Originally appeared on ArizonaSports.com and Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
It’s fourth of July weekend, which can only mean one thing: the UFC’s annual international fight week is finally upon us. With millions of fans from around the world pouring into Las Vegas this spectacle has truly become the Super Bowl of mixed martial arts. So with this many eyeballs bearing down on the fight capital of the world, the UFC did the intelligent thing and put together one of the most stacked cards of the year.
Headlining the card is a middleweight matchup between undefeated champion Chris Weidman and the former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.
Weidman, currently the number one ranked middleweight and number five pound-for-pound fighter according to the official Power MMA fighter rankings, is coming off back-to-back second round TKO victories over the legendary Anderson Silva. Entering their first bout Silva was riding an incredible 17 fight winning streak, which lasted a UFC record six years, eight months and 22 days. But Weidman shocked the world and landed a perfectly timed left hook to Silva’s skull, sending the former champion crumpling to the canvas as his eyes rolled into the back of his head. Weidman had almost no time to celebrate his new championship belt as he was quickly booked for an immediate rematch with Silva. While the outcome may not have been what fans were hoping, Weidman nevertheless walked away with his belt still in hand. His original opponent this weekend was scheduled to be Vitor Belfort but a failed drug test forced the UFC to pull ‘The Phenom’ from the card all together.
Machida, currently the number five ranked middleweight, is coming off two dominant performances over top 10 middleweights Mark Muñoz and Gegard Mousasi. Prior to making the drop to 185-pounds ‘The Dragon’ made a name for himself in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. As he steamrolled over fighters such as Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson, fight fans became accustomed to seeing Machida ranked among the best of the best at 205-pounds. But now, 20-pounds lighter, the Brazilian is looking to tear through a new division.
It’s an incredibly closely contested matchup as both men embody the definition of a well rounded mixed martial artist. For Weidman it’s a chance to prove his two wins over Silva were no fluke and for Machida it is a chance to become the third fighter in UFC history to win belts in two separate weight classes.
Weidman’s time training under the world famous striking coach Ray Longo has paid off ten fold. Originally a little more than a wrestler, Weidman has seamlessly mixed his stellar cardio with his much improved striking to put on a pace very few fighters can match inside the octagon. In fact he has landed a greater number of significant strikes than all seven of his UFC opponents
Against a standout striker like Silva, Weidman kept his composure and refused to fall for Silva’s trap. He never rushed he and he never threw unnecessary strikes. Unlike many of Silva’s past opponents, who would blindly rush in with looping shots, all of Weidman’s punches and kicks had purpose behind it. He has also shown to posses a fairly underrated left jab, which he often doubles up before catching his opponent off guard with a powerful straight right.
But while Weidman’s striking is still improving, Machida has long been considered one of the most feared strikers in UFC history. His karate style approach has baffled a who’s who of the UFC’s upper echelon of fighters. Machida has knocked down his UFC opponents a total of 12 times, the fourth most knockdowns in UFC history. But aside from one punch knock out power, Machida is an exceptionally accurate striker. During his reign of terror in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, Machida connected on 56% of his significant strike attempts, the 3rd highest striking accuracy in the division’s history. But where he really shines is his unique ability to frustrate his opponents by essentially nullifying their offense. It has become an almost impossible task to mount any significant offense against him. He’s absorbed just 1.41 significant strikes per minute as a light heavyweight, the 3rd best rate in the division’s history.
It will be interesting to see if Weidman takes the same approach in this matchup that he did against Silva. While he did dominate the former champion every second he was in the cage with him, do not expect Weidman to have the same success against Machida, who may well have the best combination of quickness, discipline, patience, footwork, and power in all of MMA .
Taking the fight to the canvas is Weidman’s forté. As high school state champion, two-time junior college All-American, and two-time Division-1 All-American, Weidman’s carries one of the most accomplished wrestling résumé’s in all of MMA.
He’s earned a takedown in all seven of his UFC and has a rating of 4.0 takedowns per 15 minutes of fighting, the 3rd highest rate in middleweight history, with an accuracy rating of 68.2%, the 4th highest accuracy in UFC history. Whether he is using a single or double leg, Weidman has proven he can drive his opponents down both against the cage and in the center of the octagon. Once he gets his opponents he controls them with an incredibly powerful top game. In fact he has been in a position of control over his opponents for 46.6% of his total cage time, the 4th largest proportion of control time in UFC middleweight history, all while dropping powerful punches and elbows onto his opponent’s unprotected skull.
However Machida is a master of maintaining distance and avoiding opponents’ attempts to take him down. He successfully defended 81.8% of his opponents’ takedown attempts against him as a light heavyweight, the 3rd highest takedown defense in 205-pound. history. He has also successfully stuffed all three takedown attempts thrown at him since making the drop down to middleweight.
But Weidman is an entirely different beast all together. His transition from a jab to a takedown is second to none at 185-pound and his constant level changing should counter Machida’s karate style very well. Do not expect too many takedowns in this bout but if they do come it will undoubtably come from the All-American wrestler.
Weidman, who holds a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra, may very well be one of the best American grapplers in the UFC. Once he gets on top of his opponent he becomes the embodiment of ruthless aggression, as he relentlessly looks for the choke or headlock. Transitioning from one submission to another almost seamlessly, his opponents are never given a chance to breathe as they are constantly defending Weidman’s attack.
But where he really shines is his ability to adapt to the situation inside the cage. His choke can come from either back or top control or during transitions when his opponent is least expecting. He can use front chokes to defend takedowns or force them into the mat in order to defend his powerful guillotine or d’arce choke.
Machida on the other has rarely showcased his offensive submission skills inside the octagon. This is partly due to his tremendous takedown defense, but also because Machida tends to use his grappling skills to stall the action in the hope that the ref will call for a stand up. During his last submission victory, dating all the way back to 2007, Machida used a very impressive butterfly sweep to set up a very tight arm triangle against Sokoudjou. The problem is that, while he has proven he has the skills to submit opponents off his back, is he has shied away from this technique in recent years. Machida could very well be the best submission artist to ever step foot into the octagon, but we just have not seen that side of him.
This is probably the most difficult matchup to predict from the first half of 2014. Weidman has looked unstoppable at times but he is he is still something of an unknown. He certainly opened a lot of eyes in his two fights against Silva but they ended so quickly fans just were not given enough of a sample test on which to base an opinion. On the other hand, everyone knows what Machida brings to the table. He is fast, he is strong and his technique inside the octagon is an absolute work of art. If I was a betting man I would certainly put money down on Machida due to the fact he is opening as a slight underdog against Weidman. This is a fight he could easily win if he sticks to the game plan that has proven to work time and time again when he is matched up with powerful wrestlers.
However, Weidman’s lack of sample size mentioned above could very well play in his favor. He undoubtably will have a few tricks up his sleeve to combat Machida’s unorthodox attack and I personally believe Shogun’s victory over Machida back in 2010 opened a lot of eyes on how to defeat the elusive fighter.
As long as Weidman can use his footwork to cut off Machida’s angles and press him against he cage, he should have no problem walking out the building with his championship still around his waist.
Weidman via third round submission
Here are the rest of my predictions for the main card and preliminary bouts:
MAIN CARD (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
- UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey def. Alexis Davis
- Stefan Struve def. Matt Mitrione
- Thiago “Marreta” Santos def. Uriah Hall
- Marcus Brimage def. Russell Doane
PRELIMINARY CARD (FOX Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)
- Urijah Faber def. Alex Caceres
- Ildemar Alcantara def. Kenny Robertson
- Chris Camozzi def. Bruno Santos
- George Roop def. Rob Font
PRELIMINARY CARD ( UFC Fight Pass, 7 p.m. ET)
- Guilherme Vasconcelos def. Luke Zachrich
- William ‘Bubba’ Bush def. Kevin Casey