The UFC light heavyweight division needs an influx of new contenders. Friday night's main event in Boston could go a long way to reaching that goal.
Reyes has shown slick striking and devastating power in his short UFC run. Weidman has worked hard to diversify his overall MMA game, but he still relies on his wrestling base. This fight will present interesting stylistic challenges for both fighters. Here's how they match up:
Weidman solidified his place in MMA history with a pair of stoppage victories against one of the best fighters in the sport, Anderson Silva. In their first meeting in 2013, he shocked the then-champion with some punches on the feet. In their rematch later in the same year, Weidman won via injury stoppage after Silva broke his leg after a kick. Despite his coming from a wrestling background, these two victories seemed to cement Weidman's transition as a dangerous MMA striker. However, after 14 fights in the UFC, he currently has a negative striking differential. He has landed 3.15 significant strikes per minute and absorbs 3.23 for a -0.08 differential.
That differential is one of the worst among ranked light heavyweights and is significantly below the average for the same group (+1.34). Things have actually been worse for Weidman during his recent outings. In his past five fights, he has landed only 2.80 significant strikes per minute while absorbing 4.62 for a -1.83 differential. Despite seemingly making progress in the striking realm early in his career, Weidman has either taken a step backward, developed negative habits or simply been up against tough stylistic matchups.
The trend of troublesome matchups continues for Weidman against Reyes. The prospect burst onto the scene with three straight finishes in the UFC. He has gone to decision in his past two fights, but he has still landed 5.50 significant strikes per minute and absorbed only 2.27 for a +2.78 differential. If this fight ends up looking like a straight kickboxing match, it's hard to see how Weidman can keep up with Reyes.
The difference in volume alone would give Weidman problems.
A big part of Reyes' striking advantage is his ability to control distance and land when fighters are standing. Of his landed significant strikes, 73% have come at distance, with another 17% coming in the clinch. On the other hand, Weidman would probably prefer if he had the opportunity to strike on the floor in this bout. For his UFC career, 63% of his significant strikes have come at distance, with 26% coming on the ground.
Even though a majority of Weidman's landed significant strikes have come at distance, ground striking needs to be an element of his attack against Reyes. In his first nine UFC fights, the former Hofstra wrestler saw 40% of his significant strikes land on the ground. That proportion has fallen all the way to 4% in his past five fights where he has a record of 1-4.
If this fight stays off the ground, Reyes is the clear favorite. Weidman can mix it up at distance, but he will need to find a way to change the position to give himself the best shot at victory.
The ground game
A lazy analyst could say that Weidman fell in love with his striking following some early success and that change of style caused his recent skid, but the numbers don't really back up this theory. In his first nine UFC fights, Weidman attempted 6.60 takedowns per 15 minutes and landed 3.75. In his past five fights, he has actually gone for more takedowns with less success from a percentage perspective (8.05 attempts per 15 minutes, landed 3.79).
Weidman has not abandoned his wrestling roots as it seems he has actually been more dedicated to trying to get the fight on the floor. The issues become apparent when looking at his success once the fight hits the floor. During his first nine fights, Weidman averaged 1.05 passes per takedown and 1.37 significant ground strikes per minute. During his recent 1-4 stretch, both of those rates have declined drastically. He has averaged only 0.69 passes per takedown and 0.11 significant ground strikes per minute. Weidman has still been able to take the fight to the ground, but he has been unable to impose his will once there.
Reyes has allowed his opponents to land 1.22 takedowns per 15 minutes of fight time. That is not the best defensive rate, but he has held up relatively well against a high volume of attempts from his opponents. Reyes was taken down in both of his past two fights, but Ovince Saint Preux landed only one of his nine attempts, and Volkan Oezdemir needed seven attempts to land one takedown.
Weidman must do more than simply score takedowns. He will need to find a way to implement his ground-based offense to swing the fight in his favor.
Reyes' fight-stopping ability is really what made him stand out as a prospect. He has landed 1.22 knockdowns per 15 minutes. Weidman actually has the same number of knockdowns (three), but he also has nine more fights. His knockdown rate currently stands at only 0.31 per 15 minutes.
Weidman has appeared vulnerable recently, suffering KO losses in four of his past five fights. If his chin can't hold up against Reyes' power, this could be a very short fight for the former champion.