Written by Maz Seyf
With a commanding world title victory over Rashad Evans at UFC 98, Lyoto Machida has started what could prove to be a lengthy tenure as the UFC’s 205lbs champion. But which prospective challenger is best equipped to slay the newly crowned “Dragon”?
The Front Runners
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson?
Machida’s most likely immediate challenger is former champion Jackson. But his powerful punching and natural strength have been demonstrably neutralised by an inability to defend leg kicks.
And he has been thrice stopped as a result of strikes delivered from the infamous Chute Boxe clinch. His tactical naivety and ferocious aggression is a combination likely to play right into the champion’s hands. The holes in Jackson’s arsenal are glaring, and Machida will more than likely find and exploit them with ease.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua?
Despite a sensational knockout of Chuck Liddell at UFC 97, question marks remain over Rua’s conditioning and the impact of two ACL injuries on his skill set. There is also ever present demands of adapting to fight effectively under different rules and within a new and unfamiliar fighting environment to consider.
More significantly, Machida’s patient cerebral approach is tailor made to expose Rua’s looping punches and predictable chute boxe aggression quickly and decisively.
The Elephant in the room
Anderson “The Spider” Silva?
Forrest Griffin is set to test the Spider’s commitment at 205lbs in the light of a pair of strangely subdued recent outings at middleweight. Victory against the first Ultimate Fighter winner will put Silva right amongst the Light heavyweight elite.
On paper at least, Silva looks every bit the counter striking equal of the Dragon, intelligent, ruthlessly efficient and as cool as ice.
A super fight between the two would pit (arguably) the greatest fighting minds in MMA history on a collision course in a contest sure to be one for the ages. But a close friendship between the pair will rule out this mouth watering showdown at least until other possibilities have been explored.
You must be joking
Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko?
When he’s not exchanging chuckles and hip tosses with Lightweight Japanese superstar Aoki, the Last Emperor consistently resurfaces to underline his credentials as the world’s premier heavyweight fighter and a pound-for-pound great.
Though 6-0 against UFC champions past and present, the Russian’s well documented inability to see eye to eye with Zuffa makes the prospect of a bout between he and Machida only the faintest of possibilities.
If Emelianenko laid the blue print of adapting to discover and exploit the chinks in any opponent's armour, then Machida is the next generation fighter that looks to have perfected it, a clash between the pair then is as compelling as it is unlikely.
Machida has already expressed a desire to play matador to Lesnar’s bull. But the UFC’s Heavyweight roster has suddenly deepened considerably in recent months. The promotion is unlikely to risk the bigger man’s capital on the sort of David & Goliath spectacle more befitting of Dream’s upcoming Super Hulk, than the sport-focused UFC.
For the moment at least this intriguing collision of brain against brawn is unlikely to happen. At least not before all other options, commercial and competitive, have been exhausted for both men.
The Dark Horse
Keith “The Dean of Mean” Jardine??!!
Whisper it softly, but the ‘Mean one’ might just be the only Light heavyweight with the tools likely to cause the new champion significant problems. Add to that, a compelling and immensely marketable narrative of revenge (for his defeated stable mate and training partner, Rashad Evans) and things start to get very interesting.
The always criminally underrated Jardine, attacks with bizarre combinations and perplexing timing. Add to that some seriously chopping leg and body kicks that if landed consistently will hamper Machida’s mobility (and by proxy his elusiveness) and you’re suddenly looking at the unlikeliest of threats to the recently crowned Champion.
Jardine's only relevant weakness is an occasionally suspect chin, which showed signs of improvement against Jackson. Not to mention the fact that Machida will lacks the one-punch KO power that Wanderlei Silva and Houston Alexander brought to bear on the Dean.
If Machida’s greatest asset is his ability to read his opponents, then the unreadable Keith Jardine will at the very least force the Dragon out of his comfort zone...And that alone will be worth the price of admission.
Maz Seyf is a writer for MMAMadness.com and Setana Sports in the UK. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.