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UFC Fight Night 224: Jai Herbert vs. Fares Ziam

Fares Ziam -150 Over Jai Herbert

Jai "Black Country Banger" Herbert's three-year UFC career is best characterized as a journeyman-like. Herbert is 2-3-1 after battling Ludovit Klein to a DRAW on the UFC Fight Night: Sandhagen vs. Nurmagomedov card this past March. But despite a relatively short stint competing under the UFC banner, Herbert has fought professionally since 2015, notching a 10-1 record before committing to his current promotion, now 35 years old.

Herbert will face 26-year-old Fares "Smile Killer" Ziam in a lightweight clash, as the second bout on the main card of UFC Fight Night: Aspinall vs. Tybura in London on Saturday. "Smile Killer" is coming off a win last September at UFC Fight Night: Gane vs. Tuivasa, which improved his record with the UFC to 3-2. Ziam has enjoyed a similarly long professional career, amassing a 10-2 record since 2014, before joining the top league in the sport.

We are backing Ziam over Herbert, as substantially younger fighters have exhibited a statistically significant edge, which has proven consistently profitable, versus aged competition. Accordingly, youth over seniority represents one of our favorite angles for handicapping mixed martial arts action (in fact, based on the this very rationale, we make a detailed case for siding with Daniel Marcos over Davey Grant, on this same card).

Also supporting our play on Ziam, per the database, which documents pro MMA fights back to April 2013, fighters seven to ten years younger than their opposition who won their last fight are 226-142 (61%). This observation suggests Ziam's -150 moneyline represents a fair price.

Buttressing our comfort with Ziam Saturday, we note that the advantage youth conveys is especially pronounced in lighter weight classes. As is illustrated in the graphic below, also per the database, men fighting in the strawweight to lightweight divisions beat opposition seven to ten years older 69% of the time (in a 477 fight sample). In contrast, the win rate for fighters in this spot drops to 61% in the welterweight or heavier divisions—still statistically significantly better than random results at the 95% confidence level, but statistically significantly less successful than smaller, meaningfully younger competitors.

The theory undergirding this finding is that smaller fighters tend to be faster, and more agile and athletic, and as such, are able to land strikes with greater regularity against older opposition, whose reflexes have dulled.

As further support for this pick, from a fundamental perspective, while these fighters have exhibited roughly equal activity and accuracy rates as UFC strikers, Ziam has proven the notably better defender, averting 66% of incoming strike attempts throughout his UFC career, versus a 45% deflection rate for Herbert. And while both combatants have proven poor grapplers with NO submission games at this level of the sport, Ziam is more likely to collect takedowns (albeit merely as a result of four times as many shot attempts).

Thus, while Ziam has not shown an ability to finish opponents since joining MMA's top promotion, we expect the Frenchman to score points on the Brit while avoiding return fire (despite Herbert's home field advantage). Ziam is also more likely than Herbert to register points via takedowns. Moreover, history suggests Herbert's advanced age renders him vulnerable to being dropped and/or stopped, even though Ziam's hands are not the heaviest (Herbert's poor defense adds to the prospect of a Ziam win by stoppage). Accordingly, we are comfortable supporting the moderate favorite.

Happy betting!!


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