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Machida vs. Shogun: Enigma vs. Enigma

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It's very rare that you will have a division so deep of talent, like the light heavyweight roster in the UFC, yet so puzzling when it comes to defeating the current champion.  Lyoto ‘The Dragon' Machida has done what Yushin Okami can not seem to do in the middleweight division...he MADE the UFC higher ups recognize him.  Right up until his UFC 94 thrashing of Thiago Silva, ‘The Dragon' was constantly scrutinized for his lack of finishing fights and hit and run style.  Nowadays, there are few that question his skill and his place amongst the best of the best in MMA.  Enter Mauricio ‘Shogun' Rua.  Once thought to be the most feared 205 pounder in all of MMA, highlighted by one of the greatest grand prix runs ever dismantling Quinton ‘Rampage' Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem, and Ricardo Arona.  Unfortunately for Shogun, in his UFC debut, injuries and lack of proper training put a halt on the bandwagon and questioned whether his run had ended.  Now, with two big wins in the octagon under his belt, he looks to regain his crown atop the light heavyweight division. 

The enigma of Machida

At UFC 104, an enigma faces an enigma and numerous questions will be answered and probably more will spawn.  Is there a chink in Machida's armor?  Was the beatdown Shogun laid on Chuck Liddell an indication that he has returned to form?  Is Shogun's gas tank up to par for a possible five rounds of war?  Is Machida's gas tank up to par for a possible five rounds of war?  Who's next for the winner?  What's next for the loser?  A lot will come to light as the dust settles in Los Angeles.  Do I think Shogun has what it takes to defeat Lyoto Machida?  I can not answer that yet.  I can admit when I have been a hater, and I hated on Machida after his UFC 98 victory over Rashad Evans.  I called him boring and questioned whether he could even defend his title once.  Revisiting that fight has made me realize just how superior Machida's skills are to most within his division.  Rashad Evans, undefeated himself at the time, had always been able to dig deep even when it seemed he was outmatched and grind out a victory.  He took some of the best from guys like Stephan Bonnar, Tito Ortiz (although it ended in a draw), Chuck Liddell, and Forrest Griffin and was able to defy the critics in almost every battle.  Against Machida, he looked lost.  He looked overwhelmed.  He looked out of his league and this was the champion!  In all of his fights, his opponents have claimed to know the path to victory and each were left baffled midway through round one.  Even Tito was shaking his bleach blonde head in frustration as he slipped deeper and deeper behind the cards.  Machida has exhibited great footwork, an ability to strike while moving, and tough takedown defense.  The most phenomenal aspect of Machida's game is how off balance he makes his opponents look.  Of all the fights of his that I have seen, halfway through the first round nearly all of his opponents have not only looked desperate but also lacking confidence.  Just look at how Sokoudjou's entire demeanor changed midway through their fight.  He looked nothing like an ‘African Assassin'.  Look at how bumbling Thiago Silva came off as during the early exchanges he had with Machida.  A true definition of enigma.

 The enigma of Shogun

 Meanwhile, Shogun is coming off two TKO victories.  Normally when any fighter is coming off victories, especially ones that left their opponent down in a heap, you would think he would have some sort of momentum behind him.  However, Shogun is still labeled with question marks following them.  In the Mark Coleman fight (and I use that term loosely), Shogun was coming off a long layoff and surgery but seemed to have ample opportunities to finish the winded and sluggish Coleman.  It took him until the closing moments of the third round to do so.  In the Chuck fight, a much improved Shogun (well, anything was an improvement from his previous fight) showed better boxing, footwork, as well as using less flash in his offense and more defense minded attacks.  He now will be put in to one of the biggest fights in his career.  A win for Shogun will send shockwaves throughout the many MMA forums and probably ruin bandwidths in the process.  A loss for Shogun sends him to the bottom of the ladder in a division where several young up and comers and even veterans of the game are waiting patiently for their turn at the Dragon.  Many have questioned whether a solid Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner would be the proverbial Dragon slayer and Shogun is one of the best in his division.   The question now is whether or not Shogun will be able to take Machida down.  While I have honestly not seen all of Machida's UFC bouts, I have seen his fights with David Heath, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Sokoudjou, Tito Ortiz, Thiago Silva, and Rashad Evans.  None of those aforementioned have been able or seemed to put much effort in taking down Machida, whether they had other plans or like Tito were not being too successful in their attempts.  Shogun has never been much of a double leg/single leg takedown artist in my opinion.  He relies a lot on his clinch work and from his strikes to get the fight to the ground and work his magic from there.  The few who have been able to successfully clinch with Machida have found themselves struggling to move the karate kid around and most times wind up on the ground themselves.  It will be interesting to see whether or not Shogun decides to use a more ground oriented gameplan rather than stand and bang however he made it clear that he does not plan on deviating much from his usual gameplan.  Yet, Shogun has one unique weapon that may be the ender of the Machida myth that is his bizarre striking style.  Though he has not really utilized it in the octagon, Shogun has been known to throw some of the oddest looking kicks from odd angles.  If Machida is formulaic in his movement and his footing, his jaw could meet foot and I am not sure they are too compatible.  Also, the muay thai clinch that reduced Rampage to a pile of bones on the mat could serve to weaken the defenses of Machida as well as lead to a takedown or a knockout.

So the enigma and the enigma will meet on October 24th and I am very excited for this fight.  This is one of those fun match ups where you really will not know what to expect until the referee yells ‘Let's get it on!'  Do you MMA4Realers out there think you have figured out how this fight will go or are you just as baffled as I am?