This weekend's match up between Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida is a fight for the purists. These two exemplify the heights to which martial arts are headed within the next decade. This Saturday in Las Vegas is not just another UFC card, you'll be watching the future.
Rashad Evans gained his fame on The Ultimate Fighter much like the man he took the championship from, Forrest Griffin. Evans won the heavyweight division on season two and never looked back racking up win after win. He's picked apart some of the best in the business such as Mike Bisping, Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, most recently and looked dominating in wins over lower level competition early in his UFC career.
Since winning the second season of TUF Evans trains exclusively with Greg Jackson. Jackson's trained such top names as Keith Jardine, Nate Marquardt, Diego Sanchez, and Georges St. Pierre. Jackson and his team worked tirelessly to improve Evans' weaknesses in his stand up and his last two fights are proof of how far he's come in the last three plus years.
Evans uses his supreme athleticism and strong wrestling acumen to keep the fight where he wants it, on the feet. Evans sticks and moves his way around the cage looking for his opportunity to strike like a cobra for the knockout blow. Ask Liddell or Griffin and they can tell you all about how Evans is content to wait for the perfect opportunity even if it means losing the battle on points.
Evans trains to be the best and is constantly improving his game every step of the way. With the partners and trainers at Jackson's camp expect to see an improved Rashad Evans this Saturday which is pretty hard to believe considering he's the best in the world right now.
Lyoto Machida is quiet and reserved. He is the half Brazilian/half Japanese boy who was raised on martial arts such as Sumo Wrestling, Shotokan Karate, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Machida has martial arts in his blood and wants to prove that karate can be useful in real hand-to-hand combat. So far it's come in very handy in the cage. Machida is also undefeated and boasts wins over top competition like Tito Ortiz, Thiago Silva, and Rich Franklin.
The way he darts in and out delivering blows that his opponents sometimes don't even see can be deceiving to the untrained viewer. People see this as cowardly because he won't stand there and take a punch to deliver a punch. Machida sees this as the ultimate test of his skills. Can he out maneuver his opponent to inflict as much damage as possible while staying out of harms way at all times?
While it has lead to several decisions that have unfairly given him a "boring" label this pursuit of perfection again shows his true passion for the martial arts. His goal is never to injure his opponent, only to prove that he is the better fighter. However, he has traded in some of that martial arts attitude in order to earn enough credit to fight the top-level competition.
Machida's last fight against Thiago Silva proved that Machida can defeat someone with a flashy knockout if he wants to. However, that is not how I see his match up against Evans going.
Both men, knowing they have five rounds and being in excellent condition, will come out slow. They will feel each other out for at least a round. Machida will move and create angles in order to gauge the proper striking distance. Evans will try to determine Machida's patterns in order to identify the holes Machida leaves open for Evans to exploit later in the fight.
Neither man will look to take the other down. Machida probably can't get Evans to the ground because of his wrestling and Evans doesn't want to be on the mat with a BJJ practitioner like Machida as BJJ is probably still Evans' one weak spot.
This will leave us with the chess game on the feet. Most likely it will come down to Machida being able to land quality strikes and build up enough points to earn the decision or Evans catching Machida later on in the fight when he tires and makes a mistake and the lights will go out.
Ultimately I think Evans is the better athlete and while Machida is the more well-rounded fighter it will be hard for him to control the pace of the fight. Evans will use his wrestling and boxing to break down Machida and once Machida tires and makes that critical error Evans will go in for the kill. I believe we'll see Evans retain his world title with a TKO victory in the fourth round.
The chess match these two men will play out in the stand up will show everyone what the next generation of fighter will look like for years to come. The intelligence, speed, coordination, and power these men display with their striking will elevate MMA to a level not yet known. We will be watching the future unfold before us like a shining beacon upon a hill for all to see. Hopefully we will also be watching a rivalry that is only just beginning between two of the best in the sport.
John Shubert is a Staff Writer for Inside Fights