Lyoto Machida made an impactful middleweight debut against Mark Munoz, but now the former UFC light heavyweight champion will take on a much stiffer task in his new division.
Mousasi is also a former light heavyweight champion—in Strikeforce—and poses unique problems for Machida. The two will meet in Brazil on February 8.
The winner of this fight will put themselves in serious title contention. Mousasi is unbeaten in his last seven bouts, and Machida is coming off his destruction of Munoz. Mousasi is ranked No. 9 in the light heavyweight divison, while Machida is ranked No. 10 at 205 and No. 4 at 185.
This is an early look at one of the bigger bouts set for early 2014.
The stand-up battle between Machida and Mousasi is the most interesting aspect of this fight.
Machida has long been hailed for his unique striking style. His use of distance is a key factor for his success. He is able to frustrate opponents, and then capitalize on their mistakes.
Mousasi, on the other hand, brings in one of the more technical striking attacks in MMA. He is calm, composed and deadly. The question is: Can he find a way to hit Machida?
If you think the answer is yes, then Mousasi may get the nod in this category. However, the success that Machida has had throughout his career leads me to believe that Mousasi will find it difficult to get into range. The former UFC champion's ability to leap in and out with accuracy will be the difference.
Both men are competent grapplers. They can take you down and maintain position. They simply prefer to stand.
The difference is Machida's level of competition. He has been in the Octagon against the elite grapplers of the organization—and, more often than not, he's able to stay on his feet.
His takedown defense percentage is 79 percent, compared to just 52 percent for Mousasi. He has incredible balance, and his takedowns are very effective as well.
I do believe Mousasi can take Machida down. I just don't think he will.
If the fight hits the mat, I suspect it will be from an outside leg trip by Machida.
It may shock a few people, but I believe Mousasi has the submission edge in this fight.
Yes, Machida brings in a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. However, we have not truly seen him put that to work inside the Octagon. From both an offensive and defensive perspective, Machida has shown holes in his submission game.
Mousasi has found more submission finishes throughout his career, albeit against lesser opposition.
Much like other aspects of this fight, this category is close. I simply prefer Mousasi's MMA submission game to Machida's.
Machida's X-Factor: Attempt Takedowns
We have been accustomed to Machida's stand-up fights over the years. He picks his shots, remains out of distance and coasts to a decision against many top-flight fighters.
If he wants to finish Mousasi, he needs to threaten with takedowns. If Machida can attempt a couple to make Mousasi start thinking about that aspect, he will open more holes for his striking to be successful.
Keep in mind, Machida does not have to be successful with the takedowns. He merely needs to have Mousasi react to them. The more wrinkles Machida shows, the more openings he will see and be able to capitalize on.
Mousasi's X-Factor: Cutting Off the Cage
Machida will use his famous—or infamous, depending on who you are—movement in this fight. He will want to establish the distance that has made him so successful in his UFC tenure. Mousasi must find a way to prevent him from doing so.
If he can be within striking range, he can score points. Mousasi has a fantastic arsenal standing up. He just needs to be in range to be successful.
The former Strikeforce champion needs to make the cage smaller in order to win this fight.
Machida looked fantastic in his middleweight debut, and he even moved his debut up for that fight. The weight cut was no issue, and that means we can expect him to look even better against Mousasi.
That's a scary proposition.
I just don't believe Mousasi's style matches up well against Machida. He can pick spots to score points, but he won't be able to hit Machida clean enough for it to make a difference.
Machida won't stop Mousasi. The fight will be slower and more methodical, and Machida will be able to accumulate enough points to win a unanimous decision in the eyes of the judges.
Prediction: Machida defeats Mousasi by unanimous decision