UFC Fight Night 55 November 7, 2014 Middleweight Matchup: Clint Hester vs Robert Whittaker By @fightnomics Big Picture: In one of the more puzzling matchups this weekend, former Welterweight and TUF Smashes Winner, Robert Whittaker, is moving up a weight class to face surging Middleweight Clint Hester. The New Zealand native Whittaker has a tough matchup, but the fighting styles of both fighters favor a striking duel, which should leave fans satisfied either way. Hester is currently a -185 favorite over the underdog Whittaker at +160. The market odds place Hester’s chances for a win around 65%, but what do their numbers say? Summary Stats:
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Tale of Tape Matchup: The traditional metrics on the Tale of the Tape are an immediate clue to Hester’s advantage. Specifically, it’s all about the reach in this matchup, and this will come up often in the discussion below. Not only is Whittaker now fighting a full division higher (and a 15-lb leap at that), Hester will probably pack a lot more muscle into the cage on fight night. At Welterweight, Whittaker had below-average reach, while Hester is longer than the average Middleweight. That big discrepancy here leads to a 5.5-inch reach differential, which, all other things being equal, basically explains the odds outright. But we get to look deeper at the performance metrics too, so let’s do that. Striking Matchup: The profiles of these fighters lean towards Whittaker having the more experienced and technical striking game, but on paper he hasn’t performed as well as Hester has. However, the historical performance of these fighters on their feet suggests that Hester’s standup game may be underrated. While they have thrown an equal rate of strikes while standing, Hester has been outworking opponents, while Whittaker has been failing to keep up with his. This is not unusual given each man’s relative reach in his division. Whittaker struggled against longer fighters in the past, and that doesn’t bode well for him here. But based on similar rates of fire, Hester is still landing his power head strikes with more success, and with greater knockdown power. Defensively, both men are good at avoiding power head strikes, but Hester is one of the best in this metric on the entire card. Add in the reach differential, and Hester should be able to neutralize any skill edge that Whittaker may bring to the cage. Grappling Matchup: Should this fight leave the feet, it will be more likely Hester that takes it there. He attempts takedowns at a higher rate, although neither man attempts them very frequently. Whittaker has only attempted two takedowns in his UFC career, yet to his credit he landed both. Defensively, Whittaker does have very good takedown defense, which is critical for a striking specialist. Hester’s takedown defense is above average too, but again, the extra range he has will help his takedown game both offensively and defensively. Both men are still maturing their submission skills, and neither is a decorated grappler. Whittaker used plenty of submissions on the regional scene before entering the UFC, but neither man has a submission win on the big stage of the Octagon. More than likely, whichever fighter lands the first takedown will hold top control to help control the round, but probably no finishes here. Neither fighter has advanced beyond half guard while in the UFC, each one averaging only one position advance or less per top control. And when they’re put on their backs, they’ve been reasonably successful getting back to their feet. So the ground game is kind of a wash here. And all that’s a big IF they don’t decide to duke it out on their feet, which I think they will. Reed’s Pick: Hester by TKO (click for latest MMA odds) Reed’s Recommended Play: The massive size difference and a number of favorable performance metrics all support Hester here as the favorite. If he continues to rise on the odds sheet, however, you may need to consider Hester parlay fodder to reduce your risk. Whittaker is still scrappy, and he’s also the better credentialed striker, so if he’s elusive and accurate, he could still perform well. The numbers just say that it’s less likely than Hester controlling the cage and landing the harder shots. The Over of 2.5 rounds is -155, the Under +125, which means the market thinks these guys are probably going to a decision. Middleweights actually finish more than half their fights, so the question is whether these guys have more or less finishing potential than average. If they do stand and trade (and neither shows a strong preference for the mat) one of these guys should connect at some point. There’s a little bit of value on the Under, especially given that the longer fighter is also the more powerful one, and Whittaker has been dropped before. “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.