Who Can Dethrone The New Champ, Lyoto Machida?
UFC 98 resulted in the crowning of a new light heavy weight champion. Lyoto "the Dragon" Machida defeated Rashad "Sugar" Evans by a spectacular knock out giving him the first defeat of his career. This was Evans first defense of the title he won from Forrest Griffin.
The LHW belt has been passed around quite a bit since former champion Chuck "Iceman" Liddell lost it to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson on 5-26-2007. Jackson made two defenses of his title upon winning it from Liddell. Winning the first against Dan Henderson and losing the second to Forrest Griffin.
Then Griffin lost to Evans who then lost to Machida. Now that Machida finally has the title, I can't consider him champion until his first defense. If only for the fact that no one has successfully defended the lightheavy weight title since Jackson against Henderson back on 9-8-2007.
I personally believe that Machida will be holding the title for a while in similar fashion to his friend and training partner, middleweight king, Anderson Silva.
While some of the best talent in the division bounces between LHW and MW, the division is still very active and many fighters are eagerly eyeing a shot at "the Dragon". So I will take a look at the fighters who are likely to get that shot in the near future and break down how they match up with Machida.
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson - 30-7-0 -
Admittedly I wish to see Jackson rematch Forrest Griffin and Maurico "Shogun" Rua; his only two losses in the past five years. But those matches are a bit out of reach at the moment and someone needs to step up to the plate and take a crack at Machida.
A few years back I firmly believed Jackson had the tools to present real problems for Machida. Now though I think Jackson has lost what little mobility he had and presents an easy target for the light footed Machida. Stylistically this is a disaster for Jackson in every way with the exception of one thing.
The obvious threat here is Jacksons powerful hands he still has devestating and explosive knock out ability. If Jackson lands a clean punch that could be it for anyone in the division.
But that's really it for his ability to threaten Machida in my opinion. Jackson can be even more devastating if he gets a hold of an opponent but I just don't see it happening against Machida.
When Forrest Griffin fought Jackson, he utilized a basic strategy of leg kicks with stick and move striking. While this ended in a close split decision victory for Griffin he definitely took some serious counter punches from Jackson that took his legs right out from under him.
Machida could implement an identical strategy. Stay outside and pick Jackson apart coming inside when he feels safe to do so and then repeat. My guess is Jackson will tag Machida with a solid shot somewhere along the way and depending on how he deals with that will determine the outcome.
While Jackson could land said punch and put Machida to sleep its far more likely that if Machida takes a shot that he doesn't wish to take again he goes on to win a decision in safe fashion.
So I see Machida either breaking Jackson down by the third round or winning a decision.
It has been confirmed That Rashad Evans will be the opposing coach to Jackson for the tenth season of TUF for later this year. I believe according to recent news Jackson turned down an immediate title shot to settle his "feud" with Evans.
Regardless of the shows results I think Jackson should be next up for a title shot.
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua - 18-3-0 -
At this point a title shot is a bit premature, but let him fight the winner of Wanderlai Silva versus Rich Franklin, then perhaps rematch Quinton Jackson or Forrest Griffin. If he shines in the next two or three fights then let him step up and take a shot.
I always hoped the Shogun of the PRIDE days would show himself again, after his last fight against Chuck Liddell it appears he is finally on his way. Shogun has a solid chin,aggression,excellent striking and grappling. A very dynamic fighter with a variety of skills he could give Machida a fight worth watching.
The problem is that Machida deals well with aggressive opponents turning it against them. But Shogun is capable of adapting and mixing it up so he could possibly force the fight to the ground where I believe he has a slight edge.
If Shogun utilized the clinch to set up a take down he could give Machida trouble on the ground with his explosive submission skills.
Though this fight is probably going to be fought standing which is very interesting. Shougun has the edge on explosiveness and aggression while Machida has the edge on footwork and timing. Power and speed wise I can't really say who is the stronger of the two.
Machida just needs to do as he normally would and keep his distance using well timed combinations going in and out.
Shogun needs to be sure to keep his aggression in check and try to counter Machida when he chooses to come in close. This would be Shoguns opportunity to work for the clinch and get the take down.
I see the outcome favoring Machida by decision but Shogun could pull out the submission or knock out if he is patient.
These are fighters I think could have a chance down the road or at the very least make it interesting. Most of these fighters are not available anytime soon or simply not ready.
Dan Henderson 24-7-0
Henderson always comes to fight and the former PRIDE middle and welter weight champion has been in with the best. While Henderson's style doesn't look to be much of a match for Machida on paper he is not someone to count out.
An Olympic greco roman wrestler with a heavy right hand and an iron chin Henderson may be in the later years of his career at 38 but is still dangerous.
Henderson is a competitor for anyone at LHW or MW any day. Unfortunately he is scheduled to fight Michael Bisping at MW with the winner getting a shot at Anderson Silva. So Henderson is unlikely to be near LHW anytime this year.
Rich "Ace" Franklin - 26-4-0
Former Middle weight champion who moved up to LHW after two brutal losses to Anderson Silva, Franklin fought Machida back in the end of 2003 at an MMA venue called Inoki Festival and was knocked out giving him his first loss.
But Franklin is scheduled to fight Wanderlai Silva at the main event of UFC 99 on June 13th at a catch weight of 195 lb. This was done to help transition Wanderlai down to MW to take a crack at Anderson Silva in the future.
Franklin will be staying at LHW as I understand it mostly because there is no interest in a Silva vs Franklin 3 at MW. He is well known and a decent fighter but would not be a solid opponent for Machida but, it's a fight they could sell.
Those are the top fighters likely to get a shot. I have a few others I list as honorable mentions that could earn a shot with a few more wins down the line.
Brandon Vera - If he settles in to the LHW size a bit more and wracks up some solid wins.
Jon Jones - Young and dynamic fighter who impressed me against Stephen Bonnar with some more experience he could be up to it later next year.
Forrest Griffin - Forrest will be fighting Anderson Silva at UFC 101 but he is one of the most popular fighters the UFC has and he always comes to fight.
Rashad Evans - After he fights Rampage I guess the winner would get a title shot but, Evans got beat pretty decisively by Machida and I would think he would need a few more fights before looking to step in with Machida again.
In conclusion I will say there are others in the division but I choose those who would have the best match up by style or be thrown in for marketability of the fight itself.
I have seen most of Machida's 15 fights and I believe that down the road the only answer they will have for him is Anderson Silva.
They say the two are friends but, if Silva continues to dominate and Machida begins to reign in similar fashion the UFC management may have little choice. Already with fighters like Dan Henderson, Wanderlai Silva, Rich Franklin, and Micheal Bisping showing they can fight in both MW and LHW they are bouncing fighters around just to keep it interesting.
That's why they moved Anderson Silva up again to fight Forrest Griffin because Silva's last few title defenses at MW were not entertaining.
Time will tell, of course, but I could see it happening and Silva vs. Machida fight could be the answer to the riddle of beating two of the top fighters in the UFC.
Sometimes it becomes neccasary to fight fire with fire.