It’s a title fight that has been brewing since January, when Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw were selected to coach the 25th season of the Ultimate Fighter on their way to a summer title fight matchup. The hostility between the former Team Alpha Male training partners was on full display throughout the season, adding to fuel to an already fiery matchup. Furthermore, the odds for the matchup are nearly Pick’em, making the fight a perfect storm of close competiveness plus out-of-cage animosity to promote their ultimate (albeit delayed) showdown at UFC 217.
While injury bug wanted in on the action, and Garbrandt’s back troubles interfered with a solid booking, we’re eventually seeing the matchup November. There’s still over two months before the fight, but such a pivotal matchup for the division sharing event billing with the GSP’s return against Michael Bisping (previewed here) is deserving of an advance breakdown prior to the UFC’s return to New York City.
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Tale of Tape Matchup:
The traditional tale of the tape shows a rare oddity for a reigning champion: short reach. The average bantamweight stretches 68.5 inches in wingspan, but Garbrandt measures just 65.5. When Dillashaw held the belt, his reach was just about average, fairly uncommon for champions. But with Garbrandt now atop the division, he’ll have to expect a range disadvantage in the majority of his future matchups given his short reach.
And yet it hasn’t mattered so far. Garbrandt has been flawless in his run to the title, looking perhaps most impressive in his dethroning of Dominick Cruz. In that fight, it was Garbrandt’s speed and power that trumped Cruz’s normally confusing entrances, and those same skills will be critical against Dillashaw. Should the two get into a striking duel, Garbrandt’s five-year Youth Advantage will help him outlast Dillashaw once the leather starts connecting, and would be more important than the mild reach differential between them.
The striking matchup could be critical in determining the outcome of this fight. Garbrandt clearly prefers a standing shootout, and he has managed to keep wrestlers standing in the past. If he does so against Dillashaw, we’ll see two strong strikers who have excelled in very different ways.
Garbrandt’s game is all about speed and power. Of his standing head strikes, just 14 percent of them are jabs (compared to roughly 50/50 for the average fighter). And when he’s throwing power strikes, he’s landing them at a precise rate, and doing a lot of damage when they land. His eight knockdowns to date were scored at over a 6 percent Knockdown Rate, way higher than even the average Heavyweight. While his pace is lower than average and compared to opponents, he makes up for it with precision and power, which no doubt has enabled the nine T/KO’s in his perfect 11-0 record.
Dillashaw, in contrast, is all about pace and combinations. He uses more jabs than Garbrandt, driving a high pace of volume but lower overall success rate. His defense is on par with Garbrandt’s. So per exchange the two may both land, but Garbrandt might be the one doing more damage. We’ve seen them both go full speed through five rounds, so should the fight stay on the feet, we should see a very competitive and exciting striking duel that will remain compelling as long as both men are standing.
The grappling matchup is a mismatch favoring Dillashaw, but only if he can do what Garbrandt’s opponents have been unable to do so far. While Dillashaw has definitely deployed his wrestling far more often than Garbrandt, the specific performance metrics discount Dillashaw’s success rate versus Garbrandt’s stout defense.
Dillashaw should be the one initiating takedowns, but it’s no sure thing that he’ll succeed in completing them. Garbrandt’s takedown defense is currently perfect at 100 percent, and it’s not that he hasn’t faced down a wrestling threat. His ability to defend levels while making his opponent pay for coming forward was a critical differentiator in his title-winning performance against Cruz. Should he do the same against Dillashaw, the matchup will steer in his favor. However, should Dillashaw’s threat of striking set up takedowns better than Cruz could, Dillashaw could nullify Garbrandt’s best weapons while controlling rounds on the cards.
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Cody Garbrandt -130
TJ Dillashaw +110
The current odds are very close, and should remain so in the lead up to Madison Square Garden. Dillashaw looked impressive during his title reign, and even his split decision loss to Cruz was one many felt could have gone the other way. But whatever Dillashaw has accomplished in the cage, Garbrandt has arguably done it better. His matchup with Cruz also went five rounds, but it became lopsided in Garbrandt’s favor as the fight wore on. The question mark related to Dillashaw’s wrestling potential should be answered early in the fight, and Garbrandt’s ability to deal with it will determine how the remaining rounds are fought. That aspect keeps will keep the line close, while most will admit Garbrandt has done enough to prove his hands are more dangerous than Dillashaw’s.
Since his 2011 UFC debut and TKO loss to John Dodson, Dillashaw hasn’t been finished. He’s weathered some storms while improving his skills. Meanwhile, Garbrandt has never even been threatened, and he is likely the one here who will decide if this fight ends early. The Over 3.5 rounds is favored at -170, the Under +130, crediting the durability of both men, while conceding that neither takes their foot off the gas in the championship rounds.
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