Saturday's (Oct. 26, 2013) UFC Fight Night 30 (UFN 30) event from Phones 4u Arena in Manchester, England, features a middleweight main event between Lyoto Machida and Mark Munoz.
The bout came together after Michael Bisping was unfortunately forced to withdraw from his scheduled tilt against Munoz due to a detached retina.
Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight Champion Machida looks to reinvent himself in a new weight class after a disappointing loss to Phil Davis at UFC 163 in August. "Dragon" still carries the aura of one of the most devastating strikers in mixed martial arts (MMA), but his recent numbers have begun to suggest otherwise. Machida is only 3-4 in his last seven trips to the Octagon and that stat could easily be 3-5 if his controversial UFC 104 bout against Mauricio Rua had gone the other way.
Critics of Machida have noticed that his counter-striking style is starting to look too passive in the eyes of the judges. Davis knew this and threw single strikes at Machida, never engaging in a flurry that allowed "Dragon" to fire back with his usual tactics. Machida will need to re-examine his gameplan and make some changes if he ever wants to challenge for the UFC 185-pound strap.
It won't be easy at UFN 30 because Munoz appears to be back in top shape after a one-sided throttling of Tim Boetsch at UFC 162.
"Filipino Wrecking Machine" is a cerebral fighter who looks to neutralize his opponents' strengths, so he won't be throwing lengthy combos at Machida in Manchester. Instead, Munoz will look to grind Machida out with his top-shelf wrestling game.
These two fighters are friends and occasional training partners who have put their feelings aside for the sake of furthering their careers. That could be the cause for an unpredictable fight depending on the mindset of each combatant.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Lyoto Machida vs. Mark Munoz:
Record: 19-4 overall, 11-4 UFC
Key Wins: 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: Highly experienced karateka Machida took the MMA world by storm in 2009 by defeating then-champion Rashad Evans for the UFC light heavyweight title. His elusive, enigmatic style kept foes guessing to the point of Joe Rogan labeling his title win the beginning of "The Machida Era."
Unfortunately for "Dragon," that era only lasted one fight and many believe his first title defense against Rua should have been awarded to "Shogun."
Since then, Machida has utilized a largely unchanged style to incredibly mixed results. True, he's faced off against the best talent UFC has to offer, but he's rarely come out on top. Machida's most impressive wins in recent years were his highlight reel knockouts over Randy Couture and Ryan Bader, not exactly elite competition at the time.
Otherwise, he's largely left his fights up to the judges, something that hasn't always worked out in his favor. His style simply creates too many close judgment calls to achieve consistent results against top fighters.
To win at UFN 30, Machida will need to ramp up his aggression. With an opponent like Munoz, who looks to make the fight an ugly, grinding match, you won't score any points by backpedaling in hopes of landing a huge counter shot.
Machida has always shown excellent takedown defense thanks to his Sumo background and he'll need it in Manchester. If he can avoid Munoz's many takedown attempts and land crisp punches in between, the fight will begin to turn in his favor.
If he's too tentative and never pushes the pace, this fight could easily go to a decision that sees Munoz with his hand raised. It's hard to win when you are constantly moving backwards, but Machida hasn't seemed to grasp this concept.
There's no doubt that Machida possesses one of the finest and most unique striking skill sets in all of UFC. We just haven't seen him use enough of it in recent bouts. If he wants to make his middleweight debut a successful one, Machida is going to have to open up the playbook a bit.
Record: 13-3 overall, 8-3 UFC
Key Wins: Demian Maia (UFC 131), Chris Leben (138), Tim Boetsch (UFC 162)
Key Losses: Chris Weidman (UFC on FUEL TV 4), Yushin Okami (UFC on VERSUS 2), Matt Hamill (UFC 96)
Keys to Victory: Munoz -- a former NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion -- looks re-energized after his devastating loss to Chris Weidman in July 2012 put him into a depression that prompted a huge weight gain. He bounced back by defeating Boetsch last summer and appeared in excellent shape while doing so. Machida will be quite the noted step up in competition from Boetsch.
Despite being known for his striking prowess, "Dragon" has defended nearly eighty percent of the total takedowns he's been faced with in UFC.
That won't stop Munoz from pushing the action and looking for a varied array of takedowns. Munoz has always been an aggressive fighter, evident by his six knockout victories inside the Octagon. He's only submitted one opponent and Machida holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, so any attempt at a finishing hold would be surprising.
Against Davis, Machida showed that he could stifle even the best of wrestlers. However, the two takedowns he did allow were most likely a huge deciding factor for the judges and this bout could play out in almost exactly the same fashion. If Machida is content to fight passively while looking for an opening, Munoz will effectively score points with strikes and takedown attempts. He's the more active fighter and he's eager to prove that he's among the best middleweights in the world. This fight may be Munoz's toughest test to date.
But Machida is on a bit of a downward trend.
Munoz will show up beyond motivated; his head seems to be in the right place. If he can avoid the big counter punch, Munoz has a great chance to notch the biggest win of his career.
Bottom Line from Manchester: The bottom line here is that we're gong to see how effective Machida still is at a new weight class. He' has his work cut out for him at UFN 30. Although he's been able to stop wrestlers, his passive style makes one single takedown a fight-changing move. It shouldn't be like that, so Machida has to start unleashing his offense more aggressively.
At this point in his career, implementing a drastic change like that probably won't happen.
Munoz has shown that he can be knocked out before, so Machida could find a home for one of his precision strikes and put him out. Munoz knows what he's in for at Phones 4u Arena; he'll look to smother "Dragon" to the point where he can never open up his striking game.
The x-factor here could be the two fighters' friendship. If they are unable to put all emotion aside, the bout could get unpredictable because we won't know which one is going full strength and which one isn't. Thankfully, both combatants are consummate professionals who know their ranking rests on this one bout.
From the look of things, this fight has a good chance of ending with a decision. While Munoz will look to finish the fight with his trademark ground and pound, he'll also be content to lock up a decision as the aggressor. It's up to Machida to put a stamp on this fight and make sure he's not the victim of another controversial loss. Controversy or not, he simply has to win more emphatically.
Lyoto Machida makes his way down to middleweight to face off with another top-caliber wrestler in Mark Munoz. Can "Dragon" silence his critics and prove his style is still relevant, or will "Filipino Wrecking Machine" continue his crawl back toward a title shot?