanchez eats more punches than he lands. His opponents heave 33% power head accuracy versus Sanchez at 20% on nearly identical total volume. Sanchez doesn’t use a lot of jabs, so generally he’s getting hit by opponents more often than he’s connecting. That’s a problem in the long run, as Sanchez has now accumulated more total head strikes in the UFC than any active fighter. But the matchup with Lamas isn’t necessarily high risk based just on technical striking. It turns out that Lamas also has low accuracy, but several other metrics are even more notable. Lamas is high on Knockdown Rate, but low on chin rating. To translate, on a per-strike basis, Lamas is more of a threat to score a knockdown if he lands a punch, but also more vulnerable for each one he eats. That’s a volatile mix of factors, but as we noted earlier, Sanchez tends to eat punches on the way to landing one. It’s a tough call, but the power of Lamas and poor defense of Sanchez is one viable path to an outcome in favor of Lamas. That threat is exacerbated by the fact Sanchez will be fighting at his thinnest yet, and theoretically carrying less muscle in his frame. That could be a big factor, as Sanchez (and his pronounced neck and jaw muscles) has been willing and able to take a punch. But will the weight cut and potential brain drain that comes with it finally make him more susceptible to a knockout? It’s hard to say, the factors are certainly aligning to make that a real possibility. Overall, the striking matchup is mixed, but we have several reasons to believe that either man is vulnerable to a knockout. Grappling Matchup: Sanchez was an early wrestler-brawler hybrid, and his career stats reveal that he is quick to attempt takedowns. But despite his base skill on the wrestling mats, his UFC takedown success rate has been poor. It may be his choice to shoot from a distance without adequate setups, or that he relies on too many attempts when fatigued, but regardless, Sanchez has not landed more than two takedowns in a fight in nearly a decade (he landed three in 2006 versus Karo Parisyan). Lamas also has a wrestling base, with a slightly lower (but still high) pace of takedown attempts and a higher success rate. Both men have similar takedown defense, and the net-net is that they each have only spent slightly more time in control on the mat than they’ve been controlled by opponents. The two are also similar in submission attempt rates, but again Lamas gets a slight edge having attempted at a higher rate and finished UFC opponents twice. It’s a close contest on the ground, and likely a stalemate early on unless one gases late. But knowing these two, we might not even see much action on the ground. Reed’s Pick: The Under, Props (Click for latest MMA odds) Reed’s Recommended Play: Lamas is still clearly the fresher fighter, and appears to also fight more intelligently having survived five rounds with champ Jose Aldo just last year. But that’s a lot of juice to risk against a fighter in Sanchez who manages to hustle rounds from superior opponents, and who will also throw bombs of his own right up to the final bell. There are paths to victory for Sanchez via knockout, and also a decision. So avoid laying a huge price for Lamas given the risks involved. Instead, consider other angles. The limit is 2.5 rounds, with the Over currently -185 and +165 for the Under. The market is clearly leaning towards a decision due to Sanchez’s durability that has gotten him to the cards for eight straight fights dating back to 2009. That’s quite a decision streak, and it would go further were it not for a doctor intervention for a cut with just two and half minutes left in a five-rounder against BJ Penn for the title. But that was a long time ago, and Sanchez’s durability cannot last forever. And Lamas, while seemingly the fighter with more upside, has already seen his durability slide. Both men are now quite susceptible to strikes, and either could end it. It’s enough of a chance for a small play on the under as long as you’re getting clear plus money. If you take Lamas in any way (and a parlay is really the only way), also consider a hedge prop on Sanchez by TKO at +1275. It should be Lamas getting the win, but his chin rating does suggest a vulnerability that has a huge payoff and mitigates the risk in a favorite play. For more statistical analysis of MMA, get the book “Fightnomics: the Hidden Numbers and Science in Mixed Martial Arts.”