Karate master and former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight Champion, Lyoto Machida, takes on former training partner, Mark Munoz, in his middleweight debut this Saturday (Oct. 26, 2013) in the main event of UFC Fight Night 30, which takes place at Phones 4u Arena in Manchester, England.
In the first seven bouts of his mixed martial arts (MMA) career, "The Dragon" went undefeated, including wins over eventual UFC champions Rich Franklin and B.J. Penn. These key wins and overall dominance earned him an opportunity to fight inside the Octagon, one he promptly capitalized on.
Machida won his first four fights by unanimous decision. This drew the ire of some fans, who claimed Machida couldn't finish his opponent. A second round submission of Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, thorough drubbing of Tito Ortiz, and then brutal knockout of Thiago Silva silenced those critics, at least for a little while.
This impressive win streak earned Machida a title shot against Rashad Evans at UFC 98 and he knocked out "Suga" to become an undefeated UFC champion.
"The Machida Era" had begun.
Or not, as two duels with Mauricio Rua lost Machida his strap. A fantastic knockout of Randy Couture was sandwiched between losses to Quinton Jackson and Jon Jones, leaving Machida's future uncertain. He managed to regain some momentum with two straight wins, before losing a controversial decision to Phil Davis. Now, he hopes a drop to 185 pounds can solve his problems.
Can he win his debut verses Mark Munoz?
Let's find out.
Machida has one of the most unique styles in UFC, one that oozes his karate background. It's impossible to watch a Machida fight without hearing commentator Mike Goldberg repeatedly mention his elusiveness, and it's well deserved.
"The Dragon" is an expert counter fighter. He forces his opponent to over-commit to their attacks then capitalizes with hard shots of his own. To do this, he will do damage and earn points from the outside, while patiently waiting for them to react.
In order to force his opponent to attack, Machida has gotten very good at landing kicks and the occasional jab, from range. As he circles his opponent, he'll constantly work small leg kicks. If he finds an opening, Machida will launch a hard body or head kick as well.
One of Machida's best range technique is his front kick. He's very good at hiding it, meaning his opponent is unaware this particular strike is coming. Since it comes straight up, he's often able to slip it through his opponent's guard. "The Dragon" famously knocked out Randy Couture with a front kick and recently jacked Dan Henderson's jaw with one.
If Machida's opponent remains patient and does not pursue the Brazilian, he is content to work solely from the outside. This can be problematic in terms of judging, as his opponent's aggression has out-scored his defense and rangy strikes. Notably, "Rampage" and "Mr. Wonderful" managed to win very controversial decisions by being the aggressor without exposing themselves, even if Machida did a slightly better job on the feet.
Whether that's right or wrong is irrelevant, as it's the cause of half of Machida's losses and a possible route to victory for his opponent.
When Machida's opponent decides to take him on, "The Dragon" is at his best. One of his most important abilities is cutting an angle, completely evading his opponent's shots and landing a few of his own before safely disengaging. Against Thiago Silva, Machida put on a counter-punching clinic, stepping just outside of his range and then coming back with hard shots of his own.
Machida primarily relies on his straight left hand to counter his opponents. After circling away from their first few attacks, Machida will plant his feet and fire a crisp left cross. This punch is his primary counter strike and begins most of his counter combinations.
The best example of Machida's straight left counter was his complete destruction of Ryan Bader. After a round of getting picked apart, "Darth" was desperate. He rushed in, hands down, eyes close, directly into Machida's left hand. Machida didn't even have to fully extend his punch, since Bader did most of the work for him.
Machida's flurries are very well known. After throwing the left straight, Machida will burst forward with a long combination of punches. He generally alternates between left and right straight punches, then finishes the combination with a kick. Machida only flurries when his opponent's feet are in a poor position, or he has a superior angle, either of which make it difficult for him to be countered in return. Sometimes, Machida will surprise his opponent by blasting forward with a flurry first, rather than waiting for a counter opportunity.
Another signature "Dragon" technique is the step-in knee. Machida generally uses this knee on two occasions: when his opponent is leaning forward for a clinch, or when his opponent has covered up in anticipation of a punch. The step-in knee is a very powerful strike, especially when used against an opponent's forward momentum. Also important is Machida's ability to land the knee with enough force to create the space for him to get an underhook, as many wrestlers try, and fail, to take him down off it.
It took a long time to unravel "The Dragon," but the holes in Machida's striking game are better known now than when he was champion. The first was revealed in his original battle with "Shogun" Rua, who countered Machida's elusive movement with hard leg kicks. This eventually slowed him down and allowed Rua to land hard punches.
In his recent loss to Davis, "Mr. Wonderful" managed to avoid many of Machida's shots by matching Machida's movements. Despite his generally robotic striking, Davis moved enough that the striking was pretty close, which made his takedowns the deciding factor for the judges.
Machida doesn't rely on his takedown abilities very often, but he's always been quite skilled. His takedowns are a mix of jiu-jitsu trips, karate sweeps, and sumo wrestling.
"The Dragon's" ability to mix his striking with trip takedowns, which undoubtedly comes from his karate background, is unmatched. As Machida throws a punch or feints, he'll sweep out his opponent's foot with his own. These trips capitalize on his opponent covering up and preparing for a strike, which weakens his balance. This requires excellent timing, something Machida has proved he possesses.
Machida is very good at hitting quick trips, meaning he rarely spends more than a few seconds in the clinch before trying for a takedown. When Machida attempts a trip, he moves away at an angle as he trips, meaning he would be free of the clinch if the trip fails. This means Machida is either back in the center of the Octagon or on top of his opponent, two positions that favor him.
Machida is very good at controlling his opponent and then turning his entire body into a clinch takedown. Against both Tito Ortiz and Dan Henderson, Machida was able to takedown the accomplished wrestlers by turning hard, forcing them one direction, then using his leg to take out his one of his opponent's.
Machida's takedown defense is very impressive. First and foremost, Machida's distance control is excellent. By never allowing his opponent to close in on him, Machida makes double and single leg takedowns very difficult. His sprawl is above average, so his opponent has to get in deep on his hips in order to finish, which is nearly impossible when Machida is intent on working from the outside.
Since shots are mostly out of the equation, most of Machida's opponents that want to bring the fight to the mat are forced to work from the clinch. As is seen above, Machida is quite talented from the clinch. This is where Machida's step-in knee really comes into play, as he's able to knock the wind out of opponents that want to clinch him. Even if he isn't able to knee his opponent, Machida is very quick to get an underhook. Once Machida has an underhook, he's incredibly difficult to control, as he's able to get his hips low and away quickly.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Machida is a jiu-jitsu black belt, although he rarely shows it. He hasn't submitted his opponent since an arm triangle victory over Sokoudjou back in 2007. However, he has shown his sneaky jiu-jitsu game since then.
There is a good chance that the armbar is one of Machida's favorite moves. It's certainly one of his more effective. Against "Rampage" Jackson, Machida landed a takedown and passed to mount in the third round. He attempted an arm bar from mount, smoothly spinning around Jackson and attacking one of his arms.
Jackson was able to roll himself on top, although he was still trapped in an armbar. In true "Rampage" fashion, he stood up and lifted Machida. Just as he was about to slam, Machida completely released the arm bar and landed on his feet. Machida found himself in a dangerous situation and handled it beautifully.
More recently, it was Machida who found himself on his back in the third round against Dan Henderson. Henderson was content to work punches to the ribs from guard, doing little to improve his position. To counter this, Machida rolled up on an armbar. Instead of actually going for the arm, Machida completed the roll as Henderson yanked his arm away, allowing him to stand back up.
Best chance for victory
Machida's victory rests almost entirely on his weight cut. If he can cut to middleweight while retaining his speed, power, and stamina, he's set himself up very well for a victory.
Munoz has nothing for Machida at range, and "The Dragon" probably knows it. He can safely throw kicks and jabs for as long as he wants. I'd recommend he uses the front quick frequently, as Munoz's face-first style is tailor made for the front kick.
If Machida wants to be certain he is ahead on the scorecards, he must be more active at range. If he had thrown just a few more strikes in every round against Davis, he'd have won without question. Rather than let the infamously incompetent judges in our beloved sport have to make a decision, Machida should leave no question in their minds who was controlling the action.
Should Munoz manage to takedown Machida at some point, the Brazilian must remain patient, Munoz gets very aggressive with his ground striking, leaving openings that Machida can use to stand up. If Machida doesn't panic under Munoz's fiery ground and pound, something he has yet to do, it's only a matter of time until the fighters are standing once more.
Will Machida insert himself into the middleweight title picture, or will Munoz upset the karate master? See our complete fighter breakdown of "The Filipino Wrecking Machine" right here.