If there has ever been a fighter that has turned around the way that their style is perceived publicly more quickly than Lyoto Machida, I'd be surprised. It's true that "The Dragon" has long been admired by fans of the sport for his obvious skill and ability, but just over a year ago many fight fans would have admitted to not enjoying seeing him fight. Sometimes the line between being "boring" and being "elusive" or "slick" is very thin. The truth is that this 31-year-old southpaw has long flashed the skills that have catapulted him to the top. He just so happens to compete in a division that is loaded with not only world class talent but also guys that have exciting styles. His penchant for winning fights by decision, in comparison, caused some fans to be slow to warm to him. That is no longer the case. Machida seems to be peaking and has formally introduced himself to fringe MMA fans with devastating knockouts of Thiago Silva and former world champion Rashad Evans within the last year. Machida is a master in the cage and displays good head movement, solid striking and has the ability to pick just the right moments to attack. He also uses distance and movement as well as or better than any MMA fighter I've ever seen. Lyoto is a soft-spoken guy that lets his fighting do the talking. It will be most interesting to see him matched against such a revered offensive fighter in his first title defense. Machida has a professional record of 15-0 with five wins coming by way of knockout and two wins coming by way of submission. The combined career winning percentage of the opponents that he has faced so far in his career is 64.2%.
When Mauricio "Shogun" Rua signed with Zuffa a couple of years ago, fans were both excited and certain that he would headline events and take part in some big fights. He had accumulated an impressive highlight reel of knockout footage while competing for PRIDE, knocking out multiple world class opponents. Then a funny thing happened. He was upset by a talented underdog in Forrest Griffin. Injuries would follow and many began to doubt that Shogun would be able to reclaim his status as one of the top light heavyweight fighters on the planet. Mauricio avenged one of his few losses earlier this year with a 3rd round knockout of Mark Coleman. In May he faced off against Chuck Liddell, who had been the kingpin of the light heavyweight division when Shogun was going on his impressive run of destruction in the PRIDE organization. The 27-year-old Rua would not be denied in this fight, putting Liddell away by knockout. Despite the fact that Chuck was past his prime, I give lots of credence to Shogun's victory and think that he was a good selection for Machida's first title defense. Rua has a professional record of 18-3 with fifteen wins coming by way of knockout and one win coming by way of submission. The combined career winning percentage of the opponents that he has faced so far in his career is 65.4%.
I've been waiting for months now to see this fight. Given the standings of both of these fighters, and given the prestige of being the world champion at light heavyweight, this matchup can be considered nothing short of huge. Having said that, I'm predicting that the fight itself will not be terribly exciting. I think that Rua will push the pace early and will score with some nice combinations, pressing forward with a nice attack. But I see Lyoto utilizing tons of movement in the first half of this fight, making it difficult for Shogun to get comfortable and into an offensive rhythm. As the fight wears on, I think that fatigue could be an issue for the challenger, making it more difficult for him to outpoint the champion. Ultimately, I think that Machida takes this one by slick counterstriking and a more efficient attack. I foresee both fighters having good moments in this fight and I think that the fight will definitely be competitive, but I still think that it goes to the scorecards and that there won't be enough prolonged exchanges to please the fans. In other words, don't expect a Cerrone vs. Henderson type match. My prediction: Lyoto Machida by unanimous decision.