By Raphael Garcia
The mixed martial arts world is prepping for a treat at UFC 194. This event caps a well-constructed weekend of events highlighting both longstanding stars and surging new faces in the sport. But while everyone is focused on the main event of the weekend that is Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo, the co-main event of UFC 194 is monumental as well. The battle between Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold is an exciting and intriguing one, though fans and media members alike seem to be overlooking it.
In any other circumstance, a bout between Weidman and Rockhold could easily headline a major UFC event. Both men are compelling for their own reasons, and they both embody aspects of what the organization likes to see in the individuals that hold its championships.
Rockhold has the look and personality. His sleek, athletic build captures attention; he is a good-looking fighter that the organization could easily put on posters and push to the public. He’s also a competitor that has dominated most of the men that have stepped into the Octagon against him.
However, the true conversation surrounding this pairing of exceptional athletes should focus on the action that is going to occur on Saturday night. Breaking down this fight comes down to a number of factors, but it still creates a conundrum for anyone trying to determine exactly how everything will play out.
From a statistical standpoint, Weidman and Rockhold are very comparable. The FightMetric report which breaks down the pending battle from a numbers standpoint lists Weidman as landing 3.43 strikes per minute (SPM) at a 43 percent accuracy clip. Rockhold lands 3.55 SPM and is also accurate on 43 percent of his strikes. Defensively, Weidman absorbs 2.18 SPM compared to Rockhold’s 1.85.
Vitor Belfort was able to stagger Weidman early in their fight at UFC 187. If he works at that same range against Rockhold there is a large possibility that Rockhold will hurt him as well. Rockhold throws in volume and mixes up his strikes very well, while also being able to move about the cage in a way that makes it difficult for wrestlers and grapplers to get a bead on him. Weidman has strong striking skills as well, but he cannot rely on his penchant for moving straight forward in order to secure a clinch; that plays directly into Rockhold’s main strength.
When it comes to wrestling, that aspect of MMA falls right into Weidman’s wheelhouse. He averages 3.75 takedowns per 15 minutes and is successful on 56 percent of them. Rockhold does not go for takedowns nearly as often, but he has been able to defend 72 percent of his opponents’ attempts. It will be interesting to see how quickly Weidman can get this fight into clinch range and whether he can force the issue on the ground.
Still, what happens once this fight hits the floor? Rockhold is very aggressive with his submission game while Weidman uses more of a ground and pound approach when he is in top control. Neither one of these fighters have spent much time in defensive positions in their fights, so it will be very telling to see how they respond if they are put on their backs.
Both fighters are very aggressive, but Rockhold has shown the ability to compete at a faster pace in the latter rounds, rounds which Weidman has only experienced once in his career. The longer this fight goes, the more it should favor Rockhold, but those early moments are going to be exciting due to the fact that both men are very violent and look to finish quickly.
While the hype has not followed this bout as much as the main event, everyone involved brings an extensive amount of intrigue every time they step into the cage. Chris Weidman vs. Luke Rockhold may be the co-main event, but it’s well worth being considered a bonus main event. The middleweight division has returned to a position of prominence in the sport and this matchup puts two of the top competitors in the sport on full display. When all is said and done, this fight has the potential to be one of the most interesting, if not the best, fight of 2015.
• Chris Weidman vs. Luke Rockhold (UFC Middleweight Championship)
UFC 194: Aldo vs. McGregor takes place on December 12, 2015 at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.