UFC 234: Finding Value on Anderson Silva vs. Israel Adesanya
Updated: Sep 8, 2020
UFC 234 Silva vs. Adesanya
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne, Australia
February 9, 2019, 7:00PM PDT
Since Chris Weidman executed the knock out that stunned the MMA community in the headline event of UFC 162 in 2013, the career of the illustrious Anderson "The Spider" Silva has been marred by, at best, dubious performance and inactivity.
Just prior to that devastating loss, Silva was riding high, having extended the record for the most consecutive wins in UFC history following a first-round TKO of Stephan Bonnar, and notching the tenth consecutive defense of the Middleweight Championship one fight earlier with a second-round TKO at Chael Sonnen's expense.
Regarding the time away, granted, Silva suffered an utterly grotesque leg injury in the rematch with Weidman that probably legitimately sidelined him for the next 25 months. However, since returning to action to face Nick Diaz in 2015, the Spider has engaged in a mere three contests, with his most recent endeavor coming almost exactly two years ago.
Regarding Silva's performance, it is clear that Father Time has asserted his influence in recent years. The graph below illustrates Silva's significant strikes landed per minute minus significant strikes absorbed per minute for each of his fights since the first encounter with Weidman (we call this measure net significant strikes per minute, or SSpM).
In contrast to the form that built Silva's reputation as one of the greatest to enter the Octagon, in only one recent fight has Anderson managed to land more good shots than he has taken. This is indicated by negative net significant strikes per minute in all the singular fights shown in the graph, save the romp with Nick Diaz at UFC 183 -- and Silva tested positive for banned substances in that case.
Moreover, the Legend will face tougher competition tonight than he has seen, certainly in the twilight phase of his career. The young bull, Israel Adesanya, boasts a SSpM of +2.43...a figure reminiscent of that of an Anderson Silva in his prime.
In addition to Adesanya's significant edge in striking prowess, we note that the Last Stylebender will also enjoy a three inch reach advantage over Silva.
But even more stark is the age differential between these fighters. The 14 year delta separating Silva and Adesanya probably matters for a couple of reasons. First, generally speaking, fighters tend to exhibit decline after about nine years of action; Silva, by now, is a 12-year UFC veteran.
Additionally, a 2011 examination by Bloody Elbow found that younger fighters tend to win at increasing rates as the age gap between them and their opposition rises. In fact, by the time the differential hits the ten year ballpark, younger fighters tend to win about 70% of the time.
Bloody Elbow's finding fits with conclusions from a BetMMA.tips study recently reported by The Action Network. This examination found win rates ranging between 66 and 69% for fighters at least ten years the their competition's junior.
This is all to say that we do not give Silva much of a chance to win tonight. However, we find the -550 price (per Bovada.lv) on the Adesanya victory to be prohibitively expensive, and are therefore disinclined to back the favorite either.
Instead, we think this fight is destined to surpass the one round marker, and are comfortable betting accordingly. Just three months ago, Adesanya collected his first UFC first-round TKO by finishing Derrick Brunson. We think this feat is unlikley to be repeated this evening, as Brunson's punching power makes him particularly willing to mix it up in the early going (Brunson has ended seven UFC fights in the first round, so, in practice, his philosophy is very much 'there is no time like the present').
On the other hand, Silva is naturally a counter-puncher, and is no doubt aware of Adesanya's striking accuracy. Both of these factors suggest more reservation on Silva's part when the bell rings tonight.
This expectation fits with what we think is probably Adesanya's inclination anyway. Versus Tavares last summer, for instance, the up-and-comer really did not hit his stride, in terms of significant strikes landed, until the third round.
Further, we note that Adesanya lacks one-punch KO power. Instead, Israel is more likely to wear down opposition with a relentless barrage of pinpoint-precision strikes. Such an approach takes time to coalesce, especially against a counter-puncher such as Silva.
Also consistent with the idea that this fight will at least see the start of round 2, we note that Anderson Silva ate numerous solid shots from bonafide puncher, Derrick Brunson, in his last fight. He wore them well, showing no noticeable signs that he was hurt. Silva is two years older since that episode, but I can not imagine, given his hiatus from the ring, that he has absorbed sufficient shock to diminish his chin from that point.
Bottom line: While we expect Israel Adesanya to ultimately collect the win tonight and hasten the legendary Anderson Silva's eventual ride off into the sunset, we are passing on the moneyline, given the high price tag. Instead, we are focusing on a prop that we regard as also highly likely to collect, but at less than half the price. Our play is that Silva will (at least) make it through the first round. Silva's patient, counter-punching style, his still durable chin, Adesanya's lack of one-punch knock out ability and the expected pace of the early action all tilt us toward the 'completes round 1' prop.