Photo by Esther Lin/MMA Fighting.
If you're only as good as your last fight, Ryan Bader is perfectly happy with the inference. The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 10 winner gave his career a huge spark in an impressive decision win over former champ Quinton Jackson at UFC 144, as Bader tied together sharp striking and stifling takedowns to completely dominate "Rampage," albeit one who clearly had a chaotic training camp.
Meanwhile, the dawning of the "Machida Era" had barely kicked in when Lyoto's air of invincibility was punctured in two fights against Mauricio Rua.
The riddles of "The Dragon's" style, which seemed so vexing during his spectacular run-up to the title, are suddenly not as intimidating anymore. He's lost three of his last four, and his sole post-title win, over the aged Randy Couture, seemed like more of a tune-up bout.
Machida's still the only person to ever win a round against Jon Jones, as he showed flashes of his mercurial self in taking the opening stanza against the champ. It's indicative of Machida's brilliance that it took Jones much longer than usual to figure him out. Against Bader tonight (Sat., Aug. 4, 2012) at UFC on Fox 4 in Los Angeles, California, he's going up against a far more traditional style. And it's one that he can feast on if all cylinders are running against the rugged Arizona powerhouse.
Follow me after the jump for a complete breakdown of the UFC on Fox 4 co-main event match-up pitting Lyoto Machida vs. Ryan Bader.
Bader's steady evolution as an MMA fighter is overshadowed by his imposing wrestling. Like anyone fighting Machida, the initial question is how he negotiates distance to set up attacks and dictate exchanges; if you don't dictate to Machida, you're pretty much screwed, because his mix of feints, unorthodox strikes and inventive combinations leave you constantly guessing. A big wrinkle Bader could bring into the fight are leg kicks, which Rua used to effectively take Machida's game away in spots, but thus far Bader has shown he's mostly a basic one-two puncher followed by takedowns if his haymaker doesn't settle matters first.
Machida excels at punishing opponents who make mistakes, and he's one of the best in the game at exploiting small openings. He's also outstanding at using foot sweeps right when you're looking to trade strikes, which work on virtually anyone if correctly executed. Machida's ability to handcuff opponents and make them too puzzled to try things is a thing of beauty. Bader's willingness to go all-in on massive overhand rights is the kind of go-for-broke approach that gives him his best chance to beat Machida, who is exceptionally difficult to take, and keep, down.
Like everyone else who takes on Jon Jones, Bader is a much better fighter than that match would indicate. His blend of high-horsepower takedowns and big-time punching power give him the core skill set to make him a handful for most light heavyweights, and supply a default mode when he needs to revert to the basics. However, Machida excels at stifling opponents and reducing their options. Bader's likely lack of kicks means he'll be reduced to using punches to set up clinches and takedown attempts, and they will be few and far between. Machida has shown that he's willing to stink the joint out a bit if he needs to do so to win, but Bader is a fairly basic style for him. It adds up to a tense, back-and-forth striking match, with the occasional tie-up, scramble and brief mat time before Machida dials in and becomes more accurate over the second half of the fight. He'll have a scare or two from Bader's bombs while grinding out a close decision win.
Machida by unanimous decision.
Be sure to join MMAmania.com this evening for LIVE, detailed UFC on FOX 4 results of all the "Shogun vs. Vera" network television action. It will include blow-by-blow coverage of the FUEL TV "Prelims" bouts, and of course, the main FOX broadcast. We'll start RIGHT HERE at around 7 p.m. ET and carry straight on through early Sunday morning.
See you later!
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst or email@example.com.