Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweights Lyoto Machida and Luke Rockhold will clash TONIGHT (April 18, 2015) in the main event of UFC on FOX 15 inside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Machida has more than proven himself an elite middleweight, as his sole loss came in an absolute war with the current champion Chris Weidman. Since then, he reconfirmed his position as a top contender by dispatching of CB Dollaway in about a minute.
Though Rockhold lost his debut to the spinning foot of Vitor Belfort, he's been battering and finishing his recent opponents. Now, Rockhold will look to make it four straight against the best opponent he's ever faced, potentially earning a title shot in the process.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both fighters.
Key Wins: Rashad Evans (UFC 98), CB Dollaway (UFC Fight Night 58), Ryan Bader (UFC on FOX 4)
Key Losses: Chris Weidman (UFC 175), Jon Jones (UFC 140)
Keys to Victory: Machida is a masterful karate striker, which has resulted in nine knockout victories while rarely getting touched himself. In addition, Machida's distance control and strong takedown defense make him very difficult to drag down to the mat.
This fight will very likely be decided by which man is more effective at range. Obviously, Machida will be looking to keep his back off the fence and score with occasional bursts, but Rockhold won't make it easier for him.
Similarly, Machida will not simply let Rockhold walk him into the fence and tee off. There's a decent chance their excellent footwork will largely even out, as Rockhold will occasionally herd his opponent into strikes while Machida's angles will sometimes payoff in a slick combination.
In short, Machida needs to kick more than his opponent. They're both dangerous kickers, so simple activity can really shift the tide to either man.
He certainly doesn't want to lose a close controversial decision due to being hesitant.
Key Wins: Ronaldo Souza (Strikeforce: Barnett vs Kharitonov), Tim Kennedy (Strikeforce: Rockhold vs Kennedy), Michael Bisping (UFC Fight Night 55)
Key Losses: Vitor Belfort (UFC on FX 8)
Keys to Victory: Rockhold is one of the most well-rounded martial artists in the sport. He's also an athletic specimen, large for the division, and has a penchant for finishing fights in the very first round.
Rockhold mentioned in interviews leading up to this bout that he believes his high level of skill in each area of mixed martial arts (MMA) will lead him to victory. While implementing his nasty grappling game against Machida will be difficult, Rockhold should definitely threaten with it.
Even getting into the clinch against Machida is difficult, but Rockhold should have the footwork to pull it off, though takedowns may be out of the question early on. Unlike many fighters, Rockhold doesn't simply stall from the clinch, as he delivers brutal knees into his opponent's liver.
If Rockhold is able to force Machida to react to clinch and takedown attempts, standing with "The Dragon" will become much easier.
Bottom Line: This bout could determine the next challenger to the middleweight throne.
Unfortunately for Machida, whether or not he earns a title shot tonight is not entirely under his control. If "Jacare" Souza defeats Camozzi -- and in all likelihood, he will -- then Souza will probably earn the shot over Machida. On the bright side, he'd only be one more win away from a title shot after defeating one of the middleweight divisions' best.
Should Machida lose to Rockhold, he would find himself in a rather difficult position, as Machida is 36 years old and deep into his career. He doesn't appear to be slowing down in the least, but it's difficult to say if there's time for another full run to the title with two recent losses to younger fighters.
On the other hand, Rockhold will likely receive a title shot with a win. That would've been up in the air had Souza defeated Yoel Romero, his original opponent. However, there's really no comparing a victory over former champion Lyoto Machida to a second win over recently released Chris Camozzi.
A loss would be a major setback for Rockhold. The Californian is undoubtedly in the prime of his career and has displayed the skills of a potential champion. This is his time to shine, and a setback would force him to waste time slaying fighters ranked below him rather than challenging for a world title.
Will Lyoto Machida continue to find success as a middleweight, or will Luke Rockhold take out the former champion?