Two of the best light heavyweights on the UFC roster will be looking to potentially earn a title shot this Saturday night (August 4, 2012) as former champion Lyoto Machida takes on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season eight winner Ryan Bader in the co-main event of UFC on Fox 4 in Los Angeles, California.
Lyoto Machida has long been considered one of the trickiest and most dangerous fighters in the UFC light heavyweight division. His "Machida Era" as a champion was short lived, but he's consistently performed at an elite level against the best the 205 pound weight class has to offer. He's hoping to take advantage of the opportunity UFC President Dana White has offered him on the national stage.
Ryan Bader has bounced back incredibly well from what could have been a career trainwreck of a loss to Tito Ortiz. He finished Jason Brilz and then defeated former champion Quinton Jackson this past February in Japan. Now, he's looking to knock off his second straight former UFC light heavyweight champ.
Will Machida potentially earn another shot at the belt? Can Bader make history repeat itself with his second straight victory over a former champ? What's the best path to victory for both men?
Let's find out:Lyoto Machida
Record: 17-3 overall, 9-3 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.
Machida got back on track in a big way this past April, scoring one of the most incredible knockouts in UFC history with a jumping front kick to Randy Couture's face. It earned him a title shot against Jon Jones and while Machida won the first round on many scorecards, he was finished via technical submission in the second. Now, he eyes another shot at the champ if he can defeat Bader impressively.
How he gets it done: Machida needs to be patient, poised and ready to strike with a hard counter at any moment. Bader is youthful, full of energy and if Machida plays the waiting game, he may force him to make a mistake. Machida has a very powerful straight left hand but perhaps his sneakiest attack is his counter knee to the body, which he throws as his opponent comes in towards him before side-stepping to safety.
"The Dragon" also needs to avoid the clinch and the ground game. He might have better Brazilian-jiu-jitsu credentials than Bader, but Bader is a significantly better wrestler and he's capable of smothering him if he can get both hands on him.
Machida must counter if he wants to win, and that requires him to keep his distance and wait for something to happen first. It may not be pretty and it may force some boos from the crowd, but I guarantee Bader would blink first, perhaps get frustrated which would play directly into his counter-striking style.
Record: 14-2 overall, 7-2 in the UFC
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 126), Tito Ortiz (UFC 132)
How he got here: Ryan Bader started out as an All-American wrestler at Arizona State University. He got his big break on season eight of The Ultimate Fighter where he would dominate with his superior wrestling, ground and pound and top control.
Bader would cruise through the UFC, working his way up the ladder with big wins over Eric Schafer and an impressive knockout victory over Keith Jardine.
The victory over Jardine would earn him a shot against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 119 and "Darth" used his superior wrestling to squeak by with a decision victory. It was the largest win of his career and the UFC felt it was time to match two of it's top 205-pound prospects against each other.
Bader fought Jon Jones at UFC 126 but was dominated in every category and even forced to pull guard at points. Jones eventually secured a fight-ending modified guillotine choke to earn the win and a title shot. Things went from bad to worse for Bader when he was upset by former champion Tito Ortiz in his follow-up fight, getting submitted in the first round by "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy."
Thankfully, "Darth" Bader got back on track in his next bout, knocking off Jason Brilz in the first round and he followed it up with the biggest victory of his young career, taking out former champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson via unanimous decision in Japan earlier this year. Now he's looking to knock off his second straight former titleholder.
How he gets it done: Bader is very strong in two areas, wrestling and power. He's not the most technical guy, but he's got enough zip in his striking that he can potentially hold his own with Jackson. His biggest key is to not get too aggressive as Machida is all about the sneaky counter attack.
Bader is almost certainly going to start out standing with Machida, perhaps lull him into a false sense of security on the feet, even eat a shot or two. Once Machida lets his guard down, Bader needs to throw a big right hand then follow up by changing levels and trying to dump the former champion on his back.
Once on the ground, Bader just needs to utilize his heavy hands and try to hurt Machida, staying active enough to keep the fight on the ground and avoid Machida's ability to pop back to his feet or sweep him. It may not be pretty, but it'll be efffective.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight might just be confidence. Lyoto Machida is coming off a very disheartening loss at the hands of Jon Jones and hasn't fought in over seven months. Ryan Bader, on the other hand, is coming off the biggest victory of his career over former UFC light heavyweight champion "Rampage" Jackson. The mental game is so important in this sport and if Machida is starting to doubt himself, that could open the door for Bader to come in and aggressively take control either with his pressure and power in the stand-up or with his offensive wrestling.
If Machida is at full strength both mentally and physically, then his odds of winning shoot up drastically.
Bottom Line: This has potential to be a very entertaining fight or it could be a snoozer. Bader's best chance of winning is likely to either press Machida into the fence or dump him on his back and keep him there for three rounds. Also, Machida's best chance of winning likely involved a lot of circling, staying way on the outside and occasionally stepping in aggressively. This is going to be one of those fights where either a lot is going to happen quickly, or nothing is going to happen at all. Brace yourselves for both outcomes.
Who will come out on top at UFC on Fox 4? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!