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The Blueprint: Machida vs. Shogun

Michael DiSanto, UFC - Perfect.

The Merriam Webster Dictionary has multiple definitions for that adjective. Maybe the simplest way to define it is with two words: Lyoto Machida.

By Michael DiSanto


The Merriam Webster Dictionary has multiple definitions for that adjective. Maybe the simplest way to define it is with two words: Lyoto Machida.

15-0 as a professional. 7-0 in the UFC. 1-0 in title fights.

Those numbers are certainly impressive, but they pale in comparison with Machida’s most remarkable fighting accomplishment. In 17 rounds of UFC competition, the reigning UFC Light Heavyweight Champion has yet to lose a single round.

Think about that for a moment. Machida hasn’t lost a single round in any of his fights. That qualifies as insane.

To put Machida’s streak of flawlessness into perspective, Anderson Silva, the sport’s universally recognized pound-for-pound king, had three losses on his record through his first 15 professional fights. And while he is undefeated in the UFC, just like Machida, he has not won all 18 of his rounds of Octagon competition.

The odds are weighted heavily against Machida indefinitely continuing his masterful stretch of fighting. Sooner or later, someone will catch him on the chin or take him down and keep him there, winning a round, if not winning the fight.

Forget sooner or later, as Mauricio “Shogun” Rua hopes to bring Machida’s run to an end in just a few days when the two meet at the Staples Center in the main event of UFC 104.

Shogun hasn’t enjoyed the same perfect career as his opponent, but he was close during his four-year PRIDE stint, where he only lost once in 13 fights—a fluke broken arm suffered during a Mark Coleman takedown that resulted in a quick TKO. The loss to Coleman notwithstanding, Shogun was viewed by many as the very best 205-lb fighter on the planet from 2005 through 2007, so many thought he would be the heir apparent to the 205-lb throne when he signed with the UFC.

That hasn’t been the case so far, though Shogun has the opportunity to change that on Saturday night.

After an inauspicious transition to the UFC, including a one-sided loss to Forrest Griffin and two knee surgeries, Shogun appears to be back on track. He is currently enjoying a two-fight winning streak following the loss to Griffin, the most recent of which was a first-round knockout win over former champion Chuck Liddell in what might have been the most impressive effort of Shogun’s career.

Shogun knows that nobody, not Machida and not anybody else, is unbeatable. If he is able to take Machida out of his comfort zone by pushing the pace of the action, he certainly has the ability to take the championship in sudden and spectacular fashion.

That may seem a bit counterintuitive because Machida is an expert counterstriker. Expert counterstrikers, however, need a sense of order and calm in order to execute. If overwhelmed with an all-out assault that was not telegraphed, anyone, including Machida, will react to such chaos with chaos.

Breaking that down into more detail, Machida has a very awkward style, as far as MMA is concerned. He stands almost sideways, in a traditional Karate stance, with his weight well past his center point and his upper body noticeably leaning back. That is all designed to make him difficult to hit, not so much to place him in the proper position from which to attack.

Machida, who has explosive quickness, uses quick jab steps and sudden shoulder movements to feint an attack, and he does it early and often in the first round. Those feints put his opponent on the defensive because he is thinking about defending an incoming strike, rather than attacking. From there, he will throw the occasional lead high kick on the end of one of those jab steps or he may sprint in briefly with piston-like punches. Neither is overly dangerous—neither is meant to be, either.

All of that is designed to accomplish two goals: set up his bread and butter attack, which is leading with a kick to the body followed immediately by a short straight left, and force his opponent into tentative one-strike attacks that he can counter. Machida caught Evans with that kick-punch combination and dropped him. It wasn’t the force of the blow that led to the knockdown, rather the fact that Evans’ attention was wholly focused on defending the kick to the body.

The best way to avoid eating into that left hand is to be prepared to step in, though outside of Machida’s right foot, with a right hand down the middle as soon as Machida lifts his back leg to throw a kick off of his jab step. By stepping in with a right hand, Shogun will close the distance, effectively neutralizing the body kick or high kick, if the champion is mixing it up. Evans did that once late in the first round and it led to a tie-up, something Shogun, with his savage Muay Thai skills, would welcome with open arms.

More importantly, though, Shogun must not sit back and allow Machida to set the pace of the fight. He cannot allow the champion to dictate his action with feints. Instead, Shogun needs to fly out of his corner like he did against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in their PRIDE bout and attack with something crazy—a flying knee, a blitz of punches, whatever.

Machida has shown that he will retreat in the fact of an aggressive attack because he is a defense-first fighter. If the attack is at all tentative, he will stand his ground and counter. If Shogun can force Machida out of his comfort zone and turn it into a sloppy slugfest, he wins by knockout because he fights with a controlled chaos during wild exchanges, something that he learned during his brutal sparring sessions while training at the famed Chute Boxe Academy in Curitiba, Brazil.

Those sessions taught Shogun to be a fighter. He is a Muay Thai brawler. Machida grew up a martial artist. He is about perfection. He is about the purity of the art. He is not a brawler.

That is the key for Shogun—make the fight a brawl. Forget about timed counters, except for the one mentioned above. Forget about precise technique. Shogun just needs to fight.

Machida, by contrast, must do what he does in every fight—dictate the pace, dominate his opponent’s mind with feints and then explode when the opening presents itself.

Machida might be the most underrated puncher in the sport. His knockout wins over Thiago Silva and Evans demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has real pop in those hands. But again, he is not a slugger. His power comes from perfect technique and timing. He must limit chaos by controlling the environment in order to execute perfectly.

There is no need to spell out the champion’s Xs and Os for a second time. They are written above. If he can execute against Shogun like he did against Evans, the result will be the same and Machida’s flawless run through the UFC will continue for at least one more fight. If not, he may very well lose this bout.

If pressed to pick a winner, I would tend to lean toward Machida. Shogun’s recent troubles with his cardiovascular levels early in fights, something that rarely haunted him in PRIDE, raise very real questions about the appropriateness of his preparation. He has looked better in each of his three UFC bouts, trending in a positive direction with both his technique and his cardio levels. Those are good facts. Nevertheless, if this bout lasts past two rounds, I like Machida every day of the week and a half dozen times on Saturday nights.

The problem is that I don’t think this bout will last more than two rounds. Call it contrarian theory, call it negativity or call it mindlessness, but the UFC has a deep history of fighters losing the minute cognoscenti dub them unbeatable. It has happened to every great UFC fighter. The sport has so much parity that an undefeated career is almost unthinkable—mention of one borders on MMA blasphemy.

I happen to believe that Machida is currently at the very top of his game, which makes him ripe for an upset based on recent history, so my pick, with no more logic than what you’ve read in this paragraph, is that Shogun will shock the world.

Actually, that isn’t completely true. Shogun matches up very well stylistically with Machida because he is able to perform so beautifully during chaos. He is an expert at creating chaos. And if he creates it on Saturday night, he is going to win by knockout.