The best non-title fight of this very exciting UFC 94 card, two 13-0 fighters will go head-to-head in what seems like a stylistic match made in heaven.
Lyoto Machida has recently been getting the fanfare a fighter of his level normally receives. At 13-0, he boasts wins over UFC standouts like Rich Franklin, Tito Ortiz, B.J. Penn, and Stephan Bonnar.
Still, many questions hang over his power or ability to stand in with larger fighters in their prime.
The Brazilian is the son of Shotokan karate master Yoshizo Machida and was a black belt by age 14. Shorokan has proven the exception to the usual karate failures in MMA and Machida enhances its awkward distance and style by fighting southpaw.
Many people that have never done any sort of combat sport underestimate how much awkwardness there is in a match and the work involved in finding the distance, timing, angles, and reactions of opponents. Fighters like Keith Jardine benefit from this because his herky-jerky style is very hard to adapt to.
Machida gears his fighting toward this awkwardness to take fighters out of their game plan and comfort zone. Unlike Jardine, his movements are smooth and fluid; he uses his footwork to dance around opponents. Machida appears to be the first truly masterful defensive fighter in MMA.
On the other end, Thiago Silva looks the part of professional cage fighter: lean, muscular, tattooed, and a fire in his stare, but his abilities are hardly limited to the aesthetic. Silva is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and formed the base of his martial arts career.
But Silva has taken to Muay Thai with a passion and is widely considered far more dangerous on his feet than on the ground, which is saying something.
Silva's career victories don't have the name value that Machida's does, but he is also 13-0 and his wins have come in far more decisive fashion, with only one fight going to the judge's cards.
Match-up wise, this has "great fight" written all over it. An overly aggressive Muay Thai striker in Silva going against a canvas-painting counter striker in Machida will be a good one; the footwork of Machida could be the deciding factor in this fight, because excellent movement really opens so many counter opportunities.
Both fighters have faced little in the way of challenges in the UFC and so we don't have an excellent feel for their true abilities. We'll get one tonight. Either way it goes, it is generally agreed these two fighters have very bright futures.
Silva could easily win this fight with one punch, but the real challenge for him is landing that punch. Machida's evasive style is meant to draw fighters in to chase him. It's a dangerous move because, when the opponent comes in too quickly, he is no longer in control of his distance, and Machida can counter and dance all day.
Silva must be patient and push Machida rather than chase, back him up against the cage and unleash on him. If he does this, we could have Machida's first loss; if not, Silva will eat counters the entire fight and likely lose the decision.
On the ground, Silva has a serious advantage with a very decorated BJJ back ground and this could be another avenue for a victory for Silva. This fight will go to the ground, where Silva's stronger ground moves will allow him to submit or pound out Machida.
This will be a close one, but I give the edge to Silva.