Five Things to Watch for at UFC 209 According to Graphs
1. Khabib Nurmagomedov isn’t the only dominant grappler on the card
Sure, Nurmagomedov has owned opponents on the mat for 96 percent of the time he’s spent there, but there are actually two other fighters who’ve spent even more of their total fight time controlling opponents on the ground.
Mirsad Bektic and Luis Henrique have each spent roughly half of their total Octagon time on the ground and in control of opponents, far in excess of the UFC average. That type of control makes winning rounds pretty easy to judge and also offers submission opportunities from two men who are capable of finishing once there. As we’ll see below, Bektic especially is getting love from the betting market.
2. New stars could emerge, and the betting market already likes two of them
The two biggest betting favorites on the card are names that are not at the forefront of mainstream awareness -- but could be soon.
Bektic is an overwhelming favorite over veteran Darren Elkins, who is no slouch with an 11-4 UFC record. Bektic opened at a strong -350, and he has since been supported to -620 odds. The undefeated 26-year-old is currently 4-0 in the UFC and facing a solid gatekeeper who has only lost to strong division talent like Chad Mendes, Jeremy Stephens and Charles Oliveira. If Bektic emerges victorious, expect a big name and a higher-card position for his next matchup.
And Lando Vannata showed so much potential in his two short fights in the UFC so far, he’s already being eyed for big things. In his short-notice debut, and as a massive underdog, he came very close to knocking out Tony Ferguson, who will fight for the interim lightweight title this weekend on the same card. Vannata’s opponent this weekend is another high-potential prospect in David Teymur. The striking stats between them are impressive enough that this could be a must-see striking duel that will anoint the division’s next wild-card fighter knocking on the door of the rankings.
3. The lightweight title fight will see a position mismatch
When Nurmagomedov faces Ferguson for the interim title, position will matter a lot, and this one should play out as a striker versus grappler matchup.
Ferguson’s offensive striking is dangerous and aggressive, and it's compounded by a massive six-inch reach advantage here. While Nurmagomedov has had some success in landing unorthodox strikes in the past, it was against much smaller opponents.
But that won’t matter for very long if Nurmagomedov sticks to his strength on the ground. He is quick to attempt takedowns, and given the range and striking disadvantage, he’ll want to attempt them early and often. The winner of the belt is the one who can keep their favored position long enough to win rounds or threaten a finish.
4. Tyron Woodley is the hardest hitting UFC welterweight
There’s no doubt that Woodley hits hard, but the numbers confirm he’s actually the hardest-hitting striker in the division.
And Stephen Thompson already knows that. Like Robbie Lawler before him, Thompson got stunned by the power of Woodley’s overhand right. But unlike Lawler, Thompson was able to recover and finish the round, and even win the last round to force the draw. Still, there’s no doubt of the threat Woodley poses with his hands, and it’s unlikely Thompson will want to test his durability like that again in their rematch.
5. ...but Stephen Thompson is the most effective striker in the division
Round-to-round, no one has out-landed opponents strike-for-strike at welterweight the way Wonderboy has.
The names leading this list are all rangy fighters, just like Thompson. His background in kickboxing is obvious from his stance and precision, and he certainly got the better of exchanges in three out of five rounds of the first fight against Woodley. As long as this fight is standing, the matchup will again be a tradeoff of power vs. finesse.
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Dropping science in the cage with UFC statistics & analytics. Quantifying underlying drivers of the fight game, and ending barroom disputes everywhere.
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