At UFC Fight Night 36, Lyoto Machida and Gegard Mousasi will look to establish themselves as the biggest threat to the winner of an upcoming middleweight title fight between Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort.
A former light heavyweight champion, Machida decided to move to 185 pounds following a controversial decision loss to Phil Davis. In his 185-pound debut inside the Octagon, "The Dragon" stopped Mark Munoz with a left high kick in the first round.
In April, Mousasi made his first UFC appearance against an overmatched Ilir Latifi. The former Strikeforce champion coasted to a decision win. Then, he also decided to drop to the middleweight class, where many feel he is better suited.
With this important 185-pound headliner approaching, here is a closer look at how Machida and Mousasi match up against one another in all areas.
Mousasi owns one of the best jabs in MMA, but he's going to have trouble landing it on Machida.
The Brazilian does an excellent job of sitting outside the range of his opponents' longest punch and works off of it with counters. Against Machida, single jabs are one of the least effective attacks a fighter can throw.
While he was able to beat Latifi with only his jab, Mousasi will need to put together combinations more frequently at UFC Fight Night 36. Having beaten the likes of K-1 champion Kyotaro in a kickboxing match, he's more than capable of doing so.
Machida has never been one to disrespect the striking of his adversaries, though. If he was cautious against the wrestling-oriented Davis, Machida is likely to be extremely hesitant to take risks when he meets Mousasi, arguably the most talented striker he'll have seen.
Mousasi presents a much bigger threat to Machida when standing than Munoz did. So, the more aggressive Machida that was on display at UFC Fight Night 30 isn't likely to show up this Saturday.
While the former 205-pound champion can still produce entertaining knockouts while countering, he's not going to have an easy time putting Mousasi away. "The Dreamcatcher" has never been stopped with strikes and will be careful to avoid leaving himself open to Machida's counters.
The stylistic matchup could lead to an uneventful chess match. However, Mousasi may be able to gain an advantage on the scorecards by simply showing more aggression.
Although he is underrated on the ground, Machida rarely looks for takedowns.
The Brazilian has only attempted two takedowns over his past six fights. He's only been able to take Dan Henderson to the ground over that period, and that takedown only occurred after the American forced a clinch with him.
While Mousasi's biggest weakness may be defending takedowns, don't expect Machida to exploit that hole in the former Strikeforce champion's game often.
Mousasi is more willing to mix takedowns into his game plan. He scored four in a fight with Ovince St. Preux and three in a matchup against Keith Jardine when competing under the Strikeforce banner. However, Machida should prove much more difficult to ground than either of those opponents.
At UFC 163, Davis became the first fighter to take Machida down more than once in a fight since Rameau Sokoudjou did so in December 2007. Even Davis was successful on only 20 percent of his takedown attempts in that matchup, though.
Takedowns could play an important role in either fighter stealing a round or two, but it is unlikely they'll be a primary focus for either fighter at UFC Fight Night 36.
Machida has had a lot of success countering jabs by trapping them and answering with stepping straight left hands. However, that counter leaves him susceptible to being taken down.
Davis was able to bait Machida by feinting a jab and stole a round by dropping levels for a double leg. Mousasi may not be able to finish takedowns as well as Davis, but he can certainly feint jabs well enough to set up this same takedown.
At the same time, Machida will have the option of taking Mousasi down any time the two are clinched. The Dragon has floored some of the best in the world with his leg sweeps, and Mousasi has had trouble defending takedowns from just about any position.
Neither man is going to dominate this fight with takedowns, but wrestling could become an important factor should one fighter be more willing to vary their attacks.
Because he so rarely looks for takedowns, it is hard to have a complete understanding on Machida's grappling abilities.
However, from what Machida has shown, he is more a positional grappler than a submission artist. In 24 fights, the Brazilian's only submission win came via a low-risk arm triangle choke against Sokoudjou.
Mousasi has 11 submission wins on his record, but none of those have come against elite grapplers. Just as cautious on the ground as he can be when standing, Machida isn't likely to leave many openings for Mousasi to stop this fight on the ground.
If he ends up on the bottom, Machida also does a good job of controlling the posture of his opponents, so he should be able to avoid Mousasi's ground-and-pound while he waits for a stand-up.
Takedowns are going to be limited in this matchup, so not much time is likely to be spent on the ground.
When these fighters are on the canvas, it will likely be uneventful.
Machida's patience on top would allow him to score some points on the scorecards for control, but he'd be more willing to back out of Mousasi's guard and stand than take any chances. Likewise, Machida's ability to keep his opponents locked in his guard would only allow Mousasi to spend some time in the top position before having the referee step in due to lack of action.
Mousasi has been out of action for more than 10 months.
For a fighter who hasn't been noted for great conditioning, the layoff could be a problem.
The hiatus was due to a knee injury, which required surgery following his victory over Latifi in April. It will be interesting to see whether Mousasi starts slow before testing that previously injured knee in competition.
Both fighters have gone five rounds once in their MMA careers. While Machida edged Mauricio Rua on the scorecards in a UFC championship bout, Mousasi was taken down repeatedly and had his Strikeforce title taken away from him by Muhammed Lawal.
With both fighters being former champions, the magnitude of this matchup shouldn't overwhelm either man.
If this fight goes five rounds, which it should, Mousasi may slow down in the later rounds.
This won't be the first time Mousasi has returned to the cage following a long break. However, it will be the first time he's faced an opponent like Machida in a fight that could go five rounds, and doing so under nonideal circumstances is a recipe for gassing.
Machida paces himself as well as anybody, even leaving too much inside the Octagon at times, but it could pay off in the fourth and fifth rounds of this matchup.
This matchup has close decision written all over it heading into UFC Fight Night 36.
Between Machida's elusive stand-up and the fact that Mousasi has never been knocked out, the striking aspect of this fight could mostly be a stalemate over five rounds. Any round that doesn't see a takedown could be a tossup on the scorecards.
Neither fighter is going to plan on looking for many takedowns, but Machida is much better equipped to secure them. Whenever he finds himself clinched with Mousasi, Machida should be able to sweep the former Strikeforce champion to the canvas rather easily.
If Machida can steal an early round or two with takedowns, he might be able to pull away against a potentially fading Mousasi later on.
Machida defeats Mousasi by decision.
Statistics via FightMetric.com.
Images via UFC.com unless otherwise noted.