UFC: Charting Lyoto Machida's Course to a Middleweight Title Fight

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UFC: Charting Lyoto Machida's Course to a Middleweight Title Fight
Jason da Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Although I’ve never been fond of fighters moving down a division, the idea of Lyoto Machida fighting at middleweight just seems right.

He’s an excellent fighter from a technical stand point, and he does go for the finish when it is available. His defensive skills are still among the best in the sport, and his counter strikes can be deadly.

In fact, sometimes I’m still a bit shocked that the “Machida era” came to a close so quickly in the light heavyweight division. When he won the title, it didn’t look like anyone would have the blueprint to defeat him.

Of course, thanks to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, we know differently.

Now, after four defeats (two of which are highly debatable), Machida is looking for UFC gold once again, and he’s heading south of the 205 border.

Of course it’s a tantalizing idea, but only for as long as there is some other champion other than Anderson Silva. Should Silva defeat current champion Chris Weidman, it’s highly unlikely Machida will move for the belt.

But for my money, I doubt Silva will reclaim the gold, which is a topic for another conversation.

When you look at the middleweight division, you see many great fighters, but it is hard to see a man with the style needed to defeat Machida. Out of the likes of Vitor Belfort, Ronaldo Souza, Michael Bisping, Mark Munoz and others, it’s hard to imagine any of them being able to overcome his elusiveness and his counter-fighting style.

Of course, anything can happen in a fight; we didn’t think Shogun could pull it off, but he did with a vengeance. Silva has the means to defeat him, but once again, that fight seems highly unlikely.

But theory is one thing, the act of doing is another.

So, how does Machida land a title fight at middleweight?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor
Tim Kennedy.

First of all, he needs to make a big splash while proving the weight cut isn’t going to diminish him. To that end, his fight with Tim Kennedy (at UFC Fight for the Troops 3) seems the perfect introduction. Kennedy is a game fighter who has proven to have good conditioning more often than not, and he fights well from the underdog position.

Also, Kennedy will be highly motivated for this fight; he’ll be fighting in front of his military brethren, which means everything for him.

Machida needs to best Kennedy by any means possible; a loss in his first fight at 185 would set him back greatly. Obviously, a stoppage victory would be best, but really, any victory will do for now.

This is his first fight at middleweight, so many expect that there may be some sluggishness and missteps. As long as he wins, these things are forgivable.

Next, he needs to take on a name in the top five, preferably against someone who knows how to sell a fight on one hand and fight it on the other. A bout against Bisping would do nicely.

Like Machida, Bisping used to fight at light heavyweight, and perhaps none in the division (save for Silva) are as elusive as The Count. If I had a dollar for all the times I heard some heavy-handed slugger talking about how he was going to go in and flatten Bisping, only to be unquestionably defeated by the brash Brit…well, I’d have about $10, but you get the point.

A fight with Bisping would be very interesting and very watchable, especially when you consider how good he is at talking up a fight. It wouldn’t take long for him to start poking at Machida in the press; given how many people love to watch Bisping fight (mainly to see him lose), Machida would find himself in the spotlight again.

Once again, this is a very winnable fight for Machida, especially since he is the one with one-strike, knockout power between them. Odds are he would outpoint Bisping or finish him with a counter strike and a flurry on the floor, but either way, he would be very close to a title shot.

The next fight would be one of fortune for the fans and one of necessity for the fighters; a bout pitting Machida against either Belfort or Souza, ideally in Brazil.

Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Vitor Belfort.

A fight against either of these men is a gateway fight to the title, not to mention a hazardous situation. Belfort has the ability to KO Machida if he lands, and Souza could submit him on the ground.

But there are hazards in any fight for both sides. Machida could also KO Belfort and Souza in the blink of an eye. Honestly, neither man has proven to be able to deal with a fighter as elusive and accurate as Machida, and they are both very hittable.

For Souza, as great as Jacare is becoming, his only real chance of defeating Machida is to get him to the mat, and that is highly unlikely. Machida would likely stuff the takedowns while taking him apart on the feet, eventually scoring a knockout or lopsided decision.

Against Belfort, Machida would be moving all night, circling and feinting and racking up points with his leg kicks. Machida’s style seems perfectly suited to keeping Belfort in a constant state of flux between setting up for an attack and then suddenly having to defend against those explosive long distance strikes that Machida does so well.

It’s highly probably that Machida would catch him in those moments of transition enough times to win a fight on points or knock him out.

Then, after three straight victories, a shot at the title would be nearly unavoidable, especially with the amount of hype that could be focused on Machida becoming one of the very few fighters in UFC history to win a belt in two weight classes.

That would be an accomplishment indeed…and perhaps the beginning of a new era.

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