Chris Weidman vs. Lyoto Machida Light Heavyweight
Chris Weidman has been one of the most sudden things to happen in the world of mixed martial arts. The notion that Anderson Silva has lost not just once in the UFC, but twice to the same man who now holds the MW crown still seems extraterrestrial. The reality of Silva being a broken man in the division he's ruled with an iron fist since 2006 hasn't sunk in.
There are plenty of reasons for that. Weidman doesn't seem particularly special. He looks and fights like your garden variety wrestle boxer with some good finishing skills to the casual fan. With respect to Anderson Silva, well, 'so what?' the casual fans and Silva advocates bellow. Weidman beat Silva because Silva got arrogant, and then again only because of a freak injury. As an Anderson Silva fanboy, those narratives sound attractive. But they're not the reality.
It's unfortunate that Weidman has had to deal with such an undeserved amount of skepticism. It's ok to hold the opinion that he may not be as dynamic as others, or that his reign may not last long. It's not ok to diminish his accomplishments. Lest we forget he's basically knocked out Silva twice.
As for Machida, he still captures the imagination for a lot of people. After all, he's only been definitely beaten twice: once against Shogun, who he beat prior (always felt like the first fight was hilariously overblown as a robbery as opposed to a close and competitive fight), and Jon Jones. His fight with Gegard Mousasi seemed like a real test of just how legitimate his striking was, and comfortably won that bout in very impressive display.
It's hard not to be excited about this matchup. After all, Machida won't make the same mistakes Silva did. That sounds weird to say about a guy we considered masterful for so many years, but Anderson was never the perfect technician: he was a master at avoiding being punished for his eccentricities. Machida is not an eccentric: he's a no nonsense specialist who fights one way.
First off, let's talk about what makes Weidman so freakishly good. On the surface, he looks like a wrestle-boxer who happens to have excellent grappling chops (so not a wrestle-boxer basically). His finishing instincts are second to none: he has an almost supernatural way of slithering his arms around an opponent's neck for chokes. But it's worth talking about his striking, because I think fans tend to view his striking as bland.
It's not as sexy as other fighters, sure, but there's much more that meets the eye. For one, he's defensively sound. It's no mistake that Silva lost to him twice. In both fights Silva had time to intimidate and figure Weidman out. In both fights he used efficient head movement to avoid being tagged while sticking to a sturdy jab of his own. He also possesses some more than reasonable power, especially with his right hand. Part of it comes from his raw strength, but most of it comes via technique where he constantly leaves himself well positioned. You see this especially on the ground where he angles himself to land as accurately as pugilistically possible.
As for Machida, his talents are well documented. So much so, that going over his strengths feels repetitive for many a reader. The real takeaway when it comes to Machida's style is that he's pegged as some sort of counter striker when that simply isn't the truth. Yes, he's capable of countering going backwards, but his strength is in how he pressures his opponent while avoiding damage using his wheels and positioning.
Just look at his knockout wins, or bouts where he did a lot of damage. Against Mark Munoz, Rashad Evans, Thiago Silva, and Randy Couture he scored knockouts while moving forward. Ryan Bader more or less gift wrapped him the knockout win. He doesn't look for the knockout punch; he looks for the most accurate punch (or kick).
With this in mind, I'm going with Machida. Connor's excellent breakdown of Weidman's deficiencies help illuminate why: Wiedman is prone to body attacks and combination striking. Weidman is still a relative novice. His fight with Anderson hasn't prepared him for the kind of striking attack that Machida is capable of.
While I expect Luongo and Co. to be fully prepared, I think Machida's left leg to the body will be the most significant story of the fight. Machida doesn't really put combinations together so much as he chains a sequence: he's looking to land each strike as opposed to throwing a lot at once, hoping just one lands. This rhythm is not a rhythm I predict Weidman will figure out. Not only that, but how many fighters has he faced with a real defensive prowess? It sounds like I'm ignoring his Silva fights, but I'm not. Silva is a master, but his brilliance was always defined as much by what he got away with as what he actively landed. Machida doesn't look for the strategy shortcuts. Weidman will have to deal with a fighter committed to avoiding damage while looking for multiple strikes at a time. It's a tall order for a fighter who for all of his talents, is still relatively inexperienced.
I think the key for Weidman is closing the distance, and doing work in the clinch. He's very creative in close quarters, can land with authority, and I wouldn't be shocked if he submitted Machida off a scramble. Still...I predict the fight will be won on the feet where Machida has an advantage.
Lyoto Machida by Decision.