By Ron ‘The Yacman’ Yacovetti
ad•ap•ta•tion (ād'āp-tā'shən) n.
Change in behavior of a person or group in response to new or modified surroundings.
This weekend’s UFC 98 fight card is being headlined by one of combat sports’ rarest of bouts, an undefeated fighter taking on an undefeated fighter. I am already edging closer to the end of my seat cushion.
Equally impressive, is the fact that most journalists in MMA are on the fence about who will win, making predictions, if at all, with airs of caution, as if to say, “Look, don’t quote me on this…” That is what you call a tossup.
But is the reason so many people are torn on foretelling the victor, really because neither warrior has experienced losing? Perhaps this is a factor for some folks, though I find this aspect of the fight somewhat similar to offsetting penalties in football, they cancel each other out.
So what then, dare I say will make this match exciting as well as assist in the determination of a winner? – Styles.
We have all heard it before, “Styles make fights.” This UFC 98 main event is no exception. The most telling thing about the styles of both Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans is how they are dissimilar.
Evans is a modern day mixed martial artist; period. He is diverse, well-conditioned and very athletic. One does not make it to 13-0-1 by being anything less than well-rounded. However, his one draw against Tito Ortiz may serve as a red flag, should Machida’s unorthodox and elusive style have him guessing about what to try next.
I remember watching the Evans versus Ortiz bout wondering if Rashad had not been sent the memo stating that he was allowed to fight before round three. It seemed like a temp agency had sent Rashad in, with him doing the least amount of work for the maximum amount of pay.
For me, it took all three fantastic wins, over Bisping, Liddell and Griffin, to pretty-much erase that blemish that I felt, Rashad put on his own record. Nevertheless, he did delete it in my mind, and now moves into this bout as likely to win as Machida. So how then, does he do it?
Throughout the course of boxing and cage-fighting history, unorthodox fighters like Machida have embarked upon win streaks that left fans wondering when it would, or how it could, end. Their flashy styles, mental preparedness and ability to out-think their opposition made for some of sports’ greatest moments.
When I think about a Lyoto Machida, I also think of standouts like Cung Le, and boxing all-time great Roy Jones Jr. It is my firm belief that Roy Jones suffered his first real loss due to circumstances, including coming down from heavyweight too fast, losing muscle and not being the same man again at light-heavyweight again.
During his prime, Antonio Tarver or Glenn Johnson would not have likely beaten him. I simply do not believe it.
So the question in UFC 98 is, “Is Machida another super-athlete who will not lose to an orthodox mixed martial artist, instead losing eventually due to aging or an unforeseen intangible, like Roy Jones did?”
Rashad Evans will be taking on one of the toughest challenges he will see in the UFC. His fast and heavy hands will not as easily hit their target in this fight. His defense will be taxed like never before, as Machida unleashes the type of barrages a fighter rarely sees or trains with, in the cage.
It is my firm belief that if he can adapt to the style of Lyoto Machida, if he can make changes he will have to figure out in the midst of the fight, that Rashad Evans can win this match. Make no mistake about it too, this adapting by Evans, should he do it, will produce fireworks that will rival the Macy’s Fourth of July show, over the Hudson River, in New York City.
I also believe that in more cases than not, the unique and awkward fighters like Machida, rarely lose so close to their career’s prime. Talk about painting myself into an indecisive corner, right?
Bottom line is that atop one solid UFC fight card this Saturday night, Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans will be doing what they are meant to do, fight the best opposition that they can. The mere fact that it is so difficult to predict is a testament to the quality of the matchmaking the UFC has done.
Will Lyoto Machida win and leave the entire light heavyweight division wondering what it is going to take to derail him? Or, will Rashad Evans adapt to his every move, outworking him and forcing Lyoto to fight his fight? Not so much time, will tell…
However, before we make our own picks on this fight, let us not forget the likelihood of an Evans quick and thunderous knockout early on in the bout, before Machida gets to find his stride. That would sure punctuate the “O” in Rashad’s record, likely moving it to the beginning of some expletives fans everywhere will be shouting, if it happens.