This weekend we get to witness another epic clash in the UFC light heavyweight division, although most feel that it will be more like an epic one sided beatdown if anything. The smart money is to bet on the champion Lyoto Machida and rightfully so, because no one has come close to sniffing a W against the guy(and no Tito Ortiz wasn't close with the triangle/armbar). However, I think Shogun Rua has a better chance of beating Lyoto Machida that many are giving him credit for. Will Rua will able to beat Machida? It's doubtful, but I wanted to take some time out to point out a few things. This could be long, but should be worth it if you are a Rua fan. So they say you are only as good as your last fight right? So I went back and watched the Rua/Liddell fight to see if I could pick up on any positives that may help Rua pull off the upset. I realize that Liddell and Machida have different skillsets and attributes, but both are still counter-strikers at heart. I saw some really good positives, but I saw some negatives as well. Check it after the jump.
-Good Head Movement...could make him vulnerable to head kicks, but he guarded his head well
-Good Chin...Liddell tagged him a few times and Rua took the punches well
-Still explosive and seemed pretty light on his feet
-He timed his take downs well and was successful against someone with great take down defense
-His hands were down near his chest a lot, but he put his guard up when he was within striking range and blocked a lot of Liddell's punches.
-Threw several big overhand rights that could be a good counter to Machida's kicks if he can time it right
-He didn't do any of his crazy flying, spinning head kicks, or basically anything too aggressive that would leave him vulnerable
-He was the stalker in the Liddell fight, every time Liddell launched an attack Rua disengaged or blocked and then came right back with his own offense.
-Every time he kicked whether it was a leg/head kick...his hands were down near his waist
-Liddell was able to hit him even though his punches are light years slower than Machida's.
As you can see the positives heavily outweigh the negatives here, but those two negatives could be enough to keep him from winning. However, this is what Rua must be able to do if he is to defeat Lyoto Machida at UFC 104:
-I mentioned that Rua didn't do any of his high flying, overly aggressive kicks etc, against Liddell and he'll want to keep that same mindset against Machida. He simply can't afford to leave himself vulnerable to Machida at any time and all of those moves have Rua turning his back to Machida, which means he is taking his eyes off of Machida. That's a no no. The guy is hard enough to hit when you are facing him and those high flying moves will not work against someone with Machida's quickness and stance. He'll want to dictate the pace of the fight and close the distance to clinch. Which is something that Machida does allow his opponents to do. Tito Ortiz and Kazuhiro Nakamura both were able to get into clinch positions against the cage numerous times against Machida and Shogun is probably a lot more explosive than either of those fighters to take advantage of the position.
-I watched the Machida/Nakamura fight from UFC 76 and Machida fought from the clinch a lot in that fight. Which would probably be Rua's golden opportunity to cash in for a couple of reason's. We all know that Rua has a muay thai background and his clinch work is devastating. He could do some damage from that position OR get over under's and take Machida to the ground. Which is something he loves to do, as he did it repeatedly in the fight with LiL Nog and he's done it in a lot of other fights. The move(I couldn't find a .gif) is similar to the belly to belly suplex position. Rua grabs over/unders and kind of falls back using that momentum to throw his opponents and land in side control. Machida will not want to be on his back with Rua in top position. Not only does it put Rua in an advantageous position, it takes away Machida's best asset...which is his striking acumen and ability to change angles and overall movement. I know Machida is a BJJ blackbelt as well, but the fight will be much more even on the ground than standing.
-On the flipside of that, Rua definitely doesn't want to be on his back against Machida either. While Shogun is well versed in submissions, he doesn't necessarily pose a big threat off his back. He tends to turtle up at times then tries to roll over and spin back into the guard position. Although he is good at sweeping with omaplata's and is versed leglocks, he should just avoid being on his back altogether. Because the times we've seen Machida in top position on the ground, he has been able to do damage there.
The gameplan is pretty simple and similar to the same one I had for Rashad Evans, unfortunately Evans decided to do the total opposite and we see where it got him. The same will happen with Rua if he doesn't abide by it as well. Machida will not be outstruck on the feet, it's just not going to happen unless you are lucky enough to hit him perfectly on the chin and put him out. That's a chance no one can afford to take unless you are Rampage Jackson, but he's too busy trying to be a movie star. You have to close the distance on Machida to clinch(preferably against the cage) because he allows you to do so at times. That's when you have to capatilize by inflicting damage or putting him on his back. No one has been able to capatilize yet though. However, Rua has the tools to do so and we'll have to wait and see if he is able to solve the Machida puzzle on Saturday night.