The final card of the July quartet on Fight Island comes stuffed with a record-tying 15 bouts set to go. The main event is the headline stealer, as it should be, with a pair of middleweight contenders looking to bulldoze a path to a title shot sooner than later. But elsewhere on the card, intriguing matchups are littered throughout as fighters with just as many question marks as answers enter the Octagon with plenty to prove.
Among the high-stakes bouts are a potentially landscape-defining heavyweight debut and a 15-year trilogy coming to an end, so with that in mind, we dove into the stats to seek out what to anticipate from a few of the noteworthy matchups going down on July 25.
(All stats according to UFC’s Record Book and Fight Metric as of July 22, 2020 and only include active athletes in their respective division unless noted otherwise)
Key Stats: 4.9 strikes landed per minute (4th), +1.58 striking differential (4th), 57% takedown accuracy
What It Means: Since moving up to middleweight, Robert Whittaker’s speed and quickness, along with real power, has often overwhelmed his opponents. He works at a tenacious pace, and his footwork, angles and pressure often crack open an opportunity to land a devastating hook or head kick. He also carries a wrestling background that helped him fend off Olympian Yoel Romero several times in their two fights.
Key Stats: 83.3% takedown defense (3rd*), 2.41 strikes landed per minute, 46% striking accuracy
What It Means: The former welterweight title challenger looked solid in his 185-pound debut against Kelvin Gastelum in a bout that saw him utilizing his quality striking technique to chip away at Gastelum. A tricky striker who likes to set up early traps for his opponent, Till’s power might not come in one-punch fashion, but the scouser can certainly crack when he sees a window open.
What to Look For in the Fight: While both men are adept at using footwork and feints to set up bigger strikes, Whittaker is the busier of the two, as Till is often selective with his strikes. If and when Whittaker turns up the heat, how Till responds with either his footwork to exit the pocket or in exchanges is something to watch. Though their styles differ, the standup battle might very well be a wash, so if Whittaker decides to shoot for a takedown, it’ll provide a good look into how the bout may play out as the rounds progress.
Key Stats: 14 knockdowns landed (tied 1st all-time among LHW), 42.4% takedown accuracy (4th), 51.5% takedown accuracy (5th)
What It Means: “Shogun” Rua combines knockout power with grappling pedigree that makes his striking all the more dangerous. Even though his ground game can keep opponents wary and honest to his skills there, don’t get it twisted: Rua is a knockout artist with 21 of his wins coming that way compared to just one submission.
Key Stats: 55.6% significant strike defense (6th), 60% significant strike defense, 2.39 strikes landed per minute
What It Means: A well-rounded veteran with plenty of knockouts and submissions to his name, “Lil Nog” has the goods to nullify his opponent’s strengths and take advantage of where those moments might sway into his favor. Methodical and savvy, Nogueira has made a career of outclassing his foes.
What to Look For in the Fight: A trilogy doesn’t often take 15 years to come together, and yet that is what is happening in this battle between veterans. Nogueira is likely retiring after this bout, as well, and he’s certainly looking to end his long career with a win. Rua, on the other hand, might have a case to get another crack at a top 10 opponent with this win, so while this bout tugs at the heartstrings of longtime MMA fans, it certain carries implications, as well, between these two balanced foes.
Key Stats: 15 takedowns landed (4th), 4.64 strikes landed per minute (7th), 0.39 submissions per 15 minutes (6th)
What It Means: Fabricio Werdum’s grappling is without a doubt the most prominent threat on his opponent’s minds during a fight, but he has also shown the kind of striking that stems from supreme confidence on the ground. While opponents might be preoccupied with stopping any takedowns or submission attempts, Werdum can land fight-changing shots at any moment.
Key Stats: 85.1% takedown defense (4th all-time among LHW), 4.02 strikes landed per minute, 1.56 takedowns per 15 minutes
What It Means: While competing with the best of the best at light heavyweight, Alexander Gustafsson’s movement and boxing often gave his opponents fits. With a frame that should translate well to heavyweight, the 6-foot-5 Gustafsson should also take with him the speed and technical ability that made him such a threat, and that technique also includes his underrated grappling, which allowed him to fend off or even attack fighters with a bigger reputation in that department.
What to Look For in the Fight: This is far from a classic striker-vs-grappler matchup, as both men have shown they are very much a threat where their backgrounds might not suggest. The biggest question marks come from what Gustafsson will look like at heavyweight and how much he weighs in at when it’s time to step on the scale. His movement and fluid striking should come up with him, but whether he has the chin and power to compete with the best heavyweights remains a question. Werdum, while unsuccessful in his last bout, is certainly eager to show he still can make a run at the heavyweight title at 42 years old.
Key Stats: 33.7% takedown accuracy (9th all-time among WSW), 34 takedowns landed (tied 1st all-time among WSW), 38:48 top position time (1st all-time among WSW)
What It Means: The original UFC strawweight champion, Carla Esparza has made her money utilizing her strong and grinding wrestling to nullify her opponents. Not only adept at securing takedowns, but she is relentless in that attack and has great top pressure to keep her opponent down. Esparza has improved in mixing up her striking and using it to find her way into a takedown attempt.
Key Stats: 5.6 strikes landed per minute, 50% striking accuracy, 70% takedown defense
What It Means: The undefeated Muay Thai practitioner has shown quality striking technique with a good ability to keep the fight on the feet and in her world. Her most recent bout against Cynthia Calvillo, who missed weight, showed her toughness and ability to adapt to wherever the bout goes, but she is at her most successful when she can strike at range and pick her shots with frequency.
What to Look For in the Fight: The game plans are pretty clear in this one. Carla Esparza wants to get the bout to the ground and utilize her wrestling while Marina Rodriguez would prefer the fight stay on the feet and at a range where she can mix up punches and kicks. Esparza is on a three-fight winning streak, most recently defeating Michelle Waterson, proving she can hang with a superior striker while seeking takedowns. Rodriguez has faced quality competition, as well, including a unanimous decision win over Tecia Torres, and this bout will likely be the most intense test of her takedown defense.
*Hasn’t competed in UFC long enough to qualify in the UFC Record Book
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