Lyoto Machida represents that rarest of all MMA fighters -- a man whose style is both innovative and effective. Machida's Shotokan karate based style rewrites the rules of how to fight on your feet in an MMA bout. He stays outside striking range then lunges in with punches or lands with kicks using his foot rather than the shin as the deliverer of impact. He prefers to be a counter striker and searches for something he calls "kyo":
"In my karate, it's a time called the "kyo", which basically means when your opponent has no defense. I always make sure when I attack it's at the right kyo. I timed his properly."
The talk of a "Machida Era" in MMA after he took the title from Rashad Evans was largely premised on the notion that it would be very hard for MMA fighters trained in Muay Thai, boxing or even more common Karate styles like Kyokushin to figure him out. We did a great deal of analysis of Machida's style between UFC 98 and UFC 104. I recommend reading Lyoto Machida Is Not Necessarily MMA's Karate Bellwether, The Karate Wizardry of Lyoto Machida, The Karate Kuzushi Waza Foot Sweeps of Lyoto Machida, There Are No Shortcuts in Shotokan Karate and Lyoto Machida Uses Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu to Beat David Heath to catch up with our discussions of what made Machida so unique and innovative in MMA. Also check out his book: Lyoto Machida's "Machida Karate-Do Mixed Martial Arts Techniques" and DVD set.
Shogun Rua surprised the world when he seemingly solved the Machida enigma in Machida's very first title defense. While he didn't take the judges decision, it was clear from the exhausted and battered face of the champ in the fourth and fifth rounds that for Shogun there was nothing ghost like about Machida. He was just another opponent to be kicked into submission.
Jake Rossen has a very interesting breakdown of Machida vs Shogun:
This is a crucial time for Machida, but not because of any statistics. In rematching Maurico Rua Saturday -- the man who came closest to figuring him out -- Machida can either prove his style can correct its mistakes or accept that he will not hold the advantage of surprise for much longer. The answer will define the second act of his career.
The question isn't if Machida's style will be countered; it's when, and how.
In October, Rua had his math worked out pretty well. He discovered that Machida, so focused on parrying with his hands, can neglect to consider the premature aging effect of kicks to the lower body. And instead of backing away, allowing Machida to calculate a step-in attack, he stayed in Machida's face. It was a performance that impressed virtually everyone but the three judges ringside.
Before the fight we had grappled with the issue of whether or not Shogun could find an answer for Machida. Check out Can Mauricio "Shogun" Rua Thrive Without Soccer Kicks?, How Mauricio "Shogun" Rua Could Beat Lyoto Machida, and Can Mauricio Shogun Rua Compete With Lyoto Machida on the Feet?
But Shogun didn't listen to any of that advice and figured out a perfect route to victory over Machida -- except the judges didn't quite see it that way.
Here's Luke Thomas breaking down the fight at the time:
The fight's proposed clash of styles was at least visually apparent, but the real difference was damage. Shogun dismantled Machida with counter kicking to challenge the karateka's lunging chambered punches.The methodical body work was almost the opposite of head hunting. Shogun methodically took the spring out of Machida's step and spirit by grinding round kicks to the right lead leg and body.
Shogun also demonstrated success in closing the distance. He used takedown attempts both intended to initiate clinching or to rush Machida. And from afar Shogun performed ably as well. He continuously landed a thudding body kick on Machida's lunging crosses. That kick also found a home on Machida's front leg over and over again causing some of the most serious damage of the fight.
Machida was able to land straight punches throughout the fight, but not to any real damaging effect. Machida, however, was significantly slowed and made far more manageable in his movement and speed.
Damage aside, Shogun never lost his rhythm and classic style. Machida's attack appears substantially muted when he can't get opponents to lose their comfort zone.
Last week I broke down the three main parts of Shogun's dissection of Machida-do:
Shogun essentially took almost all of Machida's tools away by doing a few simple things:
- Constantly walking down Machida and cutting off the cage while maintaining a tight defensive posture with his hands up;
- Ignoring the movement of Machida's limbs and focusing entirely on his trunk;
- Refusing to strike first but immediately countering with kicks to the legs and body anytime Machida lunged in to strike.
And I've been pleased to see our BE readers doing some very nicely detailed analysis of the fight that takes a second look at what Machida was doing during the fight and bolsters the case of those (like all three judges of the first fight) who felt Machida won: TLow's Machida's Kicks and (Bad?) Corner Advice/Strategy and Adam Vance's Machida vs Shogun I Recap.
Ultimately the winner of the rematch will be determined by two factors -- which fighter will make the right adjustments and which fighter is truly the better athlete. I can't wait.