Can Anthony “Showtime” Pettis dethrone Benson Henderson yet again? | Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty
A rematch over two and half years in the making also serves as an encore to the perfect grand finale for the World Extreme Cagefighting organization.
The stakes are even higher now, as Benson Henderson puts the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title on the line against Anthony Pettis in the UFC 164 headliner on Saturday in Milwaukee. Their first fight in December 2010 ended in a close decision that probably came down to the leaping wall kick heard around the MMA world. I dove through more than 15,000 data points to see what the stats tell us about this matchup.
The Tale of Tape shows a slight size advantage for the challenger. Pettis will have a two-inch reach advantage, one that really only appears because Henderson is ever so slightly undersized for a lightweight. However, Henderson will come out southpaw, which generally brings a slight advantage. Both fighters are in their peak age range and have main event experience, but Henderson has a grueling streak of five-round wars for the UFC title that will benefit him in the long run here. It was Henderson who faded in fifth round of the first fight with Pettis, so perhaps the title experience Henderson has gained in the UFC will prevent a similar lapse in the rematch. With that said, 25 minutes is still a long time to be in the cage with a fighter like Pettis, who possesses a clear finishing instinct.
In terms of performance metrics, we start with striking. Pettis has been heralded as one of the most impressive strikers of the division and has the highlight reel to prove it. Statistically, we can see the evidence clearly in the numbers. Pettis is very accurate with both jabs and power strikes. His knockdown rate is one of the highest in the division and more than three times that of Henderson. This power has fueled three wins by KO or TKO in the WEC and UFC, including a current streak of two in a row.
Henderson’s offensive metrics come in a little below average, likely deflated by having spent numerous five-round fights facing elusive opponents like Frankie Edgar and Gilbert Melendez. Despite below-benchmark metrics, Henderson is still a capable striker. Unfortunately for him, he is facing a larger opponent in Pettis, who normally controls the pace and range of his fights with accurate and powerful attacks.
Defensively, both fighters show very good strike avoidance, with identically excellent striking defense metrics. Henderson has been more average in the clinch, but these fighters spend more time on the mat or at a distance than they do in the clinch. If the fight hits the fence, look for Henderson to use the opportunity more for takedowns than striking. Now, let us see how they match up in grappling.
Henderson will definitely be more likely to try to get this fight to the floor. He averages two takedowns per round, typically landing half of those. Pettis, on the other hand, rarely attempts takedowns, though he has been quite successful when he does. Both fighters have takedown defense that is above average. Pettis will need that defense, because Henderson’s stats reveal how effective he has been using grappling on offense.
In time spent on the ground, Henderson was in a controlling position for 66 percent of those minutes. That same metric for Pettis is only 30 percent. It is this mismatch that might be the key to Henderson’s strategy here. Neither fighter has been submitted, but Henderson is likely the stronger of the two and can wrestle and ground-and-pound his way to winning rounds. Henderson is undeniably well-rounded and competes at a high level in jiu-jitsu outside of the UFC.
The fight is likely to end up on the ground at some point. In their first fight, Henderson attempted far more takedowns (10) and landed three of them. However, Pettis surprisingly responded with two of his own takedown attempts, landing them both, and even reversed position with sweeps twice later in the bout. While a submission finish between these two experienced grapplers appears unlikely, Henderson may be more capable of staying busy and controlling the ground game to his advantage. The question will be whether Pettis has stepped up his own ground game in the years since their last meeting.
The Final Word
The betting line is tight for a title fight, and the champion will be the technical underdog barring any line movement. The current betting line is essentially even, with Pettis as a nominal favorite at -115 over Henderson at -105. It is unusual to see a champion as a betting underdog, but the lightweight division is deep and considered the most competitive in the UFC.
What do you think? Will Henderson’s title-reign experience and grappling advantages be enough to stifle the dangerous striking and finishing instinct of Pettis? Is there any metric you think provides the biggest clue as to how this fight plays out?
In September, we will look at UFC 165, where Jon Jones will face Swedish challenger Alexander Gustafsson. Will the stat line support Jones as a 6-to-1 favorite? We shall see.
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.
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