Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida
Clarence Byron "The Doberman" Dollaway
CB Dollaway takes on Lyoto Machida in a middleweight showdown in the main event of UFC Fight Night 59 in Ginásio José Corrêa Arena in Barueri, Brazil on December 20th.
Single line summary:
Phil: The underdog who refuses to die takes on the darling of MMA hipsters everywhere.
David: Trailer park Matt Damon squares off against real life Ryu.
History Lesson / Introduction:
Phil: Lyoto Machida is a fan-favourite. The nimble karateka won his way to the UFC's light heavyweight title, taking it with a highlight-reel knockout over Rashad Evans. He defended once (a legendarily controversial decision over Shogun Rua), before being knocked out by his countryman when they rematched. After a failed bid to regain the belt against Jon Jones, he made his way to middleweight, where he fought current champion Chris Weidman in one of the best bouts of 2014.
David: After all these years, with all the hype and misguided hyperbole thrown Machida's way, I don't think anyone has ever truly "solved" Machida. People get lost in criticizing how his talents failed to manifest into true greatness instead of how his talents haven't experienced a real foil. How many fighters have actually dominated Machida through mechanics, and outcome? Jones' physical presence was overwhelming for Machida's stature, Weidman owes Machida a rematch, and even a prime Shogun wouldn't duplicate what he did in their rematch. This is not to say Machida is still secretly in possession of an "era" he owns in a parallel universe. Just that I think we still underrate his talents even against the backdrop of hyperbole. His fight with Weidman was one of the best title fights I've seen.
Phil: CB Dollaway is not a fan-favourite, and he doesn't care. After losing by Amir Sadollah twice in the Ultimate Fighter by armbar, he went on an endemically "UFC middleweight" run, establishing himself as a kind of low-to-midrange fragile wrestleboxer. Recently he's changed that, with a run of four upset victories, following a controversial decision loss to Tim Boetsch.
David: Dollaway never impressed me on the show. A lot of hype, only to be beaten by Amir Sadollah on the show, and then on the finals when Jesse Taylor became a really easy scapegoat for Zuffa to get a more exciting fighter into the finals. However, there's no question he's improved as a fighter. He's like a less spastic Urijah Faber: excellent in the scrambles, but so responsible defensively that he can domino effect his way into victory.
What are the stakes?
Phil: This fight has been made to showcase Machida in Brazil, with what Zuffa is no doubt hoping will end with a nice KO of the Doberman. CB has technically has earned the right to go up against this kind of competition, but most would agree he has little chance of upsetting the applecart. Then again, Clarence Byron has made something of a career of defying the odds of late. Given that, these numbers seem particularly ludicrous.
David: I sort of agree. It's definitely a showcase fight, but one that feels fitting. Dollaway is on a nice run, and deserving of a bigger fight. Machida needs to stay warm before rematching Weidman should it happen. It's a little much for CB, but he at least deserves it.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Machida is an outside fighter. He normally maintains distance, flicks out a selection of leg, body and head-kicks, and tries to get opponents to run into his crashing left straight. However, unlike many specialist fighters, particularly those with "unique" styles, Machida's game is particularly well put together: he has a good clinch game, and a nasty, boar-spear of a stepping knee which he throws to the liver as his opponents close in. In addition, he has excellent balance and an array of inside and outside trips from the clinch. His skill in close means that even strong chain wrestlers have really struggled to get much going.
If Machida is one of the most unique fighters in the UFC, then CB is, on first glance, one of the most generic: a right-handed wrestleboxer? Vive la difference! However, it's the subtle details which have made him a real threat. His boxing has steadily improved, making him both offensively more dangerous and more diverse, and meaning that he gets hit when he's out of position less and is more prepared to take strikes. In particular, he showed a good (and rare) comfort and confidence in staying in the pocket in the middle of a wild, multi-punch combination from Cezar Ferreira, subsequently melting the Brazilian with a counter. Unlike many who make these kind of improvements, he's kept a solid grasp on the fundamentals of phase-shifting between strikes and takedowns, much like his teammate Ryan Bader. If he makes it to the mat, he compensates for lesser natural power with more of a gift for scrambling and submissions. I've compared CB to a slightly worse version of Mark Munoz before, and I think the comparison still stands, although the gap between the two has narrowed (or even closed).
David: That's what makes CB so dangerous. He focuses on his strengths rather than tutoring his weaknesses. I realize all fighters search for mythical 'perfection', but your weaknesses exist precisely because they're hardwired. Your strengths exist for the same reason; why not become better at what you're good at than better at what you're not good at? Obviously, this isn't to say you should ignore certain aspects of your game, or not be aware of your flaws. However, Dollaway is turning into a special fighter because he's gifted offensively, and doesn't care for the so called axiom of "defense winning championships".
I agree his striking has improved. But more than that, he's developing a durability nobody identified him with early in his career. At the same time, his ability to threaten, risk, and execute submission offense has steadily grown, making him an ideal offensive fighter - one who is a constant threat in a world that rewards the accumulation of threats.
Insight from past fights:
Phil: Dollaway vs Francis Carmont was interesting, because it showed how Dollaway deals with a range differential. With Machida, it's going to be that the karateka is faster than him. With Carmont it was that "Limitless" is taller. Both are powerful kickers, and Carmont was able to hurt Dollaway to the body. CB overcame this by basically running through Carmont with double leg takedowns. It's... difficult to see that kind of approach working against Machida.
David: True. But Carmont's versatility is heavily limited. I feel like there's more to learn against Daniel Sarafian. Sarafian probably isn't even the better fighter, let alone the better specialist in contrast to any element of Machida's game, but Sarafian has a similarly efficient means to scrapping, even if he's turning into a bust.
The obvious point in favor of Machida is that Dollaway is incredibly porous on the feet, and on the ground. His emphasis on offense leaves him vulnerable everywhere else. Machida continues expanding his game in subtle ways: the way he pressures fighters is a little different when you look at how he moves forward against Weidman vs. say, Phil Davis.
Machida has never been an actual counter puncher. Rather, he uses counter punches to compliment his general pressure on the feet. If there's one place we can speak to CB's chances, it's in any sort of scramble. Yes, Machida is a high level grappler, but so is Rany Yahya, and he got submitted by JZ. Which underlines how critical it can be to focus on submission moves that require less setup, like the guillotine. Is it possible CB goads Machida into this kind of scrap?
Phil: Both the main and the co-main are obvious softballs, and for obvious reasons. I think the UFC is worried that it's losing its grip on the Brazilian market, and their marquee fighters are getting babied a bit. That said, Machida looked great against Weidman, but I worry that it's the kind of "great" which is the last flare of brilliance from an incredible fighter. Watching Machida throwing himself into the clinch with Weidman in the last seconds of the fight, deliberately discarding all the patience, all the elegant technique which defined his career in one incredible, desperate, and ultimately doomed salvo... it felt like watching his heart breaking. The last breath of the dragon, so to speak.
David: Yea, but Machida has been prone to mistakes like that before. People tend to confuse aptitude with awareness. Machida is defensively capable, and even brilliant, but he experiences neural turbulence from time to time when he smells blood in the octagon. The Shogun rematch was a defining example: he threw an awful, overly aggressive punch that got him slept. Same thing against Jones.
Phil: This is a ferociously awful matchup for Dollaway. Not as bad as the odds make it, but bad. Even if Machida turns up as a shadow of his former self, Dollaway doesn't have the range game to tangle with the Dragon on the feet, and he doesn't have the elite takedowns to get the karateka down consistently. Others have been able to take advantage of Machida's inactivity in the early rounds to sneak out underwhelming split decisions, but CB needs to win 3 out of 5 rounds. In addition, he is still much more frail than anyone who has lasted the distance with Machida. Lyoto Machida by TKO, round 2.
David: If CB can create chances on the ground, during sweeps, scrambles, etc he has a chance. Still, I won't kid myself into thinking Machida has gotten older while Dollaway has suddenly gotten smarter. Machida by TKO, round 2.