The Ultimate Fighting Championship made it official via press release this afternoon—UFC 123 will indeed feature a light-heavyweight battle between Lyoto Machida and Quinton Jackson plus a welterweight rubber match between B.J. Penn and Matt Hughes as the co-main events.
Though no hardware will be on the line, both "The Dragon" and "Rampage" are ex-champions at 205 with sincere and realistic aspirations to get the belt back.
Machida is the lineal precursor to current champion Mauricio Rua and has already handed the champ one defeat, albeit a controversial one. It's been quite a bit longer since Jackson has been crowned king and he looked lackluster in his return to the sport after filming The A-Team (let's hope this fight has more rounds than that "blockbuster" had weeks in the theater), but he sounds refocused after Rashad Evans handed him the unanimous-decision loss.
“I started this camp very early,” Jackson said. “I stayed in shape from the last fight and the weight hasn’t been an issue this time. Every single minute of this camp will be focused on technique, not getting back in shape or shaking the ring rust after a long time off.
True, "Rampage" always talks a good game, but the fact remains that both he and Lyoto are top contenders to the throne occupied by "Shogun." They're somewhere in that mass of dangerous humanity with "Suga" Rashad, Jon Jones, Randy Couture, and Ryan Bader.
Additionally, Jackson's fights never lack for intrigue.
Judging from the early jump Quinton's getting on the festivities, there should be a good amount of chatter by the time his train comes rolling into Motor City.
“If Machida decides to fight me, it will be an exciting fight for one round before he goes to sleep. I am expecting him to run from me, though. He’d wear sneakers into the Octagon if he could."
Just don't tell "Rampage" he'll be the underdog to "The Dragon," and rightfully so considering the Brazilian's hit list. Machida's 16 victories against the single loss to his countryman have earned him respect from the mixed martial arts landscape even if Jackson won't give him any until the bout is over.
Their collision should be a burner.
Meanwhile, the 170-pound scrap has almost as much sizzle and some will say it has more.
Though Hughes is no longer on many lists of serious threats to Georges St-Pierre's reign over the division, he is a Hall of Famer. Granted, nobody gets to the Hall without putting in his dues and enduring a lot of carnage so there are quite a few miles on the 36-year-old.
But remember, Hughes was in the driver's seat for much of the road.
He's also coming off an impressive, first-round submission of Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Ricardo Almeida at UFC 117 in Oakland. So the old timer still has a few tools in the bag.
Regardless, this portion of the co-main event is throwing heat because it marks the third time the two legends will meet in the Octagon.
"Baby J" drew first blood when he authored what was considered a monumental upset at the time and submitted the five-time defending welterweight champion via rear-naked choke at UFC 46. Hughes then got his sweet revenge at UFC 63, relishing a technical knockout of the Hawaiian and separating Penn's ribs in the process.
So this one's not for a title and it's not really a jostle for position on the ladder of welterweight contenders, it's for something more important to two warriors who go together like Florida pastors and a Islamic fundamentalists.
Namely, bragging rights.
Have no illusions—though "The Prodigy" and Hughes almost certainly respect each other, they do NOT exchange mele kalikimakas. Hughes is Midwestern to the core and Penn is nothing if not Island strong; those aren't really personalities that mesh well and MMA fans are familiar with manifestations of the clash.
Something tells me the former welterweight and former lightweight champion remembers Hughes' parting shot after their pleasantries at UFC 63, "I kinda wish B.J. was in shape to go five rounds, I was looking for five rounds."
Hughes won't get his wish this time around, either, but he might find that's a good thing.
Yep, with two sincere challengers at light heavyweight scheduled to bring some order to the division's chaos and two long-time rivals settling a bitter score, The Palace of Auburn Hills should see some real malice on November 20th.
Speaking of which, anyone know if Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson are free that night?