UFC 98 Prediction: The Dragon Will Be Sweetened
On Saturday, May 23, two undefeated light heavyweights are going to fight for the coveted Championship belt: champion Rashad "Sugar" Evans (18-0-1) and Challenger Lyoto 'The Dragon" Machida (14-0). Understandably, it is incredibly difficult to predict a fight like this, when two undefeated fighters of equal caliber are competing. After hours of thinking, I have reached a conclusion, and a reasonable one. So hear me out on this one.
Rashad Evans, the heavyweight winner of TUF2, is one of the finest wrestlers to ever compete in the world of MMA. It is not his wrestling prowess, but his willingness to learn and change that has made him the fighter he is now today.
Indeed, his solid grappling skills came in handy in his first few bouts, but under the tutelage of Greg Jackson, Evans has also developed great stand-up skills. His knockout of Sean Salmon will be preserved in the highlight reels forever, along with his stunning KO of Chuck Liddell.
Against Forrest Griffin, Evans showcased his explosiveness and athleticism. He effectively dodged Griffin's punches and also took some his best shots. When the opportunity came, Evans took him down and finished him. Rashad has it all: the wrestling, the striking, the footwork, and the athleticism. He will need all of his abilities to match the undefeated Dragon.
Simply put, Machida is the best at what he does, and what he does well is Karate. His unorthodox Karate stance does a good job of frustrating the uneducated and unprepared opponent and audience.
Machida does exceptionally well in countering the attacks of a lunging opponent. He uses sweeps and pin-point striking to earn points, rather than finish the opponent. (Lately, he has tried a little bit more to impress the audience; Machida submitted Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou and knocked out Thiago Silva.)
Machida also possesses good takedown defense (influenced by his sumo background) and can also initiate effective takedowns himself. Just watch his fight against Tito Ortiz, where he took Ortiz down and immediately achieved side-mount. His ground game is creative to say the least; watch his fight against Sokoudjou where he elbowed Sokoudjou's thighs. (Ouch!)
I can go on and on about the technical mastery of both fighters, but I want to focus more on how each fighter will capitalize on the other's weaknesses.
Machida's Karate has worked so well on his opponents because they simply did not know Karate. Keep in mind that Machida has not faced a good striker with solid takedown defense (who knows how to defend sweeps) and grappling knowledge.
Rich Franklin, Tito Ortiz and Thiago Silva are not established strikers. The one proficient striker that Machida faced was BJ Penn, who was undersized and underweight. However, Penn gave Machida plenty of trouble with his acute boxing skills. If Penn can hold his own against Machida, Rashad definitely has a chance.
A skilled boxer can beat any unorthodox striker. Andrei Arlovski gave Fedor Emelianenko a lot of trouble before his miscalculated flying-knee attempt. Quinton Jackson knocked out Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva. If Evans trains his boxing, he can effectively counter Machida's strikes. It all boils down to who is more agile and can respond to the other’s action.
While Machida can execute good take downs, Rashad is a much better wrestler than any other opponent that Machida has faced. Sure Tito Ortiz and Michael Bisping took Rashad down, but Rashad is still a much underrated wrestler.
If he can close the distance, Rashad can and will take Machida down and punish him. In my opinion, Rashad has the best ground and pound out of the entire light heavyweight division. Machida will have to actively look for reversals because he does not want to be at the receiving end of Rashad’s hammerfists.
Also, while Machida does have good striking abilities, he has never been noted for his power. Rashad took punches from 260-pound heavyweights back in the day and took shots from other talented light heavyweights. Rashad, when he connects, can knock anyone out. Machida is no exception.
If there is one thing I have learned from the years of watching MMA, it is that nothing is impossible. No one thought that Gabriel Gonzaga would outstrike Mirko Crocop. Nobody predicted that Matt Serra will beat Georges St. Pierre. Nobody thought that Randy Couture will beat Tim Sylvia. No one thought Mauricio "Shogun" Rua could take Chuck Liddell down.
Those who create upsets in the world of MMA are usually the ones who attempt to be more creative and original. Those who try to maintain and defend their style will eventually meet their downfall.
Greg Jackson and his camp would have studied Machida’s fight tapes and ultimately realized that a solid, explosive boxer with great wrestling abilities can defeat the elusive Karate-practitioner. Rashad is the man to do it. Watch MMA beat Karate on Saturday, May 23. Sugar is too sweet and too strong for the Dragon to handle.