It's pretty rare to label an individual that's undefeated in his career and the current champion, the underdog in an upcoming title defense. However, that's just where Rashad Evans finds himself in the main event at UFC 98 against Lyoto Machida. It's a role Evans has become accustomed to, and one of the reasons why I'm picking him to beat Lyoto Machida.
Lyoto Machida has a vast array of skills and he has made some of his opponents look absolutely clueless. However, the six fighters that Machida has defeated in his UFC career do not possess the tools that Rashad Evans does. In fact, there will only be two things that will prevent Rashad Evans from retaining his title:
- Not being in shape to go more than 5 rounds
- Using the same game plan he used against Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin
This one is pretty much a gimmie in that all fighters have to be in shape. Make no mistake about it, if Evans isn't in tip top shape for this fight? He'll lose. I realize that Machida has never been in a 5 round fight. However, he is an economy striker that only uses energy when he needs to, so the possibility of him gassing is pretty slim. He looked visibly tired in his fight with Tito Ortiz, but there were reports that he was sick during that time frame as well. Rashad Evans must be able to dictate the pace of this fight and he'll need to be in shape to do that.
That game plan is definitely not the same one used against Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin. The Liddell fight was pretty even right before Evans melted the Iceman, but I had Evans losing the Griffin fight up until the point where he put Griffin away. Evans has really good hand speed and he can strike, but just trading strikes with Machida isn't his path to victory. He needs to implore a strategy similar to Randy Couture/Tim Sylvia. This simply means to strike when Machida thinks he's going to shoot for a takedown and vice versa. He can take Machida down. I mentioned that Machida is an economy striker, so a takedown or two coupled with Evans landing some shots should be enough to take the rounds. If stamina is an issue for Machida in the championship rounds, then it's possible that Evans could put him away at that time. Also, Rashad Evans simply has more ways to win this fight. He has the power to put Machida away with strikes if he catches him. He can win a decision using a smart fighting strategy. He could also possibly win the fight via GnP in the later rounds.
The most likely method for Machida to win this fight is via decision. Which he is more than capable of doing, since most of his wins in the UFC have been in that fashion. I don't see him being able to KO Rashad, nor do I see him being able to submit Rashad. Rashad has a very good chin, so don't let Machida's KO of Thiago Silva skew your thoughts. The fact of the matter is Thiago Silva's chin was kind of questionable to begin with. He was dropped twice in the first round by glancing kicks from Antonio Mendes at UFC 84. Also, Silva's head had no place to go between the canvas and Machida's fist when Machida connected on the punch that put him out. The other thing to consider is that Machida has never been in the main event of a UFC card. However, this will be Rashad's 3rd main event fight in a row(who'd thought that!). How will Machida respond to the pressure?
If Rashad Evans comes into this fight in shape with the ability to stick to his game plan(which should be similar to what I mentioned), he will retain his title at UFC 98.