Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rampage Jackson vs. Lyoto Machida UFC 123 Recap -- and I know how to beat Machida's style

Spoiler alert! If you haven't seen the fight and want to, skip this post.

I'm not particularly thrilled at the way Machida fights. It's way too defensive for my tastes. I like a good, canny defensive fighter, such as Anderson Silva or Mirko Cro Cop in his PRIDE FC days, but Machida is a level of defensive beyond even Anderson Silva. For the first two rounds of the fight, all he did was dodge Jackson's blows. Jackson clearly wanted to mix it up, but Machida was having none of it. It's his style. He zips around the the other fighters, waiting for them to throw the punch or kick that allows him to launch a decisive counterattack. This is opposed to someone like Cro Cop or Anderson Silva (when he's not goldbricking, such as happened with the Demian Maia fight), who will stalk the other fighter across the ring, pressing them, putting themselves in a position to be attacked so they can do the devastating counter. Machida is content to more or less run around the ring, forcing his opponent to do all the work, to both press the fight and launch the attack so Machida can counter.

No one can say that Machida can't make it work. He's 16-2. Almost all of the time, it wins him fights. However, now that he's at the highest level of competition, I am less certain it's even a winning strategy because he lost the fight with Quinton Jackson. The first two rounds, Machida avoided almost everything Jackson threw at him. Oh, a few blows landed, and some of them -- including an uppercut in the second -- could have been fight stoppers. But since none of them were fight stoppers, the fight continued on with Jackson winning the first two rounds on points. And not even very many points at that. Machida was able to frustrate most of Jackson's attacks.

In the third round, Machida was able to stun Rampage. He followed it up with a takedown that lead to a full mount. Instead of going for the ground and pound, Machida spun to an armbar attempt . . . which was a mistake. Jackson is way too strong and nearly Rampage slammed Machida, who at least had the brains to stand up out of it. Machida won the third with a lot of contact and action. He punched Jackson down and dominated him on the ground.

If I was to judge the fight holistically, I would have given the fight to Machida (with some trepidation). But the UFC has rules and part of those rules are judging on the 10-point must system. At the end of a round, the judges decide which fighter won that round and, not going into the details of the 10-point must system, the basic fact is Jackson won two round and Machida won one round. So, with some trepidation, Jackson won the fight because two of the three judges agreed that Jackson won two rounds (and, honestly, I don't know which fight the third judge was watching). By those rules, Machida's fighting style will become, I think, less tenable when he's fighting very skillful opponents. Well, he's now at the point in his career where he's going to be fighting the best guys and the light heavyweight division has a lot of great guys.

Worse for Machida, his system can be gamed. What Machida's fighting style entirely relies upon is the other fighter's innate desire to go forward. If Machida fought his mirror image nothing would happen. (In some ways, this mirrors the situation in the early 00s with Brazilian jiu jitsu. In the second Shamrock vs. Gracie fight, Gracie was unable to do anything because he kept Shamrock in the closed guard, and Shamrock refused to do anything because he didn't want to play Gracie's game.) To win against Machida, all it requires is some initial aggression in the beginning of a given round and then, well, mockery. This can be combined with before fight interviews to sway the judges. It is against the UFC rules not to fight. It's technically called "timidity" which does include avoiding contact with the opponent. You don't point out that Machida is being defensive, you point out his style is inherently timid. Just like being on your back with your legs open hoping someone leaps into the closed guard so you can submit them with a triangle armbar.

I don't say this with particular hostility towards Machida or, really, his style. As a self-defense style, it's great. On the street, the "winner" is the survivor and an art that teaches a person how to avoid damage is a splendid idea. But UFC fighting isn't self-defense fighting, it's a sport fight, and that requires contact. I think a fighter that presses Machida in the beginning of the round and then fights like Machida at the end of the round would hammer the point home. Machida's style would become a massive liability, because of it's inherent timidity.

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