UFC 205 Primer: Miesha Tate vs. Raquel Pennington Head-to-Toe Breakdown
UFC 205 will end with Conor McGregor's attempt to capture a second UFC title, but the historic show's main card will kick off with a bantamweight clash between former champion Miesha Tate, and burgeoning upstart Raquel Pennington.
The bout marks Tate's return to action after being usurped as the division's champion. She'll hope to put the one-sided thrashing behind her and get back to turning in the kind of performance that allowed her to win five straight prior to the recent defeat.
Pennington enters having won three consecutive matches, and four of her last five. Her upcoming bout with Tate, however, represents both the greatest challenge and opportunity of her professional life.
As we continue to count down the days until UFC 205, let's examine the matchup between these two bantamweights and find out who holds an edge where, and which fighter is likely to emerge victorious.
Tate has made some real strides as a striker over the past couple of years. Her performance against Jessica Eye was a revelation. But striking remains an area to be improved upon for the former champion, especially when it comes to avoiding damage. Her fight against Amanda Nunes was a pervasive reminder of that.
Tate blocks just 51 percent of incoming strikes, according to FightMetric, which is not a rate fighters aspire to. This vulnerability is especially concerning against an aggressive striker like Pennington, who lands often enough as it is.
Compared to Tate's 1.98 strikes landed per minute, Pennington connects 3.96 times, FightMetric tells us. Over a single five-minute round, that discrepancy gives Pennington nearly a 10-connection advantage. And in addition to being the more active and accurate fighter, Pennington is also a better defender than Tate.
Tate's grappling metrics are decidedly underwhelming. FightMetric tells us that she completes 2.15 takedowns for each 15 minutes spent in the cage, succeeds on 32 percent of her attempts and defends 53 percent of her opponent's shots.
Before we apply the "Overrated" label to Tate, though, consider that her two fights against Ronda Rousey drag down the averages, while her match with Rin Nakai caused her to concede a few more obligatory takedowns.
On paper, Pennington is the more impressive grappler. Though she completes only 1.5 takedowns per 15 minutes, she succeeds on 40 percent of her shots while defending 67 percent of the time. Pennington has, however, benefitted from a much weaker roster of opponents than Tate has been faced with, especially in the grappling department.
So how well does Pennington's on-paper edge translate to the Octagon? Not well.
Beyond accounting for strength of schedule, Tate is better able to maintain advantageous positions once achieved, which contributes to her decisive grappling advantage over Pennington.
Pennington has demonstrated some pretty nifty submission skills during her time in the UFC. Well, maybe "nifty" isn't the adjective to describe her submission against Ashlee Evans-Smith. Something like "unholy" might suit better.
Semantics aside, Pennington has some dangerous skills. She is also good defensively, having tapped just one time in her career.
Tate secures submissions at about the same rate Pennington does, but she is a little more active in pursuing the finish. Defensively, she has shown some cracks, succumbing to a hold on three occasions. But again, the level of competition Tate has dealt with helps to explain away some of those blemishes.
Two of Tate's three submission losses came against Ronda Rousey, the other against Amanda Nunes, and the latter was more a result of being too hurt to defend than being beat by a slick maneuver. Of course, Tate will still have to be wary of her neck when she looks to take Pennington down.
Tate's X-Factor: Coming back. Again
When Tate and Rousey first met in 2012, they fought for dominion over the bantamweight division. After Rousey definitively staked her claim, Tate was forced to collect herself and begin the climb toward a rematch. She did just that (well the UFC did it for her, really), but she was once again dominated.
Rather than accept her role as a gatekeeper, Tate refocused, started piling up wins and found herself back in the title picture. This time she made good, reaching what had always been just beyond her reach. Then she was abruptly cast down from her prestigious perch.
The ups and downs of Tate's career must haven taken a toll beyond the physical. Already she has demonstrated laudable mental fortitude, but to bounce back again is no mean feat. If she fails to return with the same hunger that has defined her career, she is exceedingly vulnerable for an upset.
Pennington's X-Factor: Performing at the next level
Pennington has notched some nice wins, but her hit-list isn't head-turning. Jessica Andrade is the best fighter she's beaten, and the Brazilian has proved more effective at a lower weight class since Pennington edged her out for a split-decision in 2015.
Fundamentally, Tate represents uncharted territory for Pennington, and it is difficult to guess how well she'll rise to the challenge. She carries plenty of momentum and has clearly improved since joining the UFC roster, but Pennington's wins over lesser foes have not always been dominant.
There is no reason to believe Tate is a stepping stone for Pennington's inevitable ascent. There is as strong a possibility, if not stronger, that Tate will be the highest Pennington ever rises.
Pennington has turned in some solid appearances lately, but this is a big step up in competition for her. Conversely, Pennington represents a sizable downgrade in difficulty for Tate, who has been dealing almost exclusively with the division's upper echelon for the past five years.
That means Tate could overlook Pennington, but making that assumption is speculative. The majority of tangible assessments for this battle suggest the former champion will grab the W. Besides, mental toughness has never been a problem for Tate.
I envision a fairly even contest on the feet, with Pennington looking to gain an edge by closing the distance to force a brawl. That will backfire, though, when Tate takes her down and secures round after round after round.
Prediction: Tate def. Pennington, unanimous decision