This Saturday night (February 15, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweights Lyoto Machida and Gegard Mousasi will battle for pivotal title implications in the main event of UFC Fight Night 36, airing live on FOX Sports 1 from Arena Jaragua in Jaragua do Sul, Brazil.
We've come to realize that nothing is guaranteed in mixed martial arts (MMA), but former UFC light heavyweight champion Machida can potentially lock up a 185-pound title shot by defeating Mousasi in "Dreamcatcher's" UFC middleweight debut.
"Dragon" spent most of his career fighting at light heavyweight, but a string of decisions to mixed results prompted him to try his hand at middleweight. He was last seen knocking out friend and former training partner Mark Munoz in his divisional debut at UFC Fight Night 30.
Mousasi last fought at UFC on Fuel TV 9, locking up a rather run-of-the-mill decision over late replacement Ilir Latifi after his original opponent Alexander Gustafsson was forced out of the main event with an unfortunate cut suffered in training.
UFC Fight Night 36 will mark Mousasi's UFC middleweight debut, but he's not a complete stranger to the division. A well-travelled martial artist, Mousasi obtained the DREAM middleweight championship to go along with his DREAM and Strikeforce light heavyweight belts.
Between the two of them, Machida and Mousasi have a lot of gold, making this is a high-level affair that will help determine the future of the UFC middleweight landscape. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Machida vs. Mousasi:
Record: 20-4 overall, 12-4 UFC
Key Wins: Mark Munoz (UFC Fight Night 30), Rashad Evans (UFC 98), Randy Couture (UFC 129), Dan Henderson (UFC 157)
Key Losses: Phil Davis (UFC 163), Jon Jones (UFC 140), Quinton Jackson (UFC 123), Mauricio Rua (UFC 113)
Keys to Victory: No. 4-ranked Machida made a splash in his middleweight debut by finally going back to the explosive karate striking that he became famous for. After winning and losing controversial decisions to Dan Henderson and Phil Davis, Machida took his critics' advice and opened up the playbook.
He's going to have to continue that trend in Jaragua do Sul.
"Dragon" will always rely on dangerous counterstriking to catch his opponents off guard, but he needs to keep incorporating some of the aggression that he exhibited against Munoz.
Finding a hole in Mousasi's game is going to be extremely tough. "Dreamcatcher" has never been knocked out and he also complied an impressive 12-1 record in amateur boxing.
However, Machida is far from an amateur, and he knows that his next shot at gold rests on this opportunity. The former UFC champ will look to utilize controlled aggression, picking his spots like he always does while mixing it up with a takedown attempt here and there. Machida has an underrated wrestling game thanks to his Sumo background, and his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt could even see him go for a submission.
Mousasi is coming in off a long layoff due to injury. Even though he's had ample time to recover, Machida's speed should play a big factor because Mousasi's been out of the cage for so long. Machida will be focused on beating Mousasi to the punch, and his results could very well hinge on his ability to do just that.
A title shot could await "Dragon," but he has to go out and seize that opportunity.
Record: 34-3-2 overall, 1-0 UFC
Key Wins: Mark Hunt (DREAM 9), Ronaldo Souza (DREAM 6), Hector Lombard (Pride Bushido 13), Renato Sobral (Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg)
Key Losses: Muhammed Lawal (Strikeforce: Nashville)
Keys to Victory: Mousasi is an experienced, well-rounded fighter who rose to prominence fighting in Japan before making his way to Strikeforce. He looked rather pedestrian in his UFC debut last year, but it was found he had a torn ACL that required surgery.
Needless to say, a precise power striker with timing like Machida's is not the optimal opponent to make your UFC middleweight debut against.
But Mousasi is never one to turn down a fight, and this bout could fast track him towards a UFC title shot. To score the huge win, Mousasi has to show no lasting effects of the surgery. It's impossible to think that he'll be able to contend with Machida's rhythm at first, but he is seasoned enough to settle into his groove rather quickly.
He's also confident enough to believe in his abilities wherever this fight goes, and for good reason. Mousasi is a Judo black belt, a skillset that could pay off in spades if these two talented strikers neutralize one another on the feet. With 18 striking stoppages to his name, Mousasi has preferred to knock out his foes, but he also has 11 submissions. Either of those is going to be more than difficult to attain versus "Dragon," who has only been finished twice in 24 fights.
Mousasi recently stated that Machida's elusive style actually leaves him open to counterattacks; we'll have to wait and see if he takes advantage of this belief. If he can, this fight could quickly turn in his favor. Mousasi has to be patient in the striking department because rushing in will most likely spell doom, especially in a fight like this one where the odds are against him.
This could be Mousasi's biggest fight ever because it will define him against championship-level UFC opposition.
Bottom Line from Brazil: The bottom line here is that two of the most talented fighters in MMA are going to war, making this an extremely close bout to call. Machida's power looks to be otherworldly at middleweight; yet we have a very small sample size from which to draw from.
Mousasi has looked nigh unbeatable throughout his career; however, he's largely been picking off tomato cans for the better part of the last three years. This is going to be a true test for him, one that may be his toughest yet.
The only way he shocks the world in Brazil is if he can stay cautious and accurate against Machida's unorthodox style. "Dreamcatcher" brought in a former karate champion to help him prepare for Machida, something that could definitely help his timing.
Machida looks to be poised for a title run at middleweight, a weight class that he probably should have been fighting at for years. Mousasi has the skills and experience to throw a wrench in those plans, but the deck is undoubtedly stacked against him due to his knee and the fact that he's fighting a top-flight opponent in his homeland.
Still, don't be surprised if Mousasi finds a way to get the job done. For all his excellence, Machida is still only 4-4 over his last eight bouts, and Mousasi has beaten some very big names before.
If "Dragon" scores another win using newfound aggression, it won't be too long before he's fighting for gold once again. The only man that stands in his way is a multi-promotion champ with one of the few all-around skillsets that rivals his own.
This fight might turn out to be a war if Mousasi shows up in shape. While he may not get a title shot with a win, "Dreamcatcher" will deserve a title eliminator bout if he bucks the odds and defeats Machida at UFC Fight Night 36.
We could be in for a classic when former champions Lyoto Machida and Gegard Mousasi lock horns at UFC Fight Night 36. Can Mousasi come back from a serious injury to overcome the mastery of Machida?