UFC on Fox 4 may have been the card of the year and a return to form for the UFC after several awful cards. The night produced a war between Mauricio Rua and Brandon Vera which, aside from being entertaining, only served to show how far Shogun has slipped. Shogun's surgeries, wars and age have all slowed him down to the point where his poor form on the feet is getting him beaten up by fighters who don't belong in the top 20 of the division. We were also treated to another spectacular performance by Lyoto Machida last night as he starched Ryan Bader with the what seemed like the second significant punch that he threw. The performance was vintage Machida in that his opponent had no idea how to deal with him.
I'll get the burning question out of the way first. Did Machida show anything that said a fight with Jon Jones would go any differently? No. The reason he was knocked down and subsequently guillotined by Jones was his diving in counters with his non-punching hand out of position. What did we see last night? A spectacular Lyoto Machida counter, with his non-punching hand out of position. If Jones establishes his kicks and then attacks Machida with the superman hook from the same stance, the exact same thing will happen because Machida's non-punching side is so open to attack. However it's worth taking a look at this counter and some of the counters that we have already examined to establish just how good Machida's timing and distancing is.
Today we'll compare Lyoto's same stance counter against Jones and against Bader.
Against Ryan Bader, Lyoto Machida maintained the distance between them for almost the entire fight - aside from a brief clinch. Closing the distance is the hardest part in any striking discipline, and Machida's distancing forces opponents to cross an exaggerated distance to reach him. Even Mike Tyson got clipped coming in, and he, unlike Bader, had great head movement. Ryan Bader simply did nothing for the first round, except eat a slapping roundhouse kick from Machida, but in the second round finally lost his patience. He bum-rushed Machida with his right hand cocked at shoulder height and no head movement, in exactly the same way that Urijah Faber dropped Dominick Cruz. Unlike Cruz, however, Machida expects people to run at him and in fact wants it.
As Bader ran forward with his head up, Machida leaped forward (in the same stance) with a right straight. Lyoto's lead arm was fortunately in the position to take the power off of Bader's punch, but Lyoto still got clipped, as you will notice in the bottom right frame. (G) (G) Clearly Machida is making more an effort to keep his non-punching hand up but Jones' rear hook would have connected just the same around Machida's lead arm. It was more Bader's punch moving in on a line rather than a curve that allowed Lyoto to block Bader's power. Of course it helps that Bader was running face first onto Machida's punch and has a suspect chin, but it is clear that Machida knows that dropping his non-punching hand got him knocked out against Jones.
My concern with Machida's rematch with Jones is the same as my gripe with Cain Velasquez's rematch with Junior dos Santos. One fight is not a long time to change fundamental errors. Machida showed very little improvement in his game in this fight. As much as fans will continue to talk about the couple of pounds that he lost for the fight, or the "new Machida", he showed exactly the same skill set that he has in other fights - Bader just wasn't a good enough opponent to have an answer.
Just as Cain Velasquez has received a rematch with Junior Dos Santos based on his taking Antonio Silva down in the opening seconds of their bout and pounding him out. Everyone knew Cain could wrestle - it's the glaring flaws in his striking that need improvement before a rematch with Dos Santos. Everyone knows that Machida is a great counter fighter - it's the holes in his kickboxing form that got him hurt against Jones, and there is little evidence that they have disappeared.
To demonstrate the point I am speaking about I shall again show Jones' spectacular finish of Machida. Jon Jones established his kicks early in the fight, in hopes of getting Machida to attempt a counter - in fact he got a little overconfident and ended up eating a counter early in the fight. (G) Once he had taken Machida down and roughed him up a bit, Machida was still completely functioning aside from a large cut. It was then that Jones unleashed his "superman left hook".
Jones switched to the same stance as Machida, faked a kick and connected a rear hook. This was possible due to Machida's non-punching hand being in no position to block - a bad habit from karate that he shows routinely. (G) It is likely that Machida's arm in the counter against Bader would not have been in position to defend against the rear hook, and this is of great concern as the superman rear hook is a tactic Jones would likely use again. This was also not a one off event in the fight - Jones hit Machida with a hard rear hook on the jaw in the first round - showing not just how good Machida's chin is, but how open he is to this punch.
You will notice (in the gif) that Jones blocks Machida's punch because his non-punching hand is in position to defend, where Machida eats Jones' punch as he attempts his signature counter. Machida can get away with having his non-punching hand low when he is fighting in the opposite stance to his opponent (or open guard) due to his head being outside of their lead shoulder, as it was against Rashad Evans. (G)
Lyoto Machida is a brilliant nemesis for Jon Jones - he is smaller and weaker, but has elite timing and greater speed. He is also the humble karate master to Jones' young upstart wrestler. I have always maintained that excepting Jones getting lazy against opponents with big punching power - Machida is the best stylistic match up on the feet because he naturally fights from a distance that exceeds Jones' reach - where Shogun, Evans, Rampage all fight from boxing / kickboxing / brawling range and simply cannot get through Jones' reach. I am of the opinion that this rematch is being set up far too early. What we need is Machida to take another match against a top flight opponent such as Alexander Gustafsson, rather than being pushed straight to a title shot without time to make changes and test them in action.
In truth I would love to see Machida go down to 185lbs, simply because he is one of the least physically gifted top 10 fighters in the world. If he were in a weightclass with men more to his size and learned to keep his non-punching hand up, I doubt we would see him lose another fight. Especially with the weak state of the middleweight division and the impending retirement of Anderson Silva.