There is a common link that ties Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, and BJ Penn, the top three pound-for-pound fighters in the UFC today, and it shows how Penn has an advantage over St. Pierre. That link is Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida.
The camp is split on Machida; one side sees him as boring, the other as a supremely gifted athlete. He may not be everyone's cup of tea. Nor does he finish fights in destructive fashion. But he wins; and he wins every time, no matter who the opposition is.
He figures out their fighting style and has a game plan beat them. He's defeated strikers, wrestlers, BJJ practitioners, brawlers, and ground-and-pound fighters. The son of a karate master, Machida has been training since he was 4 years old; he was a black belt at the age of 13. He is also well-versed in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and sumo.
Machida is currently undefeated as an MMA fighter, with a record of 13-0. Not 3-0 or 5-0; 13 wins, zero defeats. Those 13 wins aren't bums found hanging around Kimbo Slice's backyard. Machida stopped Stephan Bonner inside of the first round in only his second fight! In his next fight he stopped a fighter by the name of Rich Franklin a minute into the second round. Wins over BJ Penn, Vernon White, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, and Tito Ortiz are also on his hit list.
Machida is, in my opinion, one of the best pound-for-pound fighters active today, and possibly the most complete mixed martial artist. It isn't what he does; it's what he doesn't do. His economy of movement is incredible. There are no wasted shots or take-downs, no loss of energy from looping punches or head kicks that aren't necessary.
When he throws strikes they land. He's very much like Randy Couture in that aspect, yet Randy is Captain America, the fan's favourite, while Machida is a boring backpeddler.
There's a reason we won't see Silva vs. Machida, and don't kid yourself that it's because they're friends. Professional fighters don't have friends. They have bank accounts. Money talks and bullsh*t walks.
Up until May of this year, along with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, they trained together. They know each other well, and Silva knows how good Machida is. Machida has fought his own brother in competition. His own brother! If the match were made, he would fight his friend. Silva won't fight Machida because it's a fight he can't win.
I've seen a lot of posts saying if the Silva-GSP superfight does happen, that Silva will win because he's just that little bit better, and I'll repeat: Anderson Silva will not fight the Dragon.
BJ Penn moved up to face a fighter four weight divisions higher than his in Machida, and Machida could not finish Penn. He won, and a win is a win is a win, but he couldn't stop Penn. Penn moved up to 190 pounds and Machida was 207 pounds. Like everyone else, he couldn't even drop Penn (except for a wicked leg sweep, another example of Machida's tools), yet people think GSP will win by knockout or TKO.
As I've said, Machida started training at 4 years old. BJ started at 15, seriously at 17. Penn ate at Burger King, trained on his Xbox, and relaxed at nightclubs. Machida's been training since he was old enough to walk, and he couldn't stop Penn. That's not bad going for a fat out-of-shape time-waster with no dedication.
One of the most lingering memories of Penn is him sidestepping a Ralph Macchio-impersonating Caol Uno, then moving in as he landed and slapping him into the next county. Round One, 11 seconds, it's over. A long time ago, yes, but that isn't the issue here. What is the issue is that raw animalistic killer instinct, and it's back in full effect.
Sean Sherk lost to Penn because Penn clinically beat him. Penn got a lucky knee, and Sherk gassed. Nope. Sherk was wounded by a Penn strike, and that was it. Sherk didn't duck and fall into a knee, he was finished because Penn decided that fight was over, and in that split instant his knee slammed into Sherk's head, ending the fight. Penn knew exactly what he was doing. He was ending that fight and going home. The same raw animalistic killer instinct.
In the buildup to UFC 94, people will, as they've been doing already, be comparing the abilities of each fighter.
"GSP's the better striker." Sorry, but St. Pierre's face, after UFC 58, doesn't agree.
"BJ doesn't have the cardio." It's a myth. See above. At 190 pounds, Penn went the distance with a 207-pound heavyweight, and that was at a time when he was considered lazy!
"GSP has his black belt in BJJ now!" His BJJ is so good that Fitch reversed his rear naked choke and mounted him.
Speaking of Jon Fitch, he is a great fighter, one of the best in his division, but he had nothing for GSP in that fight, he was dominated, yet St. Pierre could not find a way to finish it. Is there anyone here that thinks Penn wouldn't have found a way to end that fight?
Is there anyone that thinks Fitch would have reversed a rear naked choke if it was Penn on his back? Anyone that thinks GSP would have thrown Penn off his mount like he did to Fitch?
"But GSP has evolved so much since the first fight!" He's evolved so much that he couldn't find a way to finish Fitch, who was visibly done. Matt Hughes is the yardstick in the welterweight division, he is the man GSP must surpass if he's to become a legend. Hughes, in his prime, would have stopped Fitch. Silva would have stopped Jon Fitch.
A lot of people love GSP for what he is, and I'm one of them. A dedicated professional, a gentleman, respectful to his sport and his fellow fighters; they appreciate his work rate, his training, and his lifestyle. Unfortunately, these things gloss over two glaring frailties in St. Pierre, things that people can't or won't accept.
First, he has nowhere near the level of natural God-given talent that Penn has. Everything he's got he's worked for. His BJJ, his striking, his wrestling, his cardio—he's earned it, with blood, sweat and plenty of tears. In contrast, Penn doesn't need to do any of that. He wakes up and submits three people on the way to the toilet while he's still half-asleep. It comes easy; it just emanates from him. And that annoys people—a lot. It's human nature.
Secondly, GSP is weak. He mentally beats himself. He taps out to Matt Hughes with one second to go in a title fight. Hughes has said himself that St. Pierre beat himself that night. Knocked out by Matt Serra because he had family problems? Personal issues don't pay the bills or win titles.
The true greats, in any endeavor, don't lose due to mental frailties or personal baggage. They win in spite of it, not lose because of it. Penn, well, he just wants to be the best; is that too much too ask? He believes he is the best, too. Confidence is one Hell of an ally.
I like Penn, that much is fairly obvious. I love his natural talent; I admire people who are just naturally gifted at something. On the flip side, I also like GSP—I really do. I loved seeing Penn move up in weight and shut Matt Hughes' mouth. I loved seeing GSP knock the freckles off Matt Hughes' face. I cheered at GSP tossing Hughes in the air like a rag doll and slamming him down to the mat, humiliating him with the move he himself beat GSP with in their first fight.
I laughed at Penn brushing aside Sean Sherk's solitary take-down attempt like it was a fly landing on his leg, and I couldn't take my eyes off GSP dominating Koscheck at his own game, and with ease. Biased toward Penn, maybe, but I've tried to do this article in as fair a manner as I can. I just don't see what GSP has in his arsenal that overwhelms Penn.
Penn is by far the superior martial artist. GSP is the superior athlete, without a doubt, but this isn't Mixed Track & Field. It's Mixed Martial Arts, and Penn is this sport's Michelangelo (the painter, not the ninja turtle).
Silva vs. GSP—Silva wins. Silva won't fight Machida. Machida can't stop BJ Penn. Process the progression.
Come the end of this fight, it won't be Claret that Penn is licking from his gloves; it'll be a drop or two of a little vintage Bordeaux.
The prodigy is coming, and he has a score to settle.
GSP fans, be afraid.