Hooray, my first fanpost! This one will be a doozy and reminiscent of the Judo Chop series. It's also posted at bullshido.net. Here we go.
So we all know now that a rematch is going to happen between Shogun and Machida. Since BROK® pulled out of his UFC 106 fight with Carwin (rescheduled to Jan. 2nd), it's even possible that this fight could replace theirs at UFC 106 (note that this is pure speculation, I haven't heard it reported or even rumored yet). So Lyoto Machida needs a gameplan, and fast. What did he do wrong at UFC 104? What did Mauricio "Shogun" Rua do right? Here's my (long-winded) opinion, for what it's worth.
(***Note that I'm no technical genius and have a total of probably 3 months of Muay Thai training. However, I've been boxing for a year, been an MMA fan for 5 years and formerly trained for a loooong time in Tang Soo Do, aka Korean Shotokan***)
EDIT: I've tried to add some examples for those re-watching the fight. I've marked down rounds and times where you can see some of the things I talk about happening (that there aren't already gifs of).
This mistake was so glaring to me, I'm surprised more people haven't been mentioning it. For (usually) having such great elusive footwork, Machida circled to his left, better known as "where Shogun's right leg lives" the entire fight. Let's watch the replays the UFC showed at the end of round 5.
Notice especially the leg kick and punch. In both cases, Shogun leaps forward with a wild left-handed fake. Machida goes for it, moves to his left and eats a tremendous front leg power kick and a stunning overhand right, respectively, for his trouble.
Shogun did this all night long, from the first round to the last, and had a lot of success with it. Mostly he used it to set up body kicks, which he landed at a decent rate. Machida continuously moved away from a jab or feint from the left hand, straight into an oncoming Shogun body kick.
There are multiple examples just in the first round.
-Round 1, 4:15 remaining: Shogun stalks forward, covering up, with his lead foot outside of Machida's lead foot. Machida circles in the wrong direction, straight into the first good body kick of the night
-Round 1, 2:10 left: The same action is essentially repeated. Shogun gets Machida moving with advancing footwork and a wild left hook, and Machida barely avoids the following right body kick by literally throwing himself back against the fence.
-Round 1, 1:44 left: Here's an example of footwork hampering Machida's own offense. Here he steps to his left, then immediately fires off a poorly-aimed punch at Shogun's chin. Whether Shogun's body kick counter affected the accuracy of the punch (it's hard to tell), the step to Machida's right takes his left hand off and angle where it can come straight in at Shogun's chin, and gives Shogun's right leg a shorter path to Machida's body. Good timing on the counter by Shogun, but Machida messed up his own offense here.
-Finally, one positive example. Round 1, 1:32 left: Moving away after a missed left low kick of his own, Machida circles to his right, causing Shogun to reach hard for a right low kick, which he lands with little power on Machida's left leg. Shogun's corner makes noise about it, but it's not an effective way to kick over the course of a fight.
There are lots more examples of Machida's footwork working to Shogun's advantage, but I won't bother to list all of them.
To make matters worse, Machida's left arm was usually in no position to block a body kick. Instead, he usually tried to sweep the kick away with his right hand. This is a decent defense, particularly against straight kicks, when you want to catch the foot as it comes in. In this case however, reaching across the body to catch a roundhouse kick traveling the other direction proved to be ineffective. Making matters worse, naturally, was that Machida moved into the kick by circling to Shogun's right, giving himself even less time to parry the kick or catch the foot.
The solution to this problem is fairly simple. Machida needs to circle to his right, away from Shogun's power. This might also create a better angle for his left straight and left body kicks, if he can pull it off.
-The cleanest example of his comes just 10 seconds in the first round. Shogun throws his first body kick of the night. It misses, but only because he's out of range. You can see Shogun's foot and leg reaches Machida's body before it gets to the arm Machida is trying to defend with. Machida's left arm stays up around his head, possibly fearing a head kick? This defensive strategy continues all night for Machida, and Shogun's right leg meets body before it meets hand pretty much every time.
-One more example, freeze-frame with 2:23 left in the 2nd round. Shogun throws a body kicks that lands clean, and the camera angle is perfect to show Lyoto's right arm being ineffective in stopping the kick. It ends up on top of Shogun's leg, while the kick has already found it's mark. Simply put, trying to sweep away a body kick with the opposite arm to the side it's already going will not work. It's just too slow and relies on getting the body out of the way of the kick to really work.
2. Head movement
I feel like maybe this is related to his footwork. Simply put, I didn't see Lyoto being confident enough to step to the outside (his right) of Shogun's left jab, and I'm wondering if it's because he lacks any head movement beyond forward and backwards. He's shown small flashes of it in the past, but only when leading with his arms. Note how he avoids Nakamura's punches to set up his sweeps.
He didn't do this at all against Shogun, and to be honest I think Shogun's power scared him. Look above to the gif during the last round, Shogun's wild overhand right that knocked Machida against the fence. Machida clearly respects that wild left-handed fake. Why? Compare it to a similar feint from Rashad.
The biggest difference I see, beyond respecting power or not, is that Shogun already had Machida backing up before he throws this feint. Therefore, Machida is not in position to counter with any power, and it comes back to footwork again. Shogun realized he needed to disrupt Machida's space with footwork before attacking, while Rashad tried to disrupt Machida with fakes before entering with footwork. We can see which one was more effective.
Coming back to head movement, here's a gif that demonstrates the aspect of Machida's game that I personally always thought would be his achilles heel. This is from Machida's flurry at the end of the 3rd round.
Machida does a decent job of pressing the action here, and lands more shots than he takes. But look at his hands-down at his sides. Watch his head-it moves only forward and back, away from Shogun's punches and in when Machida is attacking. Basically, he gets away with it because he's attacking, and only sustains an attack like this when he thinks he's hurt (or can hurt) his opponent, but this is a recipe for disaster. The biggest shot landed in the entire exchange is the big right hook Shogun throws, which may have rocked Machida and caused him to initiate the clinch. If he's going to have success being aggressive at left straight chamber-punching range (his best weapon), Machida either must keep his hands up, or start moving his head side to side.
-Hard to find a decent example of lack of head movement, but I think I've found one. With 4:40 left in the 2nd, Machida hits Shogun with a good front kick to the body. However, when he does so, his hands are down at his waist, and his upper body is leaning back. This means that when his body comes straight forward to neutral again, his head follows the exact same path it took going backwards, and his hands are nowhere to protect his face. Shogun capitalizes with a jab that meets Machida's forward-moving head, gets him on the defensive, and nails him with a hard inside leg kick as he circles the wrong direction against the cage.
This was another downright uncharacteristic aspect of Lyoto's performance. Usually the 2nd most accurate fighter in the UFC (behind Anderson), Machida missed an unusual number of head power strikes (41 according to FightMetric), many of them straight lefts. As pointed out in a UFC 104 discussion thread on bullshido, many of these simply bounced off a static guard from Shogun, missing his chin right between the two arms. Shogun's head movement while kicking had an impact too, however.
Notice Shogun's body kick from round 1. I can't tell if this is bad accuracy or poor targeting from Machida, meaning: did he intend to hit the chin and miss horribly? Or did he intent to hit the body, in which case it was a poor choice for a body kick counter? Either way, the punch did not hit its intended target (chin or solar plexus), partly due to the movement of Shogun's body and head while kicking. Shogun also follows up with a decently powerful punch to the head, highlighting Machida's lack of head movement or shoulder roll on the punching side.
-Round 1, 4:11 remaining: Machida's very first combination of the night is really tentative. In particular, his left punch following the kick is aimed at precisely nowhere and hits Shogun on the elbow. Very uncharacteristic.
-Round 1, :20 remaining: Again, Machida aims a left straight to somewhere on Shogun's chest and drops the punch halfway there when Shogun counters with a body kick. If he were going to disrupt a possible counter, he would have to hit Shogun square on the chin-a chest punch won't do the job.
Part of Machida's inability to counter Shogun's kicks (besides circling the wrong way) was Shogun's excellent kicking technique. Let's compare a kick Rashad Evans threw to one Shogun threw in the 2nd round.
This perfectly highlights what makes Shogun so damn good at Muay Thai. Although his boxing technique has never been excellent, look at how: 1. Shogun turns his body 180º with amazing quickness, 2. Rolls his shoulder to protect his chin, and 3. Throws the kick with a bent knee in the perfect trajectory to catch Lyoto across the abdomen rather than on the side. In particular, Shogun's placement of the shin takes away all the power of Lyoto's counter. This is tragic for Machida, as it's one of the few times in the fight he's able to stand his ground and line up his favorite power punch accurately. Being Machida, he's quick enough to try and follow up with a sweep of Shogun's left leg, but the kick is so powerful that it's robbed him of the necessary balance.
Compare Shogun's kick to Rashad's, where Rashad gives away the kick with unnecessary motion, fails to turn his body quickly enough, does not roll the shoulder and aims for Machida's side rather than the front of his body.
-2nd round, 1:36 left: Once again, a perfect camera angle. This time, Shogun actually switches legs and hits Lyoto with a lead low kick. Machida sees the switch coming and loads up a big left hand, but when he delivers the punch Shogun has moved his head off line and gotten his right hand in front of his face, defending himself from the counter while landing the kick full-power. Machida's counter may have actually landed (too fast to tell), but it doesn't hurt Shogun as much as the leg kick hurts Machida, due to Shogun's technique while kicking.
-3rd round, 2:29 left: Off a Machida lead leg kick while in orthodox, Shogun uses perfect technique and recognition. He takes the kick, realizing it's not powerful, stays home with his defense and returns a blistering low kick to Machida's exposed left leg.
Machida's Successes and Future Plans
A. What Machida Should NOT Do
Check leg kicks.
I realize this is crazy talk. The best defense against leg kicks is to check them, of course! The problem is, I believe lifting the front leg to check Shogun's kicks would disrupt Lyoto's stance an inordinate amount because so much weight is on Machida's front leg. He relies on that stance for power in his punching and in order to move quickly. Shifting weight to pick the front leg up is slow and invites punches to his face-undefended by his hands, which are down by his chest most of the time. Shogun would have a field day mixing up leg kicks with feints and following up with straight punches. It's a better idea to circle to the correct side and force Shogun to either reach with his right leg or take the time to switch stances and kick with his left. Both of these invite counter opportunities, either from being off balance, or the time it takes to switch stances.
B. What Machida Should Do
In my opinion, Machida's main success was highlighted in the rounds 1 and 2 gifs found above. In both of those rounds he was able to land multiple earth-shattering knees that Shogun took with characteristic stoicism. Still, I was surprised at how effective those knees were against such a good Muay Thai practitioner. In particular Machida's quick switching of stances before moving in during the 1st round gif seemed to put Shogun on the defensive and add power to the strike (this knee happened with 3:04 left in the 1st). Machida should think about using these knees (or faking them) to set up his left straight in the rematch.
Essentially, the rest of Machida's gameplan should be first and foremost to circle to his RIGHT. As mentioned before, this will set up his own left straight and left leg while avoiding Shogun's power side.
He also needs to make a commitment to keeping his hands up at least shoulder level at all times. Head movement would be great, but learning to accurately slip the correct miniscule amount while not exposing himself to headkicks against a great kicker like Shogun, all within the time Machida has before the rematch...that just won't happen.
Finally, I think Machida needs to be more aggressive with his foot sweeps and leg kicks. In particular, Lyoto needs to use his foot sweeps in the clinch in order to keep Shogun from kneeing the bejesus about of his legs again. Even though Shogun likely has the slightly better ground game, looking for opportunities to kick out Shogun's plant leg and put him on the ground can dramatically alter the power and commitment Shogun is willing to kick with. He can take a page out of Shogun's book here (Page out of Shogun...heh. Anyway). There's one moment in the fight that perfectly illustrates how Machida needs to use his already-sharp timing differently-the way Shogun did in the first fight.
At 3:13 of the 1st round, Machida throws a left body kick. Shogun covers up and waits until the kick is inches away from his arms, then turns his body and hits Machida's plant leg with a kick at exactly the moment he is most off balance, and has the most weight on that plant leg: right after the kick has hit Shogun's arm and started to come back to the ground. This perfect counter takes away Machida's target and punishes him for throwing the kick in the first place.
Shogun used this tactic throughout the fight, defending against Machida's kicks with his arms while throwing a simultaneous leg kick to the plant leg, and it was unbelievably effective. Machida should try to kick lower, to minimize Shogun coming underneath with counters, throw more credible kick feints to bait Shogun into swinging when he shouldn't, and try to apply the same kick counters to Shogun's body kicks.
In closing, I think this plan is workable in the month or two Machida will have to prepare for an already-confident, more-determined Shogun when they meet again.