Lyoto Machida has had six fights in the UFC. In those fights, his tendency has been to inflict and receive little physical damage, and consequently, has not produced much in the way of excitement or entertainment value. Simply put, it is difficult to fight when you don't engage your opponent, constantly backpedal, and do not throw many strikes over the course of a fight. Even more simply put, Machida is unbearably boring to watch fight.He has demonstrated a degree of technical mastery that very few top tier fighters possess. He is equipped with a combination of skill, agility, and balance that most fighters envy.
Despite this, he resorts to devising the optimal strategy for winning by bland unanimous decision. Judges score fights in his favor because they must choose a winner, not because he necessarily wins in anything more than a mind numbingly dull fashion. I am not a fan.
Machida's phenomenal skill set pales in comparison to his ability to bore a crowd into mental submission.
While I wish Lyoto Machida no ill will, in the spirit of the sport, I come forth with this admission: In this article, I will assemble a brainstorm of four ideas that I hope may contribute to the downfall of his perfect record.
Before I present those ideas, I will briefly delve into some observations on Machida's most recent fight against Thiago Silva.
In Machida's defense, he does have a submission victory over Sokoudjou and, more recently, a knockout victory over the previously undefeated, always aggressive, explosively entertaining Thiago Silva.
A spectator unfamiliar to Machida's style could easily have mistaken Machida for an exciting fighter in his recent KO victory over Silva.
Did Machida undergo a metamorphosis in that fight, transforming into the exciting fighter the purist fight fan yearns for? The obvious answer is a resounding no. He is the same boring fighter he was, is, and probably always will be.
Can Machida deliver an exciting KO every once in a while? Did I get excited for a nanosecond when he knocked out Thiago Silva?
Yes and yes, but a discerning fan will realize that it was actually Thiago Silva who brought the excitement into the fight by stalking Machida around the octagon until it led to his unfortunate first round demise.
Those familiar with both Machida and Thiago Silva realize what happened. Thiago Silva allowed Machida to pick him apart with head and body shots. Machida peppered Silva with strikes to the head until it reached a point where the accumulated damage buckled Silva. At that point, Machida went in for the kill. Nothing special.
It was the same boring, methodical Machida, who stumbled into a KO because his opponent over-exuberantly charged forward in the face of precision striking. Silva is an instinctive cage stalker.
He seemed chemically compelled to move forward, no different from how large cats stalk prey in the flat lands of Africa. Silva was bound to lose in that fashion sooner or later.
In retrospect, it seems easy to identify Silva's mistake, but I tend to think that his blunder in that fight—unadulterated, primal aggression—has been the equivalent of strategic gold in his previous fights.
That overtly aggressive, almost angry style has allowed Thiago Silva to achieve great success in MMA thus far.
Going into the fight against Machida, Silva had a 12-0 record, all of his victories coming by way or either KO or submission. Silva defeats his opponents mentally even before he bludgeons them. Machida can take a lesson from Thiago Silva regarding that mentality.
Meanwhile, Machida is content to win only by taking what his opponents give him instead of imposing his will in an interesting, confrontationally assertive manner.
Such a style may be less prudent and risk exposing vulnerabilities, but ultimately, what the fans want to see is entertainment, skillful violence, and a pure, distilled form of aggression that would translate well in any physical conflict.
Aggression, in the context of fighting, is rooted in pragmatism; In fighting, measured aggression and intimidation wins far more often than it loses to passive, bland pseudo-strategy, which is how I classify Machida's fighting style.
The four strategies that I believe will lead Rashad Evans to victory are as follows:
First, the proverbial cliche, but highly applicable, "fight fire with fire," strategy will prevail for Rashad Evans. As I've emphasized above, I have a strong dislike for what I percieve to be Machida's passive fighting style, but, if Evans's sole intent is to win, this is the way to do it.
Evans is the champ. Anything close to a draw should and usually does favor the defending champion. If Rashad Evans chooses not to engage Machida, it will be Machida's responsibility to attempt to dictate action.
The assumption here is that it is possible to demonstrate octagon control to the judges, without actually initiating much action. Rashad Evans has demonstrated recently in his wins over Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin that he is far more than just a competent counter-puncher.
His ability to rhythmically time his punches in response to his opponents' strikes is metronomic and precise. In summary, the first way of beating Machida is to be patient and maybe even move backwards when Machida does. Backpedaling will elicit a throng of boos, but don't people always boo Machida's fights anyway?
What better way is there to defeat a fighter whose style has little clear definition and direction than to mimic his style?
Imagine two mosquitoes floating in circles without touching. This sort of boring fight always favors the champ ala vintage Tim Sylvia in his title defenses over Andrei Arlovski and Jeff Monson.
Secondly, favor wrestling and clinching over striking in the early rounds if Machida is willing to engage. This strategy really only applies in a five round fight, but fortunately, Evans will have that luxury. Rashad Evans is presumably as physically strong or stronger than Machida.
Additionally, Evans has the wrestling credentials that may give him the edge in a ground battle. It should be noted that Machida has never done anything in the octagon that demonstrated anything more than average to above-average stamina.
There ought not be much worry that Machida will be a cardio machine in a Matt Lindland-like clinch-style battle of attrition.
Nobody has really been successful in shooting in on Machida or engaging him effectively on the ground, but I would wager that Rashad Evans has the most explosive wrestling ability of any fighter Machida has faced to date.
I'm labeling the third and fourth strategies 3a and 3b because I contend that two types of similar punches will test Machida's chin and durability in ways he has never had to deal with in his past fights.
Nobody gets clean shots on Machida, so the initiating key factor, the catalyst, if you will, is the clinch. Idea 3a is the uppercut. In the clinch, throw uppercuts at Machida. I must emphasize the plurality of my suggestion. For this strategy to be effective, a flurry of uppercuts would serve the aggressor best.
Nobody really knows how much punishment Machida can take before he either physically shuts down or mentally surrenders. A barrage of uppercuts is a great way of testing both Machida's physical and mental constitutions. The utilization of the vertical plane is a key component of this strategy.
How does one back up from an uppercut in the midst of a grappling/clinching scuffle? The simple fact is, uppercuts connect alot since they are almost exclusively thrown in suffocatingly close range.
Idea 3b is a punch that is not thrown from the clinch, but would suit the aggressor (Rashad Evans) at the exact moment the clinch breaks.
Creating distance immediately, loading up, and firing a twelve o'clock overhand right will be devastating to Machida for two distinct reasons: overhand punches travel a long distance making them difficult to backpedal from.
Secondly, and more significantly, overhand punches must be blocked vertically. Blocking in such a manner is awkward and often unsuccessful. Strong overhand punches serve the dual purpose of attempting to end the fight with a single punch and attacking an opponent from unconventional angles.
In the case that Evans doesn't immediately knock out Machida, the mere threat of throwing more overhand punches aimed at the top of Machida's head will afford Evans more opportunities to effectively attack the rest of Machida's body.
What makes these viable strategies that Rashad Evans will be able to apply to his game plan that Machida cannot? It is fair to say that any of these suggestions can be implemented into either fighter's plan.
It is my contention, however, that the stronger, better wrestler will more effectively utilize the four ideas I have discussed above.
In closing, I hope these ideas I have presented foreshadow what I think will happen at UFC 98- Rashad Evans will execute a classic Greg Jackson game plan that will employ some or all of these elements. Evans will defeat Machida in convincing fashion and retain his title.