Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight champion, Lyoto Machida, looks to snatch the title from new middleweight kingpin, Chris Weidman, this Saturday night (July 5, 2014) inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
After a controversial decision loss to Phil Davis, Machida decided to take his elite mixed martial arts (MMA) skills down a division. With close friend and training partner Anderson Silva dethroned and currently indisposed, the path to the title was clear for "The Dragon."
In his first bout at middleweight, Machida blasted Mark Munoz in just over three minutes. He next challenged a fellow striking specialist in Gegard Mousasi. Showcasing an increased aggression, Machida out-landed "The Armenian Assassin" in a competitive but clear-cut win.
Can he turn this middleweight momentum into a title victory against Weidman?
Let's find out.
One of the best counter fighters in the sport, Machida is one of very few men who represent karate at the highest level. Though his defensive nature makes relying on the judges risky, the Southpaw has upped his offensive output since dropping a weight class.
it's impossible to watch one of Machida's fights for more than a round without one of the commentators mentioning his elusiveness. It's perhaps his most important trait; a counter striker that's quite hittable will not be very effective. Through footwork and patience, Machida is able to avoid a majority of his opponent's strikes.
While Machida is circling his opponent, he stays just outside of the boxing range. From here, Machida can attack with either kicks or a flurry, and will feint with both. With his occasional kicks and flurries, Machida does some damage and hopefully takes a lead on the scorecards.
As long as Machida maintains this distance, he's at an advantage. There are very few fighters who can out-kick Machida, so his opponent is forced to close the distance with punches or a takedown. That's when they collide with Machida's brilliant counter punching.
Once his opponent begins pursuing Machida with a combination, he enters his zone. Machida will often take a quick step back to evade, cut an angle, then respond with strikes of his own. Then, Machida will step away at an angle, ensuring that his defense remains intact.
Machida will also counter by simply planting his feet and firing if his opponent's forward movement gets him off-balance. In this scenario, and most of his counters for that matter, Machida often relies on his straight left hand. In addition, Machida's left hand often slices through his opponent's wider shots, which means that his punch will land first and cleanly.
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 encourage his opponent to chase him, Machida has to be able to out-work his opponent from the outside. As I mentioned, his kicks are a large part of this. Machida has a variety of quick kicks to the leg and body. Machida often fires directly out of his stance, making the kicks a half second faster and allowing him to throw them with little setup.
Since his drop to middleweight, Machida has put more of an emphasis on landing head kicks. He initially blasted Munoz with a powerful roundhouse to the skull, but that could have been a one time thing. However, Machida threw a large number of high kicks at Mousasi as well, landing two and even ending his combinations with them, meaning he was actively setting up the kick.
In addition to his roundhouse kicks, Machida often utilizes front kicks. These kicks are especially helpful against opponent's looking to take "The Dragon" down, as they force his foe to stand up a bit straighter. Machida lands the kick between his opponent's guard often and even landed a jumping front kick against Randy Couture.
The other attack Machida will often use from the outside is his flurry. With these flurries, the usually passive and patient Machida shocks his opponent with some serious aggression. To disguise his flurries, Machida will first throw a kick or feint.
To maintain his distance from grappling attacks, Machida does a number of things well. The first and likely most damaging is his step knee to the body. Machida times the knee extremely well, almost always catching his opponent moving forward, which increase its impact greatly. The Brazilian usually attacks with the stepping knee when his opponent is reaching for a clinch or already covering up to avoid punches. Both of these situations leave his foe's liver open, which causes the strike to have a crippling effect.
Additionally, Machida gets quite aggressive with his boxing when his opponent looks to clinch. Machida will punch through his opponent's extended arms, landing a lightning fast combination of straight punches. Machida strongly discourages his opponent from grappling, as he damages him at every attempt.
It's become clear the leg kicks are not the sole key to defeating Machida, but they are a large part of the plan. "Shogun" Rua had a ton of success damaging Machida's legs and movement with his kicks, then moving in with his boxing. In Machida's last fight, Mousasi managed to cause "The Dragon" to stumble a number of times with his low kicks, but it was not enough to significantly slow him.
With a unique combination of Sumo, Karate, and Jiu-Jitsu, Machida certainly is not the standard blast double-shooting wrestler from the corn belt. Machida's ability to mix a quick takedown into a combination is excellent and unpredictable, allowing him to stun talented grapplers with his attempts.
Machida's karate-style foot sweeps are some of the slickest takedowns ever completed inside the UFC. As Machida throws a punch or feints, he'll sweep out his opponent's foot with his own. Occasionally, he'll even turn his opponent's momentum against him by turning his foe into a trip. 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, Machida can land the trip without a ton of force behind his attempt.
Machida will often use trip attempts to escape the clinch. By quickly rotating his foe as he trips their ankle, he threatens with his own takedown. If his opponent falls to the mat, Machida will happily take top position. More often than not, however, Machida uses this space and moment of imbalance to push out of the clinch and return to the open Octagon.
If Machida secures a body lock, he's a very strong wrestler. In these exchanges, Machida uses much more common throws. Much of Machida's success in this position likely comes from his Sumo background, which involves a lot of pushing, pulling, and body manipulation.
Being an excellent striker is not very useful without top notch takedown defense. Luckily for "Dragon" fans across the globe, Machida possesses just that. For the most part, fighters have no success shooting in on Machida. His distance control is just too excellent, and Machida's wrestling is too good to be threatened by a shot from halfway across the Octagon.
Since shooting for a double or single is largely out of the question, his opponent must look to clinch with Machida. Not only is it incredibly difficult to get within that distance, but anyone looking to clinch with Machida must lookout for his stepping knees and straight punches. Plus, Machida is far from unskilled in that position, and that step knee often raises his opponent's torso up enough to get at least one underhook. Once Machida has that underhook, he's as good as gone.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
Due to his stellar takedown defense, we rarely get to see Machida on his back. However, Machida has shown some smooth grappling on the few occasions in which his fight does hit the mat and is the proud owner of a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
For the most part, Machida just stalls from the bottom, especially if his opponent takes him down near the end of the round. Machida is very cautious of taking damage, so he's willing to lose points in order to stay safe.
However, Machida can make things happen off of his back when he needs to. For example, Machida hit a quick butterfly sweep against Sokoudjou and then finishes him with a textbook arm triangle choke. More recently, Machida 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.
Outside of these short moments on his back, the only submission that Machida has attempted was an armbar on Quinton Jackson. After causing "Rampage" to raise his arm in defense of punches, Machida quickly swiveled around Jackson's body and latched onto the arm. As he fell back onto the submission, Jackson locked his arms and used his strength to sit up. As "Rampage" so loves to do, he picked Machida up and threatened with a slam.
Machida wisely let go of the arm.
Best chance for success
Machida needs to be weary of Weidman's wrestling and power, but he has all the tools necessary to defeat the young champion.
While he's circling Weidman, Machida should be a bit more active than usual with his kicks. Weidman may have snapped Silva's shin with a check, but Silva threw two hard low kicks in a row with absolutely no set up. Machida is a bit sneakier than that and should feel free to throw low as long as he sets it up. Simply put, fighters have had little success catching Machida's kicks so far, and Weidman has not proven that he will be any different.
Machida needs to be very careful if he gets pinned against the fence. Weidman loves his lunging left hook, so it may be wise to carefully circle into his power or look for a clinch, spin the champion, and return to the center. The area of the Octagon that this fight takes place will very likely decide the winner, so Machida needs to be especially focused on his footwork.
Will Machida earn a UFC title at a second weight class, or will Weidman prove to the fans once and for all that he is legit?