Cain Velasquez has compiled a 9-1 mark in the UFC. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
In a nod to the first-ever all-heavyweight card at UFC 146, several fighters are back in Las Vegas for their one-year anniversary, including a rematch that now has a championship belt at stake. Cain Velasquez is back on top of the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight division, as he defends his title against Antonio Silva, who has improbably worked his way into a No. 4 ranking in the weight class and a shot at UFC gold.
However, in a phenomenon rarer than a “Bigfoot” sighting, we see a fighter in Silva who has gone from being a mild underdog (+170 vs. Travis Browne) to a big underdog (+390 vs. Alistair Overeem) to a huge underdog (currently +500 vs. Velasquez) despite being on a two-fight winning streak. Perhaps the blood-soaked memories of UFC 146 and his defeat to Velasquez are still too fresh and vivid; or perhaps fans are once again ignoring the potential of a fighter who once pounded the great Fedor Emelianenko into a doctor’s stoppage.
Today, we will dive through more than 9,000 data points to see if we can find any clues regarding whether or not round two of Velasquez-Silva will be any different than the first.
The Tale of Tape shows the obvious: these are big boys but not really the biggest in the division. Silva will have a size advantage in height and reach, but he is also three years older and pushing the elevated risk range for decreased knockout resiliency. Both orthodox stance fighters are finishers who end a large majority of their fights by knockout or technical knockout, which begs us to look at the striking stats to see how they match up.
The standup game shows two fairly accurate strikers with slightly better than average striking defense. Both guys can strike, as evidenced by having scored frequent knockdowns. In the clinch, Velasquez lands slightly more often but has the worse defense.
The more significant differences here are in pace and power. Both fighters tend to control the pace of fights by outworking their opponents, though Velasquez is stronger in this criterion. The champion has outworked his opponents by 32 percent, while Silva has slightly edged his own opponents by six percent. While both fighters have scored their fair share of knockdowns, Velasquez has scored more and with far fewer strikes, meaning his punch-for-punch knockdown rate is much higher. The reverse of this metric -- a fighters “chin” -- shows Velasquez is again stronger than Silva. Velasquez can withstand more punishment than his opponent and is less likely to be knocked down. These all are important clues whenever heavyweights enter the cage.
The critical performance traits of power and pace will be critical should these two choose to stand and trade. With that said, each fighter also brings some grappling credentials to the cage. Here is how they match up on the mat.
The ground stats do not look much better for “Bigfoot.” Velasquez goes to the ground early and often, with better takedown offense and defense than Silva and a relentless pace when he wants to put opponents on their back. Once on the ground, he is comfortable raining down leather and elbows, as witnessed in his first fight with Silva. The Brazilian has also been successful in passing guard and using ground-and-pound, and he attempts more submissions than Velasquez. The key here will be control, and that is where things get ugly.
In terms of fight time spent on the ground in a dominant position, Velasquez scores an overwhelming 97 percent. When fighting on the ground, Silva has only been in a position of control for 38 percent of that time, showing he is more likely to be on the receiving end of ground-and-pound than the one delivering it. We cannot overlook Silva’s impressive hammering of Emelianenko, but given the wrestling credentials of Velasquez, it is hard to make a case that Silva will be able to win rounds on the ground.
This is not the first time Velasquez and Silva have squared off. Just 364 days prior to UFC 160, the two fought for a total of 3:36. Velasquez landed 53 of 84 strikes and converted his lone takedown attempt successfully. Silva, on the other hand, landed three of four strikes, only one of which was considered “significant,” and spent most of his time fending off vicious ground-and-pound before being saved by the referee.
Yes, it is true that Silva, by knocking out two consecutive top 10 heavyweights, has a valid case for a title shot, but let us filter two key factors in those victories. First, Browne suffered an injured leg early his fight with Silva that severely impacted his movement; and second, a deflated Overeem appeared to gas after winning two rounds. Barring a hidden or fluke injury to Velasquez, one thing we can be sure of is that he is fully capable of fighting for five full rounds. That leaves us with a theme that we will hear a lot of in the run up to UFC 160: the puncher’s chance.
The Final Word
The current betting line favors the champion at -700, for an implied win probability of better than 85 percent. The stat lines certainly support Velasquez as a solid favorite here with a number of advantages over his opponent, but Silva has already overcome long odds in back-to-back fights. Is “Bigfoot” capable of another monster upset? Are there any particular stats you feel give Silva better than a 15 percent chance?
Next month we will turn to UFC 161.
Note: Raw data for the analysis was provided by, and in partnership with FightMetric. All analysis was performed by Reed Kuhn. Reed Kuhn, Fightnomics, FightMetric and Sherdog.com assume no responsibility for bets placed on fights, financial or otherwise.
Like Fightnomics on Facebook, or follow on Twitter @Fightnomics to hear when new research and blog posts are available.