UFC on FOX 5 - Henderson vs. Diaz

Henderson is the favorite for this fight at -165 and Diaz to win is at +135

On December 8th Ben Henderson will defend his UFC Lightweight title against challenger Nate Diaz in Seattle, WA. Henderson is relatively new to the UFC but he is undefeated in UFC fights. He has held the UFC Lightweight belt since February of this year when he beat Frankie Edgar at UFC 144. Since then he has defended the belt at UFC 150 in a rematch with Edgar. Now he faces Nate Diaz who has been in the UFC since winning the Ultimate Fighter 5 in 2007. Diaz’s UFC record is 11-5, he is on a three fight win streak.

Looking at Nate Diaz’s numbers we see a fighter who lands 43% of his strikes with the overwhelming majority coming from the stand up position. That he does not try to strike much from the ground is largely due to Diaz’s well known jiu-jitsu skills. His height (6’0”) and reach give him a terrific defensive advantage when standing and he has defended 60% of opponent strikes. Unfortunately Diaz is weak at the takedown with only 28% of takedown attempts ending in success. He avoids just 48% of takedowns from opponents. Essentially Diaz is a stand up striker with great jiu-jitsu if he must be on the ground. Of his last three fights he has won one by unanimous decision and the other two by submission.

Benson Henderson is a multi-position striker. He lands just 41% of his strikes but they will come from the stand up or the ground. His strike defense is also strong at 63%. Henderson leans heavily on takedowns making 48% of attempts and is proficient in all areas of the ground game. He also defends 62% of opponents’ takedown attempts. Of his five UFC fights Henderson has won four by unanimous decision and one by split decision. Henderson is a better all-round fighter than Diaz and that explains his success in the UFC and his prior success in the WEC. While in the WEC he held the WEC Lightweight belt for two years defending twice before losing the belt then joining UFC. His ability to do many things well is what carries him past one dimensional opponents.

The fantastic aspect of the Lightweight division is that these athletes are so mobile and athletic that they can lock in seemingly unthinkable submissions. Many fans will remember Benson Henderson jumping up onto Jamie Varner to get a mid-air guillotine and unify the WEC Lightweight belt. Then there was Nate Diaz’s hands free triangle choke of Kurt Pellegrino back in 2008.

Henderson has proven he is capable of holding the Lightweight title in two different MMA organizations. But Diaz is experienced and has produced many more submissions than Henderson. Also, Henderson has not fought a fighter taller than himself while in the UFC. Diaz’s reach and striking ability may pose a dilemma for Henderson. But Henderson has beaten many of the same contenders that Diaz has beaten; and some that he has not. If Henderson can mix up the tempo so that the contest is not one dimensional, but multi-dimensional, then he wins this fight.

BJ Penn vs. Rory MacDonald

BJ Penn is one tough fighter but Rory MacDonald is favored to win this fight at -285 and Penn at +225

BJ Penn has a long and storied career in the UFC. He has held the UFC Lightweight and Welterweight titles simultaneously and has been fighting in the UFC since May 2001. Lately he has declared he is longing to be the best in the world again and his fight against Rory MacDonald on December 8th, 2012 is one step in that journey. Rory MacDonald is 4-1 in the UFC and 13-1 all-time. He is a British Columbia, Canada native but moved to Montreal, Quebec, Canada to help Georges St-Pierre train. Since that move to Montreal Rory has improved immensely and that comes as no surprise given the quality of competition and coaching in the St-Pierre camp.

The two fighters will be fighting at 170 lbs but Rory has the height and reach advantage at 6’0” to BJ’s 5’9”. Rory is being billed as the young, fast and strong fighter while BJ is the experienced, savvy and skilled fighter. Rory is 23 years old, BJ is 33 years old.

BJ Penn’s style is well known; he is a skilled stand-up striker with tremendous Brazilian jiu-jitsu submissions. Over his long career he has landed 51% of his strikes and the majority are from the stand-up position. He has avoided 58% of opponent strike attempts. BJ does not spend much effort trying to take opponents to the mat but he has made 60% of his takedown attempts. Perhaps more importantly for BJ, as a stand-up fighter is his takedown defense. He has defended 78% of opponents’ takedown attempts. The past few years have not been good to BJ, he has lost three of his past four fights since losing his belt to Frankie Edgar in April 2010.

Rory MacDonald has had an exciting start to his UFC career. He lost to Carlos Condit in 2010 but has since beat Nate Diaz, Mike Pyle and Che Mills. A win this week would pad his resume and help launch a run for a title shot. However that title shot would take him up against training partner and friend Georges St-Pierre. MacDonald has had some success striking from the stand-up but it is his ground striking that stands out. He lands half of his successful strikes while on the ground. Pair that with a 61% success rate on takedown attempts and it becomes clear that MacDonald is going to try to take this fight to the ground. He also boasts an 88% takedown defense rate.

The three biggest factors favoring Rory MacDonald in this fight are age, quality of training and coaching, and ability to end a fight. Of his four UFC wins, Rory has one submission, two KO/TKOs and one unanimous decision. BJ Penn is 13-2 when the fight does not go to the judges’ card and 3-5-2 when it does. These two fighters will have a war on the ground but if BJ Penn can keep MacDonald in the stand-up he has a slight advantage despite the reach difference.

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