Jon Jones is one of the most -- if not the most -- innovative and sensational new faces in the sport. A surefire sign of incredible success is a fighter who not only steadily embraces new challenges and continues to augment his level of opposition, but looks even more devastating and unstoppable in each performance.
His heavenly ascension began with shades of creative panache against Andre Gusmao and Stephan Bonnar, progressed dramatically in dominating a series of accredited wrestlers in Jake O'Brien, Matt Hamill, Vladimir Matyushenko and Ryan Bader (along with shattering Brandon Vera's face), and recently crescendoed when "Bones" picked off two perennially elite veterans and former champions in Mauricio Rua and Quinton Jackson.
Lyoto Machida fits the same description of Jones' last two victims as well, marking the third former light-heavyweight champion and top-five ranked fighter he's faced in a row. Along with the re-acquired Dan Henderson and his skull-cracking H-bomb, Machida stands as essentially the last bastion of 205-pound contenders who could pose a legitimate threat.
Leading up to and during his reign as champion, Machida's style was concisely distinguished by the unorthodox effectiveness of his Shotokan karate background. It exuded in everything from his unusual stance -- differentiated by the wide and low base with his upper body retracted and held peculiarly upright -- to his flashy success with poetic standing foot sweeps to the demoralizing complexity of his footwork.
In fact, it wasn't too long ago that fans, commentators and media were shaking their collective heads in fascinated disbelief, wondering who could possibly contend with an idiosyncratic virtuoso like Machida. Now, just two years later, Jon Jones has assumed that same lofty pedestal and aura of invincibility, but Lyoto Machida has the ideal opportunity to repossess the mantle.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Elusive. No reputable analysis on Lyoto Machida is complete without inserting that word. His elusive tactics and clever motion have the greatest bearing on his success and failure and tonight's title fight is no exception.
Machida's mystique was built around his unique ability to avoid being tied up or controlled and skate out of reach while stinging with punches. Conversely, Jones has carved out a niche for being able to voraciously devour all comers in whatever phase of combat he chooses. Each fighter employs drastically opposing methods to achieve the same advantage, which is dictating the pace by having control over the fighting area.
Thus far against Jones, all conventional approaches have failed rather miserably, so I think Machida should summon up every unorthodox and eccentric technique in his arsenal.
These first two clips show Machida's nonpareil sweeps from the standing position. Above, when Vernon White aggressively closes distance, he flashes out a left hand to disguise the crafty sweep he slides underneath it to topple White over. This was the exact technique and set up Machida duped Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou with. From the clinch, Machida uses his upper-body to off-balance and get the same result.
Besides retreating with a variety of circling and angles, the other staple in Machida's toolbox for aggressive opponents has been his straight knee to the body.
After setting the tone of moving back and out of range most of the time, Machida will suddenly switch directions and vault straight forward with a low knee, using the momentum of his attacker against them. He scored regularly with this technique against Rua and, to the left, against Ortiz. What was downright befuddling is how poorly Machida's movement was in his consecutive losses to Shogun and Rampage. It wasn't just "not as amazing as usual", it was just plain bad.
To the left are some uncharacteristic examples of Machida making the mistake of retreating in a straight line. Rampage came straight at him but still was able to find the mark with punches and constrain him against the fence. Those same errors could be fatal against Jones.
It was equally concerning to see these lapses occur after he'd demonstrated such a commanding grasp of evasive footwork in his entire fight career. Regardless, it's crystal clear that an emphasis on feints, unpredictable footwork and avoiding straight-line retreats at all costs will be imperative, especially as Jones can cover more ground as both a striking and takedown threat.
Should Jones and Machida clinch up, I'm interested to see how Lyoto fares. Jones has been devastating in the clinch with throws, dirty boxing and knees, but Machida has also displayed a surprisingly substantial base and balance with under-rated takedown prowess of his own.
Again shifting gears from running away eternally to moving ahead and attacking aggressively, Machida snares a strong body lock on Ortiz to the right and establishes a deep center of gravity by planting both feet on either side of Ortiz's outside leg. Gathering himself, Machida plants and torques his upper body to send Ortiz flailing backward to the mat. I'm not saying Machida will do the same to Jones, but he might hold his own more so than others.
What first really attracted my attention was the spinning back elbow of Jon Jones. Not only was it unbelievably effective here against Bonnar, but the way he set it up against Gusmao by knifing low for a single leg and then landing it square to the face when Gusmao dropped his hands to defend the takedown is one of my favorite combinations of all time.
A spectacular ability to piece together an assortment of different martial arts techniques is what I find most impressive about Jones. His intelligence in strike selection and vastly diversified arsenal become even more ominous when delivered by the utterly freakish length of his wiry frame.
It's no coincidence that the fighters who are currently dominating their weight classes (Jones, Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva) all have the same physical features of being incredibly long and lean while still maintaining significant strength.
The jaw-dropping 84" reach length of Jones is virtually unheard of in MMA for his division. Jones gangly reach is the same as heavyweight Stefan Struve who is almost seven-feet tall. To have a reach comparable with the UFC's tallest heavyweight while simultaneously being one of the strongest and best wrestlers is an absolutely unequivocal package.
The kid is so insanely talented in all areas that attempting to analyze him is almost futile.
His striking is powerful and diverse with his hands and his feet, his control of range of ridiculous, his clinch game is rife with brutal knees, dirty boxing and paralyzing control and he's also taken down the best wrestlers he's ever faced.
He's also highly intelligent, as we see to the left in his precise timing with the kick just as Rua no longer qualifies as a downed opponent.
Though you could probably get away with saying he's unproven against elite submission fighters, his composure, top control and his own submission voracity has been so insurmountable that it's hard to imagine it as a flaw. Either way, Lyoto is slick with submissions but I wouldn't deem him as elite in that aspect.
For the final touting on Jones, his confidence and creativity to step over for the ankle lock against Shogun is astounding (as is the slicing back fist that he lands precisely to the face, almost as an afterthought).
I don't think the question is who should be favored but whether Machida has a legit chance. I was just as shocked as some of our readers to see a good number of the staff picks for Machida. I've been pretty reluctant to hop on his bandwagon, but I'm pretty sold on the skills and potential of Jones, who miraculously continues to improve in each outing.
Lyoto should be slippery and unorthodox enough to avoid getting finished but I see him losing a convincing decision.
My Prediction: Jon Jones by decision