UFC 161 Statistical Matchup Analysis: Evans vs. Henderson

By Reed Kuhn Jun 13, 2013
Few can match the resume of Dan Henderson. | File Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

After another injury shuffle by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, UFC 161 on Saturday at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, will be headlined by two former champions, each of them desperate to earn another shot at a belt.

Rashad Evans is coming off two losses for the first time in his career and is clearly motivated to erase the lackluster decision performances he put in against champion Jon Jones and underdog Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Dan Henderson hoped to finally get his title shot back by beating Lyoto Machida, but he instead fell prey to “The Dragon’s” elusive counterstriking. Now, we have two former champions, neither a stranger to the main event spotlight and each of them hungry for a win. This is not a bad headliner, all things considered.

I dove through more than 15,000 data points looking for any clues as to who might push his way back into title contention and who might fall further down the light heavyweight waiting list.

The Tale of Tape shows evenly sized fighters coming out orthodox. The only anthropometric difference is in the age, and it is a doozy. As has been the case for a while, Henderson will give up a significant youth advantage to his opponent; this time he is older by nine years. An age differential that large favors the younger fighter two thirds of the time, and though experience favors Henderson, both fighters have been competing against top-level talent for a long time and both have plenty of main event experience.

Middleweights and light heavyweights in the UFC finish fights 59 percent of the time. Henderson and Evans finish a little less than half their fights, so that is a little lower than average but also pretty even. The layoff of three to four months for each fighter is pretty ideal, assuming they were both healthy coming off their recent decision losses. Hopefully, they were able to dovetail their prior training camps to get into even better shape for this matchup.

Let us dive into performance metrics.

In terms of pace, the fighters are again evenly matched. They tend to work at a similar pace of output, and they also tend to be outworked by opponents. This could mean the match will begin with a lot of feeling out and waiting to see the other initiate.

Going deeper, the standup stats reveal some of the weaknesses for each fighter. Evans has slightly below average accuracy as a striker and has generally failed to keep pace with his opponents while standing. Saving him to some extent is his excellent striking defense. We all know Evans is quick, and that shows in his evasiveness and ability to not get hit.

One the other side of the cage, Henderson brings a crisp jab and an inaccurate though dangerous power hand. Henderson’s knockdown rate is actually higher than even the heavyweight average, let alone light heavyweight or middleweight, where he has spent most of his time. Evans’ knockdown metric is slightly below average for light heavyweights.

While Henderson has twice the knockdown potential of Evans, he also has the more vulnerable chin. Henderson’s knockdowns received metric is well above average, perhaps reflecting his advanced age. By the same chin metric, Evans is just better than average for the division. Overall, Henderson has the power advantage but also worse defense in all areas. These factors make landing the first powerful strike of the fight even more important.

A lot of talk has already focused on the wrestler-on-wrestler matchup, including a bold prediction by Evans that he will break the UFC record for takedowns in a fight. Let us see if the numbers support this.

The ground stats again show a fairly even matchup. Both fighters have slightly above average takedown success rates and about average takedown defense. The key difference is in rate of attempts. Evans attempts takedowns at more than twice the pace of Henderson and has generally worked from top control in his fights. Once on the ground, each fighter only averages one position advance, which does not pose as much of a threat for submissions or finishing on the ground. However, in just the minutes spent on the ground, Evans has been in control for 85 percent of that time, while Henderson has only been control for 45 percent. This is the driver of the favorable ground striking ratio for Evans, which is the biggest difference in the grappling stats. Basically, despite both fighters having solid wrestling credentials, Evans has put his to better use.

The Final Word

The current betting line is the closest for a main event in a long time -- a trend that is echoed elsewhere on the UFC 161 fight card. Evans comes in as a slight favorite at -125, with the comeback on Henderson at +105. Statistically speaking, this is near pick ’em range, and fight week action could easily push Henderson back to an even line or even to a slight favorite depending on which way the fan winds and UFC promotional materials blow.

Evans has several advantages on paper, but the long-heralded H-bomb could render them all moot. Because both fighters have been difficult to finish in their respective losses, we might be looking at a close fight that goes the distance. Can Old Man Henderson rise to the occasion yet again or is he facing a little too much fight in a desperate Evans? Do you think any metric here hints at what will decide this matchup?

Next month we will turn to UFC 162, where Chris Weidman attempts to become the first man to defeat Anderson Silva in the Octagon.

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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