Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight titleholder, Lyoto Machida, takes on former DREAM middleweight kingpin, Gegard Mousasi, later tonight (Feb. 15, 2014) inside Arena Jaraguá in Jaraguá do Sul, Brazil.
Since losing the 205-pound title, Machida has not had the best of luck.
He lost two of his next three bouts, including a nasty guillotine submission by to Jon Jones. Machida partially got back on track in his next two fights, winning a brutal knockout and a close decision, firmly cementing his spot as a top light heavyweight.
Closing in on a second title shot, Machida lost an extremely controversial decision to Phil Davis in Brazil. Perturbed by the judging and this lost opportunity, the Brazilian dropped down to middleweight and announced his arrival in the division by violently introducing Mark Munoz to his shin. Is the mixed martial arts (MMA) world about to be subjected to a second "Machida Era?"
Let's take a closer look.
One of the few true karate specialists in the highest level of the sport, it's impossible to describe Machida's striking style without mentioning his elusiveness. Gliding around the Octagon on his toes, Machida commonly makes elite fighters look silly when chasing him.
"The Dragon" is one of the best counter strikers to strap on a pair of four-ounce gloves. In order to bait his opponent into over-committing to a punch, he constantly circles and feints on the outside of his opponent's range. While he avoids their punches, Machida will land hard kicks and a few jabs, doing damage and, hopefully, getting himself ahead on the scorecards.
From the outside, Machida primarily works quick leg kicks. He doesn't usually set them up with punches, but his feints and speed are more than enough to safely land, especially since he throws with little to no setup. Once he establishes his range, Machida will mix in kicks to the head and body as well. One of his most effective attacks from the outside is his body kick to left straight.
Another effective kick in Machida's arsenal is the front kick. He became known for it when he retired Randy Couture with a jumping front kick, but he's been using this tool for a long time. The Brazilian hides this kick very well and sneaks it between his opponent's guard perfectly.
The best and worst part of Machida's striking is his patience.
He's more than willing to just work from the outside, even if his opponent refuses to really pursue him. Although he generally gets the better of these exchanges, they can be close, especially if Machida is not being particularly active. A close exchange often goes to the aggressor, which is generally Machida's opponent. Even though it's not really a technical flaw, this has cost Machida a victory more than once, so increasing his activity is something Machida should consider working on.
It's only once his opponent decides to engage that Machida really shines. As his opponent steps forward with a combination, Machida will hop back out of range, cut an angle, then jump forward with a combination of his own. After landing his punches, Machida will quickly exit at an angle, and the cycle begins anew.
Machida's preferred counter punch is his straight left hand. Rather than hop out of range, "The Dragon" will plant his feet and shoot his left hand out like a laser, often landing before his opponent's wider punches. It's not uncommon for him to throw just one counter left hand then return to circling, but if it lands, the punch does serious damage.
After throwing his left straight, Machida will occasionally follow it up with a stream of punches. He normally just alternates between left and right straight punches, before capping off this rush with a kick or knee. Machida doesn't just flurry forward at random, he waits until his opponent is off-balance or he has a strong angle.
In order to remain unpredictable and keep his opponent honest, Machida will occasionally be the one to initiate a combination. He generally relies on his flurries, pushing forward with a shocking amount of aggression for a counter striker. Unlike his counter flurries, Machida often starts his combination with a kick, or at least a feint, to disguise his upcoming punches.
When Machida is trying to avoid a clinch, he is a very active striker. As his opponent pushes forward and looks for some type of grip, Machida will push away and rapid fire a series of punches. "The Dragon" has impressive hand speed most of the time, but his urgency really goes up a notch when he's trying to prevent a wrestling exchange.
One of Machida's signature techniques is his stepping knee.
Machida usually attacks with the 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 already a powerful strike, but its impact increases significantly when his opponent moves into it. Machida's accuracy with this knee makes it even more dangerous, as when it lands right on the liver, it's more than enough to send a fighter crumbling to the mat.
The first person to have any success striking against Machida was Mauricio Rua, who managed to defeat him (twice, according to some scorecards). Using the threat of his boxing, Rua would force Machida backwards then attempt to kick out his legs. As Machida's legs took more and more abuse, his movement slowed, eventually allowing "Shogun" to land hard punches as the fight wore on. The first match was hardly a blowout, but it was the first time a fighter had any success on the feet against Machida.
Hardly a common wrestler with a power double, Machida has a sneaky collection of trips and throws from the clinch. These takedowns largely originate from his Sumo background, but subtle foot sweeps and trips from his karate and jiu-jitsu background have appeared inside the cage as well.
Machida's karate-based foot sweeps are some of the slickest takedowns of any fighter inside the Octagon. As Machida throws a punch or feints, he'll sweep out his opponent's foot with his own. These trips rely on his forward movement that accompanies his strikes as well as his sense of timing. Since his opponent is either planting his feet and covering up for a punch, or trying to circle away from the strike, it's easy for Machida to trip him up.
"The Dragon" is not the type of fighter to toil away in the clinch, attempting to overpower his opponent into a takedown. Instead, he relies on a quick trip attempt as he spins his opponent. This benefits him even if it fails, as a spinning, stumbling opponent can hardly maintain the clinch on a talented grappler like Machida.
Of course, Machida isn't upset if it works either.
Finally, Machida is a strong wrestler if he can get a body lock on his opponent. Sumo is largely based on pushing back and forth, so the Brazilian is used to forcing a resisting opponent where he wants him to go. As he pushes his opponent around, Machida uses leverage very well, allowing him to throw his opponent to the ground with ease.
Machida has some of the best takedown defense of any active fighter, especially considering how he fought almost his entire career at a weight class higher than he needed to. Of course, it's nearly impossible for most of Machida's opponents to get close to him at all, making takedowns out of the question. When Machida wants the fight to stay on the outside, it generally does, which means his opponent's attempts to get in on his hips are destined to fail most of the time.
Once shooting in on an opponent fails, most wrestlers will look to secure a clinch and work from there. This is difficult enough since Machida is hard to catch and has some fairly advanced clinch grappling, but Machida's knee to the body makes it even harder. As his opponent extends his arms to catch Machida, he stops moving away and steps towards his opponent with a knee. Not only does getting hit that hard in the body exhaust his opponent, it lands hard enough to knock him backwards, leaving open underhooks. Trying to take down Machida once he has an underhook is extremely difficult, as he manages to get his hips low and away almost immediately.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Since his takedown defense is so solid, as is his ability to immediately get up following his opponent's takedown, it's rare that Machida spends time on the mat. Despite this, Machida possess a black belt in jiu-jitsu and shows savvy every time one of his fights hits the mat.
The most extensive display of jiu-jitsu in Machida's UFC career is his bout against Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. At the time, Sokoudjou had a lot of hype behind him, coming off of two vicious first-round knockouts of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona. Initially, he appeared to live up to it against Machida, landing a hard right hand and quick takedown.
However, this takedown lead directly into a butterfly sweep. For the majority of the first round, Machida hunted for arm triangles and a kimura, easily controlling Sokoudjou from half guard. In the second round, Machida took Sokoudjou down off of a foot sweep counter to a leg kick, once again landing in half guard. This time, he passed to mount fairly quickly and after a few tries, finished the arm triangle. Though Sokoudjou is not the most technical grappler, Machida's technique worked well against a very physically strong Judo specialist.
Machida also used the kimura to get out from underneath Henderson, who was content to lay in Machida's guard and throw punches to the ribs. While grabbing a kimura, Machida hip bumped and knocked Henderson off balance. As Henderson looked to recover his balance, Machida rolled away, successfully making it back to his feet.
The only other move that Machida has gone to in recent years is the armbar. He nearly locked one in on Quinton Jackson after passing to mount in the third round of their fight, but was forced to release the hold because of a potential slam. His setup was very nice, as he quickly latched onto one of Jackson's elbows while he looked to defend from Machida's punches.
Best chance for success
Gegard Mousasi is one of the most technical kickboxers Machida has ever faced. It's unlikely that he'll finish Mousasi, who has yet to be knocked out in over 30 fights, so it's vital that Machida is ahead on the scorecards.
Of Machida's four losses, two are extremely questionable.
Machida was in control almost the entire time, but still lost according to the three people who mattered. However, if Machida had landed about five more strikes per round, he would have almost certainly won. Fighting is all about risk versus reward, and Machida needs to realize that he's at a bigger risk of getting the win stolen by the judges then having an opponent finally counter his strikes after missing over and over.
It would also be smart for Machida to try and mix in some takedowns of his own. Before Rua knocked him out, Machida was having a lot of success mixing his clinch takedowns with his striking. That's something that he should try to do once more against Mousasi, whose takedown defense is far from proven. Plus, being on the positive side of the takedowns will help prove Machida's case with the judges.
There you have it. To see a complete fighter breakdown of Gegard Mousasi click here.
Does Machida have what it takes to continue his run at middleweight, or will Mousasi prove himself as a UFC title contender?