This piece was written before Lyoto Machida reportedly turned down a rematch with Rashad Evans.
The past 24 hours have surely been a taxing time for Joe Silva, Dana White, and the UFC. Since Phil Davis pulled out of the UFC 133 main event with Rashad Evans, we've had various conflicting reports. First it was definitely Rashad vs. Lyoto Machida 2, then that was a maybe, then it was 100% official, now it's up in the air again. Add in talks with Tito Ortiz, and you have a situation that remains very confusing. For Rashad, this has to be frustrating. He's been training for Phil Davis for some time, and a switch to another opponent, especially an opponent as different from Davis as Lyoto, means some serious changes to his camp. However, for Rashad Evans, a UFC 133 fight with Lyoto Machida would present a unique opportunity. It would be a chance for Evans to avenge the one loss in his otherwise perfect MMA career, and to immediately become the clear-cut #1 contender for the Light Heavyweight championship.
But it also would present a tough challenge. These two men squared off once before, nearly two years ago at UFC 98. There, Rashad lost, and he lost hard, being knocked unconscious by a Machida flurry. Should Rashad Evans find himself standing across the cage from Lyoto Machida on August 6, he will need to overcome the problems that led to his demise last time. Here, we break down what went wrong for Rashad in that 1st fight, and the four key adjustments he needs to make if he wants to win the rematch.
1. Return to wrestling - This was a huge factor in the first fight. Riding high off his KO victory over Chuck Liddell and his impressive stand-up against Forrest Griffin, Rashad decided to make the Machida fight a total stand-up battle. At no point did he attempt a takedown, choosing instead to engage the Dragon in Machida's strongest discipline. The results of this strategy speak for themselves. Rashad needs to refocus on his wrestling and take Lyoto down. It seems likely that this will be his strategy, as his two fights since the Lyoto loss have seen more ground action and takedown attempts by Rashad.
The potential trouble with this plan is that Rashad has never been a dominant force on the ground. In his early UFC days, when his wrestling was more front and center, he won fights through positional control and repeated takedowns, but typically did not overwhelm his opponents with submission attempts or ground and pound. Can he simply hold Lyoto down for three rounds?
2. Take the lead and don't be passive - Rewatching the first fight, you can see just how passive Rashad was. Aside from allowing Lyoto to keep the fight standing, he also lets the challenger dominate the stand-up. Rashad spends most of the fight far outside punching range, a move that causes Rashad to be unable to connect with punches, but leaves him vulnerable to Lyoto's superior kicks. He also gives up the center of the cage, moving about the outside and letting Lyoto take the dominant center position. This lack of dominant positioning for Rashad continues in the footwork. Lyoto fights most of this contest in the southpaw stance, which means the two have their opposite feet forward. In this case, the fighter with his lead foot outside his opponent's lead foot has a more dominant position as he can work better angles. Rashad routinely yields this foot positioning to Lyoto.
The end result of this passivity is that Lyoto was able to dictate where the fight took place and consistently put Rashad in positions that played to Lyoto's strengths. With this superior positioning, Lyoto outlanded Rashad by a margin of 34 to 7 according to CompuStrike. Evans must close this gap to win.
3. Get inside - The best success Rashad saw is when the two men got in close and engaged in a brief slugfest. This is a risky strategy, but when fighting from the outside is not a viable plan, closing that distance and getting into punching range is the only other stand-up option. Lyoto's game is built around using angles and feints from the outside to catch his opponent, and he executed that game flawlessly to defeat Rashad. Take him out of that game and that comfort zone, and you increase your chances of victory.
4. Keep the hands up - This one pretty much speaks for itself. Rashad tends to not hold his hands tight to his head when boxing, either allowing them to drop down towards his waist, or keeping his left hand extended in a pawing jab meant to distract the opponent. Both positions leave the head exposed, and against a supremely technical striker like Machida, that is simply not an opening you can allow. It's especially important against Lyoto, who is very good at using his hands to force your hands down and create that opening. Rashad can't give away those openings himself.
These are tough changes to implement on a short timeframe, and if Lyoto accepts the fight, Rashad will still have to decide what is in his best interest. The toughest kind of opponent for Rashad is a technical striker, and Lyoto Machida is the best technical striker in the Light Heavyweight division today. If Rashad gets this rematch, and wins, it will be a huge moment for him. But he will definitely have his work cut out for him.