This Saturday night (April 30, 2011) at UFC 129: "St. Pierre vs. Shields," two former UFC champions will square off as five-time UFC titleholder Randy Couture matches up with former light heavyweight kingpin Lyoto Machida in what is expected to be "The Natural's" final MMA fight.
Couture is an iron man. At 47 years old, he's outlasted every other mixed martial artist on the major fighting scene and he never ceases to amaze me. Randy is a very busy man and with all the movies and other business entities he's active with, he no longer needs to fight. He's looking to ride off into the sunset with one conclusive career-defining victory.
Machida is in desperate need of a victory.
After Joe Rogan prematurely declared the "Machida Era" was beginning, "The Dragon" promptly won a controversial decision and followed it up by getting knocked out by "Shogun" Rua before losing a decision to "Rampage" Jackson this past November.
The Brazilian karate master is on his heels and is looking for a high-profile victory to help him return to prominence. These are two vastly different stories. Couture is on his way out while Machida is clearly still a major player in the game.
Will Machida play spoiler to "Captain America's" going-away party? Does Couture still have one last ace up his sleeve? Which Lyoto Machida will show up, the cat or the mouse?
Check out our complete fight preview after the jump:
Record: 19-10 overall, 16-7 in the UFC
How he got here: Wow, where do we start? As many of you know, Couture was a highly credentialed amateur wrestler. He was a three-time Olympic alternate and he entered the sport of MMA at the ripe young age of 33. At that age, most lightweights or smaller are closing out their careers, but "The Natural" would go on to win the UFC 13 heavyweight tournament, the UFC heavyweight title (three times) and the UFC light heavyweight title (twice) over the course of a 14-year career and is now entering his 30th professional fight.
While father time has been generous to Mr. Couture, he didn't make Randy immortal (sadly). The king of the clinch has lost a step in the past few years and he was (in my opinion) gifted a decision against the considerably younger Brandon Vera at UFC 105. He was then given two easy opponents for his last two matches in the over-the-hill Mark Coleman and the fish-out-of-the-water, James Toney. After turning down several opponents, Couture decided on Lyoto Machida to be his final fight and why not do it in front of the largest crowd in UFC history?
How he gets it done: Couture is a tireless wrestler at heart but what he's truly perfected is the clinch game. No one clinches like Randy Couture. He was able to frustrate the significantly bigger and stronger Brock Lesnar against the cage and he was able to crush Gabriel Gonzaga with his dirty boxing. I don't care how great of shape Randy's in, he can't afford to stand in front of Lyoto Machida for extended periods of time and he can't chase "The Dragon" around the Octagon.
Couture MUST use his footwork to pin Machida against the fence and keep him there. The key to keeping Machida off-kilter is to constantly put pressure on him. Once in the clinch, Couture needs be wary of the Brazilian's excellent trip takedowns and he needs to do as much damage as possible. Catching Machida however, is easier said than done.
Record: 16-2 overall, 8-2 in the UFC
How he got here: At one point in his career, Machida looked unbeatable. His unorthodox fighting style, mixing Shotokan karate with Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling and even some Sumo, baffled his opposition and fight experts alike. "The Dragon" rode an impeccable 16-fight win streak all the way to the UFC title, crushing everyone in his way including former UFC champions BJ Penn, Rich Franklin, Tito Ortiz and eventually Rashad Evans.
It only took one perfectly timed right hook to the temple to bring the hype crashing down. Machida's aura of invincibility was left in Montreal at the hands of "Shogun" and he wants it back badly. The now ex-champ came out of the gate gun-shy against "Rampage" Jackson in his last bout at UFC 123 and finally exploded forward with a burst of harnessed energy in the third round to nearly finish the fight but it wasn't enough to sway the judges. On Saturday night, Machida will be fighting to prevent a three-fight losing streak.
How he gets it done: At UFC 94, Machida finally broke through and became a fan-friendly sensation with his destruction of Thiago Silva. In that fight, the elusive karate master used Silva's aggression against him and countered brilliantly, dropping the currently exiled Brazilian multiple times before finishing the bout at the final horn of the first round. This is the Machida that needs to show up on Saturday night.
Randy Couture is a lot of things, but he's not fast. Machida's significant speed, technique and power advantages will be key in this fight. "The Dragon" needs to frustrate Couture by side-stepping his clinch attempts and he needs to punish the five-time champion whenever he spots an opening. Machida will also need to get out quickly after striking to avoid the clinch. Couture has been caught before by significantly less talented strikers than Machida (ex. Brock Lesnar) so when Machida lands something significant, he needs to follow it up aggressively and finish the fight.
Fight "X Factor:" The "X Factor" for this fight will be Machida's mental status. There are two completely different Lyoto Machidas. One is the opportunistic striker who takes advantage of every opening he can find and is always looking for a finish. The other is the point fighter. The point fighting Machida, while entertaining to hardcore fans, was the reason it took six straight UFC victories for fans to warm up to the idea of a title shot. Point fighting Machida is extremely defensive and is always on his bicycle and that was the same fighter who showed up for the first two rounds against Rampage Jackson this past November.
If the same fighter shows up on Saturday night, Randy Couture has a legitimate chance to come out victorious. If the opportunistic Machida shows up, it could be a short night for "The Natural."
Bottom Line: I've got a really bad feeling about this match-up. Randy used to decimate opponents in the clinch but if his fight with Brandon Vera is any indication, he's now graduated to the "wall-and-stall" mind-set. If Couture can corner Machida, we may be in for five full minutes of hugging. Likewise, if Machida isn't in "killer-mode," he may be content to keep his distance and pepper away at "Captain America" with leg kicks and quick in-and-out strikes. The only excitement I really see coming from this match is if the Brazilian comes out guns blazing and sends Couture out on his shield.
Who will come out on top at UFC 129? Let us know in the comment section below!