The words "welcome to the Machida Era" uttered by Joe Rogan May 23rd, 2009 at UFC 98 are a well worn punchline at this point. But it wasn't always so funny. Who wasn't entranced by Lyoto Machida's unique style? Who didn't find his methods intoxicating?
Sure, Machida had his critics. But it certainly seemed like his win over Rashad Evans had ushered in a new 'era'. Nobody was gonna figure out his unique style. Machida was more Fermat's Last Theorem than a Rubik's Cube. But with two official losses behind him (many would argue three), the mystery is gone: the scrutiny of his skills resigned to the equivalent of a Ninja Turtle arcade game.
But is that to say he has nothing to offer Jon Jones this weekend at UFC 140? You would think so. I think it's fair to say there are not many people who think Machida stands a good chance. And why should they? Jones just obliterated Quinton Jackson and Mauricio Rua: the only two guys to beat Machida.
You're not gonna see me laying down money on Machida. But I do think, that on paper, Machida is an interesting opponent. Against Jackson, Jones had to deal with Quinton's lunging combinations. Against Rua, Jones had to deal with whether or not he'd break his hands on Shogun's face. But I wonder, for devil's advocate sake, if Jones' own style of intoxicating violence hasn't deluded us into thinking he too, is invincible?
Jones is a world class fighter, and his potential to dominate LHW is something I find difficult to question. But he's still young. His boxing still leaves a bit to be desired, and he maintains range with just his feet. He does these well, be he's done them well against opponents who either only knew how to come forward, or who stayed in range.
I don't think Machida lends himself to these descriptions: he's a counter puncher, but he moves forward, and he gets out fast. In addition, if Jones does have success taking down Machida, expect it to be limited. Jones is not a double leg wrestler, and typically scores his takedowns from the clinch. Machida happens to thrive in the clinch, and his sumo background, while atypical, has aided him immensely.
While Dallas Winston will no doubt break this fight down far better than I ever will, the old cliche is worth repeating: styles make fights. Machida only ever took a stupid breath in his second fight with Rua at UFC 113: watching that fight recently I was struck by how aggressive Machida was early on. When he gets caught, it's while he's lunging in for a left: something highly uncharacteristic of a fighter typically heralded for his ability to maintain distance.
I don't expect Machida to make that same mistake, and he hasn't, despite the controversial loss to Quinton Jackson. The talking point when it comes to Jones often centers around his maturity. Jones can be disagreeable, and the Evans fiasco inflamed that perception.
But what I find interesting about this fight is that Machida will, I think, reveal much about Jones' maturity in the cage. The perception of Machida may not be what it once was, but that's not to say he should be taken any less seriously. Every opponent who beat Machida had to tweak bits of their game: Shogun was never more measured, or calculated with his striking than in their first match (I'd argue it was the best Shogun has ever looked, Pride days included), and Quinton fought with a real gameplan in successfully pressuring Machida (to the extent that he was successful).
Fighting Machida requires at least some adjustment. And so it's at least moderately shocking that he's flown so low under the media radar. I don't think he'll win. But I do think Jones can look vulnerable if he ignores whatever adjustments Machida will force him to make. Less Modern English, and more Talking Heads, Machida is no one hit wonder. Jones would do well to remember that.