No original gifs in this one, all are from ironforgesiron.com. Too much work, not enough motivation.
So I'm a huge Machida fan, and maaaan am I a sad panda after last night.
It's extremely tough watching a favorite fighter lose, especially in brutal fashion. I thought it appropriate to write a little about Machida's performance, how he lost, and what it means.
First, last, and most important, Jon Jones is the better fighter. This takes nothing away from Machida, Jon Jones is just head and shoulders above everyone not named Anderson Silva or in the heavyweight division. Side note, yes, Jones would destroy Anderson. I think that's more of a style issue than a "better" thing, but regardless, Anderson's accomplishments are impeccable. I'm still ranking him #1.
The Lyoto Machida we saw last night, however, was the best we've ever seen. The first round, in particular, Lyoto put on a masterful performance that threw Jones off his game for the first time in the UFC. I have to admit that this surprised me. I expected that Jones' reach would pose a problem for Machida similar to the rest of Jones' opponents. My reasoning was, even though Machida was comfortable at kicking range, Jones has such long limbs that Machida's kicking range will be Jones' punching range, and the traps inherent in Machida's stance would leave him vulnerable to Jones' boxing. It turns out, though, that meeting a fighter that kept the same range as him left Jones distinctly uncomfortable. In addition, Jones' mediocre boxing didn't allow him to take advantage of his reach, the looping lead hook he waded in with in the first round didn't land even once. In sum, TheFilt said it best:
Machida on the other hand is a Shotokan World Champion. To be honest, Jones’ last fight looked a bit like a point Karate match. I just don’t see him winning one of those with Lyoto.
The difference in confidence was very obvious, Machida looked more confident than I've ever seen him in that first round. He did everything perfectly, moving constantly without being jittery, setting and charging in when he could, defending or moving away from Jones' kicks without ever taking his eyes off of Jones' upper body, and mixing up his attack. It was goddamned beautiful while it lasted. Even the few times Jones came close with a strike, like the clinch knee below, Machida's confidence seemed unshakable.
He continued his Anderson Silva-style hand movement and Jones seemed confused about how to stop that straightforward rush seen above. The problem was worse when Jones tried the low kick, well established as a good weapon for him and a great idea against Machida.
Unlike Shogun in his fight with Machida, Jones makes an elementary mistake in kicking technique that is far too common in MMA. He hasn't "gotten" yet that a roundhouse thrown with less commitment is actually more dangerous in terms of the counterpunch than one thrown with full commitment. Shogun, being the Muay Thai expert he is, pretty much always turns his entire upper body far enough that the shoulder on the kicking side covers his chin. Jones, turning his body only partway, does not. See my other writings (here or here) for more about this.
In this fight, the Martian Manhunter was out-struck in a round for the first time in the UFC, and that's remarkable. Unfortunately for Machida, MMA takes place in 3 phases and as I'd fretted, Jones' wrestling was the game-changer. After going back to his corner clearly looking concerned between rounds 1 and 2, Jones turned the tables on Machida after the takedown and elbow.
I say turned the tables not just because it changed the momentum of the fight, or because it was the turning point in the fight, but because this sequence above totally took away Machida's confidence. He said as much after the fight, saying that the cut totally changed the fight for him. It was very evident as Lyoto broke from the clinch following the above sequence that things had changed. Gone was the Anderson Silva hand movement, gone were the upper body leans from side to side, gone was the balanced shift from foot to foot. Instead, the threat of Jones' wrestling had Machida desperate to keep range instead of owning that distance. It made Machida back up against the fence until he had nowhere to go, and exchange in punching range with an ill-advised left overhand that Jones showed surprising punching power in countering (also great strategy in using a superman punch, the fake kick drew Machida's intended counter).
People are talking about the adjustments Jon made to start the second, and he did indeed make adjustments; he decided to use his wrestling. He also used more body kicks, which are harder to counter punch over top, but Jones outstruck Machida in the same way that Georges St. Pierre outstruck Thiago Alves. It was the takedown and ground 'n pound that made Machida plant his feet, stay stationary, and become tentative in his striking (incidentally, this is what Georges has to do to Nick Diaz should they ever meet, otherwise Nick will box his ears off).
I'm not mad that Jones won, nor am I mad about the drop after the choke. The ref tells you to let go, you let go quick. I'm not even mad at Jones about the whole, "Check on him to get fans!" thing, I just think he was listening to his trainer/manager and that trainer happens to be a raging douche. I'm not a Jones hater, though I used to dislike him for stabbing Rashad in the back, but the more I learn about Greg Jackson the more I think it was just a bullshit philosophy from a trainer who's much more "fake" than the fighter he coaches, and Jon, being young, followed his trainer.
We learned a few things about Jones last night. 1. He can be rocked, but he can also take a shot. 2. A counterstriker who is comfortable at range could win, if not for the requirement that they must be able to stay on their feet (the latter part being why I'm not interested in a Shogun rematch with Jones), and no other fighter like that exists in the LHW division. 3. Once again, and like I've said before, guard does not apply to Jon Jones. A Rashad Evans match is the only one I'm interested in for Jones, and only barely. Rashad simply does not have the striking at range to compete standing, so putting Jones on his back is the only shot he has.
I'm really here about Machida though. I'm very sad he lost, but I'm not disappointed in his performance. Jon Jones is simply a better wrestler, with possibly the best ground 'n pound in the sport right now, and Machida put on bar-none the best performance of his career for the first 5 minutes, against the toughest fighter he's ever faced. Some
"writers" that should be ashamed to call themselves such writers have claimed that Jones made Machida quit in the second, but I disagree. The elbow, the wrestling, and the ground 'n pound clearly took away Machida's confidence, but not his will to fight. Those are not the same thing. How do I know? When it all came down to it at the end, Machida is a man of his word, and he lived by the creed he set forth after UFC 84:
I will die, but I will not tap.
Compare Machida's post-choke flop to the canvas to Rashad's at UFC 98. Ridicule his 1-3 record over his past 4 fights. Proclaim Jones the best in the world in any weight class. None of that takes away from the skill or heart that Lyoto showed in the octagon Saturday night. He didn't decide to talk smack instead of fighting, like Rashad did before being rendered unconscious. He didn't talk about Jones not deserving his success or ridicule him like Rampage did. Machida showed up in the best shape of his life and showed how good he is, before we learned that Jones is just better.
If choker, cheater, and felon Chael Sonnen can call himself champion, then Lyoto is still the once-and-future champion in my mind. Perverse as it may sound, given the performance he gave in the cage, heart he showed, and the integrity he displayed by living to his words, this is still the face of a champion to me:
"I will die, but I will not tap."