When we last left our heroes...This fight reminds me of being a snot-nosed kid whose only responsibilities in the world was fitting in, and watching the movies I thought would allow me to do so. Like an old kung fu movie, you wait close to 90 minutes, having seen the protagonist and antagonist in action, swiftly beating up arbitrary henchmen and sidekicks respectively...and now you just want to see them duel head to head in unarmed combat so that when the movie's over, you get to practice all those cool, unusual moves only stunt men and actors can do.
This fight is that film.
It's frankly, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise forgettable week. So now's not the time to remember that Gilbert Melendez may not lace up a pair of UFC gloves just because Dana White is trying to lowball a premiere talent 15 minute's worth of blackjack money. Or to dwell on Dana's unhinging. No...now is not that time.
Machida seems to be getting his second wind. Other than Jon Jones and Mauricio Rua, Machida hasn't had to deal with many embarrassing defeats. Usually it's him doing the embarrassing. He comes into this match with a brutal head kick KO (despite being half-blocked) over Mark Munoz.
Across from him is Gegard Mousasi. Mousasi is an enigmatic figure in some ways. Even early in his career when his armbar loss to Akihiro Gono was in close proximity, he was oozing with potential. However, that potential stalled for reasons I still can't quite identify.
Needless to say, this is a big fight for the athlete who once took the MMA world by storm with his string of DREAM Middleweight Grand Prix performances.
Here's BE's Kid Nate, Dallas Winston and Zane Connor break down the fight on the MMA Vivisection:
What both men can do: Thankfully Connor has made my job much easier. So I'd like to quote him from his Judo Chop the other day, with respect to Machida's unique offensive talent:
"From the start of the fight, Machida is calculating, testing, and cataloging the reactions of his opponent. In a word, it all comes down to Machida's extensive use of feints. "What does he do when I do... this? How about this!" Machida's various jumps, weight shifts, pivots, and arm waggles are all a part of the process to landing that beautiful counter."
What I never understood was the criticism of Machida's inability to fight for finishes. Fighting to a decision, and going to a decision are vastly different things.
Yes, Machida is a patient counter striker, but his Karate background allows him to initiate much more than he reacts. He sets up his reactive punches with proactive movement, and this rhythm is why he's had so many brilliant third rounds. His first three bouts in the UFC, which all went to decision, were incredibly misleading. Sam Hoger, and David Heath were all badly hurt in the 3rd round. It's easy to envision him having a much ore emphatic start to his UFC career.
To that end I've never thought of Machida as a real counter striker. Rather, his counter striking is the means as opposed to the end.
As for his jiu jitsu, much is made of it, but it's not where he wants or should be. There are a lot of unique angles to how these two men will interact. Both men, while possessing stellar grappling, really own top control. Mousasi has better hips from the bottom, but Machida has better balance and only slightly better takedowns.
As for Gegard, his boxing is a technical marvel from an MMA standpoint. A lot of people I think look at the Jardine and Muhammed Lawal fights and think, "well if he couldn't beat those guys?" A few things. Styles make fights of course. Lawal was able to land punches by virtue of the fact that he was constantly putting Mousasi on his back. This isn't an element of Machida's game insofar as it's not a habit. And Jardine was getting hammered at times. I'm not sure what the judges were watching. Even so, for those concerned about whether or not a few occasions make a man...is drawing with Jardine any less of an anomaly than Tito Ortiz nearly triangle choking Machida? I don't think so.
Mousasi will have more punches to land strikes in this fight, which is what he's good at. He has a brilliant jab, but I've always thought of Mousasi as a counter striker with the instincts of a brawler. He wants to move forward, pressure with his "trip-hammer", and land combinations in tight.
He has an uncanny ability to capitalize on his opponent's flaws. A lot of people would have said beforehand that fighting K-1 vet Musashi would be an uphill battle. It wasn't. Mousasi, knowing Musashi's lowkey patient counter striking game might have a difficult time with an all out blitz, did just that and destroyed him. This next part is more difficult...
What both men can't do: This is where it gets tricky, and so tremendously interesting. The clinch favors Machida if the purpose is to get the fight to the ground. However, the clinch favors Mousasi if the purpose is to garner points, and land strikes in close.
One of the fights I returned to that I remember enjoying was Machida's fight with K-1 mountain, Sam Greco. I remember finding it fascinating because it was the first time I could recall an MMA fighter outright battling a K-1 fighter on his own turf. And harcore fans already knew about Machida since it was his 2nd fight after beating Rich Franklin, who had already fought twice in the UFC at the time.
The fight was interesting because Greco seemed to be have no problem grappling with Machida while Machida seemed to have no problem striking with Greco. Two things though: Greco had a ton of success taking out Machida's right leg (I wouldn't be surprised if Shogun studied this bout before their two title fights), and Machida was never deterred. He landed several stinging lefts, which illustrates one of the finer points of Machida's game: his willingness. I always felt like there was nothing egregious about his first fight with Shogun. The only thing egregious was Rogan's hyperbolic commentary.
Nonetheless, Mousasi will look to replicate some of this success. Machida is susceptible to leg kicks. However, he's willing to land that straight left at said cost. I feel like this bout will look a lot like Greco vs. Machida, which was basically a less dramatic version of Shogun vs. Machida. Mousasi will land some heavy strikes, but Machida's mixture of left hands and takedowns will turn this into a traditional Lyoto fight....just with an abundance of technique in response.
X-Factor(s): The cage vs. the ring. As one of the readers pointed out, this factor shouldn't be ignored. It's reasonable to consider that Jardine doesn't survive against Mousasi if he doesn't have a cage to keep circling in. This bout is much more fascinating in the ring from a striking perspective.
In-Fight Soundtrack: MMA hasn't put us in a good mood lately. We need to be in a good mood. This fight puts me in a good mood. Let's all enjoy a song that puts us in a good mood. If you can't enjoy this tune, I don't want to know you, and neither does anyone else.
Prediction: Lyoto Machida via Decision.