I've written a fair bit about Lyoto Machida's technique, and I've also grappled a fair bit with the question of whether or not Shogun Rua can beat the champ. So I thought I'd do a bit more of a technical breakdown about Shogun's chances. First off, let's talk about the standing range of the game because that's where most of the fight is likely to happen.
Reminder, I am anything but an expert on this kind of stuff. I've never trained seriously or competed. I'm simply a fan trying to understand what I'm seeing. Corrections and clarifications from readers who are better informed than I are not only welcome, they're encouraged!
For roughly two years from the time Mauricio "Shogun" Rua won the Pride Middleweight Grand Prix in 2005, many considered him to be the best 205lb fighter in the sport. A BJJ blackbelt, he could fight at a distance, he could wrestle, he was devastating in the clinch and for God's sake never let him get on top of you.
Shogun began training Muay Thai in his teens, trained at the legendary Chute Boxe camp and somewhere along the way he picked up a little bit of capoeira to sprinkle on top as well. He's racked up 15 of his 18 wins by KO or TKO.
He's incredibly athletic and proficient at most aspects of MMA and this gave him two big advantages over most of his opponents. If he got into trouble in one phase of a fight he could force the fight to another phase of the game and get out of trouble.
But he has rarely faced opponents who had truly technical approaches to the stand up game. Especially not someone as precise and opportunistic as Machida.
In the full entry we'll get down to specific examples from Shogun's PRIDE career and look at the strengths and weaknesses of his standing game.
This comment by Devante from the Sherdog forums is an excellent summary of Rua's dilemma in this fight (I've edited it slightly for clarity and filled out the abbreviations):
The thing about (Rua) is alot of his success standing is based on athleticism, not so much technical excellence. His Muay Thai is ok, his boxing is terrible and his overall kickboxing is so so; the best thing about him is the unpredictable aspect of his standup AND his explosiveness/dynamic quality.
He (has a proven chin where Lyoto's is unknown) and more power.The only reason we know he has a good chin is that he is so haphazard offensively and defensively with his striking. Lyoto has been hit clean only a handful of times so we have no idea what he can or can't take.
Rua isn't as precise or defensively aware in regards to actual parries, blocks, slips or even control of range. His defense is his offense which handcuffs opponents who don't want to get countered as a result of his ability to overwhelm and the variety of strikes he uses. Also he fights in spots, he isn't consistent; he explodes at different points in a fight and if you're in range or not well rounded in your striking you usually get caught and dropped or stopped.
The issue being Lyoto is defensively adept and physically gifted enough that that staccato flow to Rua's striking won't be enough to offset him, and since there isn't a huge gap between them in regards to physical ability, Rua won't be able to overrun/overwhelm Lyoto's technical advantages.
And overwhelming opponents is really is all Rua does. Against opponents with better base striking he can use his wide range of strikes and athleticism because most fighter STILL are only adept in one area; and against guys with comparable ability he can rely on actual technique/range of strikes. The problem is now he is facing a comparable athlete and more importantly a superior technician/strategist.
Note how Shogun's swarming of Rampage Jackson in their 2005 bout at PRIDE's Total Elimination 2005. Shogun fires off a winging capoeira kick that may be called the Martelo Rodado (in TKD a very similar move is called a Tornado Kick) that is partially blocked by Jackson but also wacks him with a fair amount of impact. The kick starts with a feint that has Jackson looking to check a leg kick, taking him a bit off balance. The second gif shows how deadly Shogun can be in the clinch. He comes in from an awkward angle, lands a nasty uppercut then establishes the Thai plum with both hands behind Jackson's neck and begins firing knees.
Here we see a staple of Shogun's highlight reels, a very dramatic spinning capoeira kick (or is it a TKD tornado kick?) against Ricardo Arona in the final round of the PRIDE 2005 middleweight GP. It's a high flying move with a great deal of dramatic visual appeal. It also clearly misses but does get Arona backing up and when he counters with an amazingly awkward right hand you can really see how much Rua benefitted from Arona's lack of standing technique.
But from this angle we can see by just how much Shogun's kick missed Arona. It definitely forced him to retreat, and Arona's counter is even more awkward-looking from this angle than from behind. But I don't see Lyoto Machida passing on such a massive opportunity to connect with a counter-strike while Rua winds up a technique like this.
Machida's game is largely built around waiting for moments like this. Here he talks to the Las Vegas Sun about it:
"In my karate, there is a time which is called the Kyo, which means the fighter has no defense. I study to make sure I attack right at the correct Kyo, and that's what I did."
The "Kyo" on a wild spinning kick has to be immense.
But looking at these gifs that BE reader Grappo linked to, it's easy to see that Shogun's "kyo" can be exploited even by fighters not at Machida's level. On the left we see Shogun getting countered by Kazuhiro Nakamura at PRIDE Shockwave 2006. Here's Grappa's comment:
Arona’s punch was deflected. But, Shogun’s kick to Nakamura was blocked. It looks like Naka’s punch didn’t land cleanly either. Later Naka counters a body kick with a chest punch that nearly sends Shogun to the canvas. In the Overeem rematch, his kicks were effectively countered a couple of times too.
I guess my main point is that kicks leave Shogun very open to being countered, and if he tries high-kicking Machida, it’s going to be lights out for him. Lyoto will be fast and accurate enough to fully capitalize on these openings. I think Shogun’s balls-out aggression and willingness to mix it up on the feet or the floor were too much for most opponents (and will still probably be too much for most current opponents) but Machida don’t play dat.
We'll see on Saturday if Lyoto Machida can capitalize on the opportunities created by Shogun Rua's wild style or if Shogun will be the first fighter to unravel the Machida mystery. If Shogun wins this fight, I don't expect him to do it on the feet.
Gifs by Chris Nelson (except the final two).