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UFC Fight Night: Toe to Toe Preview - A complete breakdown of Lyoto Machida vs Yoel Romero

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Phil and David break down everything you need to know about Machida vs. Romero and everything you don't about Jesus Christ and thigh punches for UFN 70 in Florida.

Phil MacKenzie

Lyoto Machida fights Yoel Romero at middleweight for the main event of UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Romero on June 27, 2015 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida.

Single sentence summary:

Phil: Young up-and-coming 38-year-old takes on an aging, fading 37-year-old

OR

David: The fight Weidman doesn't have to wait for the winner of.

Stats?

Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida
22-6
Odds: -185

Yoel "Soldier of God" Romero
9-1
Odds: +170

History lesson / introduction to the fighters

Phil: Lyoto Machida was once the unsolvable puzzle, but now it's hard to think that at 37 he isn't approaching the end of a long, storied career. Staying healthy, keeping with the times, and a style that until recently has kept him from receiving too much damage: these things have meant that even though he was contemporaneous with fighters like Forrest Griffin or Stephan Bonnar, he's retained a steady top 10 position. He's been talking more about his legacy recently, which is always a concern.

David: Ahh, the good 'ole 'Machida Era'. Who doesn't remember that chestnut like it was yesterday? Despite this embarrassing status, he never became a punchline. It wasn't that long ago he gave everything Chris Weidman could handle. Machida has improved a lot though since his days of being unable to finish guys like David Heath, Sam Hoger, and Vernon White.

Phil: Scott Coker is the promotional mastermind who can do no wrong at the moment, but his development of new talent was always a little questionable. Hence, the silver medal athlete and freak athlete Yoel Romero was introduced to the MMA world at large in a colossal mismatch against Rafael Cavalcante in Strikeforce. Didn't go so well. An unbeaten UFC run later, and here he is fighting in a main event, close to the top of the 185lb division. Small asterisk for the weird Tim Kennedy fight where he took a ten minute break, though.

David: Good. For a second I thought you were gonna remind us of Romero's vulgar display of needing dude wipes. Oops...Romero should not have been in that bout against Rafael, but what's done is done, and hopefully he can use that experience to his advantage. Whatever that means. It remains to be seen whether Romero is more Yoshida than Couture.

What are the stakes?

Phil: Rockhold has next at 185, and it appears that Jacare is waiting to fight after that. However, those guys don't fight very often or have a reputation for being injury-free, to put it mildly. Anyone and everyone could drop out at a minute's notice and leave the road to the belt wide open.

David: Even though they are clear challengers at 185 waiting in line, they are, as you said, held together by testosterone and ritz crackers. Romero could easily be a replacement challenger. Whereas Machida is in full on Cerrone mode; a showcase fight for the pure thrill of combat.

Where do they want it?

Phil: Romero is a weird one. I'm never really sure exactly what he is when it comes to his fighting style. He has the movement-based, low-volume game of reactive pressure fighters like Mendes or Rumble, yet his toolset is very strange. At it's core it's about forcing his opponents into the left straight. He'd wait for it a lot more in his earlier career when he fought largely as a powerful, athletic boxer, but now he's focused more on using round kicks to the leg and body to essentially punt his opponent into the path of his left hand. He reminds me a little of Ben Henderson: excellent athleticism employed in service of a game which fits together in unconventional ways. Thigh punches and Jesus included.

He's a phenomenal wrestler, although his top control and GNP have left a little to be desired thus far, but he's an increasingly murderous clinch striker. Like Machida, he can sometimes drop his volume drastically while he figures out the perfect shot to finish an opponent, something which might lend itself to a slow-paced fight at times.

David: The Ben Henderson comparison is a good one. He's not as technical, but he's certainly as eccentric in the way his style doesn't conform to traditional archetypes despite existing in the body and mechanics of one. It's part of what makes him effective. He's hard to train for, and even harder to opponents to predict. It rarely comes off as deliberate, which means he's never quite as efficient as might otherwise be. I still think he works a little better as a boxer; Lawal tried to emulate his style to very little success. Lawal tried to be too clever for his own good, whereas the upper body behavior of Romero feels organic. He's an interesting foil for Machida here because of his sheer power and speed. Sure speed and power are things Machida has dealt with in the past, but Romero is a unique kind of speed and power that has more to do with economy than authority.

Phil: Lyoto is largely about the left side of the body as well. Left kick to the body, left kick to the head, left straight. He's a much more straightforward counter fighter, largely focused on the knee to the body and the stepping left hand. He's upped his aggression and slowed his movement in recent years, something which may be indicative of an athletic decline.

I think it's worth pointing out: I don't think Machida was ever a top-shelf athlete. He never had the embarrassment of physical riches which were given out to Weidman, or Jones, or Shogun. At their best, those guys radiated power, speed and durability across the board in a way which Lyoto never has. Instead, I've always thought of him as someone who has squeezed the absolute maximum out of good but not fantastic athleticism. Never particularly durable, never hugely physically strong, but clever and diligent. Those traits, more than anything, have kept him relevant.

David: Machida is so much more blue collar than anyone's ever given him credit for. He's never been an extremely hard hitter (see every fight pre-UFC and shortly after), and his speed has less to do with being fast, and more to do with anticipation. He's an amalgam of more psychology than physiology, thinking and deliberating his way through fights more than shattering them. It's part of what I love about the guy; his style plays out like more than a suit of prizefighting armor, but as a byproduct of how he thinks in the cage.

I'd argue this point with something a little less pretentious and simply point to his feints. His rematch with Shogun is one of my favorite fights of all time because it's such a masterclass in timing, and diversion. He's constantly pivoting for strikes he doesn't throw, but it allows the strikes he does throw to be more unpredictable, and Shogun is with him every step of the way

Insight from past fights?

Phil: It's another battle of southpaws in an unfamiliar closed-stance engagement. Neither has looked hugely impressive against southpaws, but I'd give the edge to Machida: he looked good in the stand-up against Rockhold before the Californian tripped Machida up with his own bad footwork, and Romero struggled heavily to get his left straight going against Derek Brunson.

David: I'd just point at all of Romero's last three fights, really. They were all solid wins, but he doesn't just struggle at times; he's flat out uncertain. This doesn't sound the recipe for beating Machida. Part of the problem is just the sheer lack of experience and age. He makes the mistakes a lot of young fighters make. His "old man" body amplifies said mistakes, but it's not like Machida isn't already in the same birthday boat.

X-Factors?

Phil: There's Romero's potential knee issues, and whether Machida's recovered from his last fight, but the main one to me is that this fight will take place in the "small" cage. Much less room for Machida to maneuver in.

David: The other is Machida's age. Machida's defense has relied on footwork rather than head movement. As soon as the footwork slows, the rate of landed punches increases. Just look at fighters like Roy Jones. Romero has some scary power, and the speed to land those bricks. Machida just can't afford to be a step too slow.

Prognostication:

Phil: Cordeiro has brought good-but-not-great athletes to championship success in the UFC, but I think he might have gotten there just a touch too late with Machida. I'm not sure if his physical prime is as far gone as some think it is, but I'm also not sure if he has enough to deal with a surging physical talent like Romero. Romero isn't defensively untouchable, and doesn't have an unbreakable chin, so it's certainly close, but Yoel Romero by TKO, round 4

David: I think Machida will take the fight to Romero in spots, but I also have to think that Romero is just quick enough to land a shot Machida would have avoided five years ago. Yoel Romero by TKO, round 3.