The major storyline of UFC on Fox 4 was that four light heavyweights had a chance to impress the brass enough in a very subjective competition to earn a title shot against Jon Jones- er, sorry- “the winner of” Jon Jones vs. Dan Henderson. What we got was more than equal to the anticipation of such a prize, as not only the light heavyweight bouts, but the other two main card bouts delivered plenty of excitement, as well. As far as the title shot goes?
As the great Chong Li might say, you are “nex”, Lyoto Machida.
Machida Gives Us a Reminder
In MMA especially, it’s easy to forget just how dominant certain fighters can be. You don’t get the aura of invincibility that you do in other sports, because top fighters face one another (and therefore, defeat) so often that they lose that mystique that they had about them.
Such is the case with Machida.
A few years ago, when Jon Jones was still racking up his first few UFC wins, Machida was the champion that nobody thought would lose the title for the forseeable future. Opponents had a hard time even hitting him, and couldn’t take him down, either. You’ll find a few that revel in their own revisionist history that says that Machida is a “point-fighter” or runs too much, but Machida is never actually running. He’s looking for that pinpoint strike- the culmination of an opponent’s mistake, an ill-advised forward movement and Machida’s own forceful attack, multiplied together to create the most damaging impact possible.
Point-fighters don’t dispatch people in the calculated, precise way that Machida did with Thiago Silva, Rashad Evans and Randy Couture, after all. Machida is simply an assassin; he’s a guy who is in no hurry and would rather get the job done the right way than do it sloppily.
You tell me what’s exciting. Is watching a fight knowing that the slightest mistake on the part of one fighter will mean that the other will capitalize in beautiful, brutal, fight-ending fashion exciting? I think so. And that’s what we saw yet again with Machida’s win over Ryan Bader on Saturday night.
Time after time, Machida used his anticipation and reflexes, which sometimes seem to border on precognition, to expertly counter Bader with stinging punches and painful kicks to the body. By the end of the fight, a clearly-befuddled Bader was literally throwing himself into Machida’s counter punches, which led to the sudden finish.
You can discuss another possible Jones-Machida fight all you wish. For me, Saturday night was not about whether Machida can be the light heavyweight champion again. It was better just to watch, unburdened by tired debate over future matchups, and appreciate greatness.
Vera Drags Shogun Into Deep Water
Brandon Vera needed to be gritty on Saturday night. He needed to have heart, absorb punishment, and give a little back in return in any way that he could. He needed to go into a technical battle with a fellow muay Thai standout with the mentality of a brawler in the midst of a knock-down, drag-out street fight.
He succeeded on all counts.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to get the job done, as Mauricio “Shogun” Rua’s prodigious talent, even after all of the injuries, disappointments, and setbacks, saw him through to the end (along with quite a bit of grit on his part, as well). Still, I’m not sure that it matters, in either case.
What was the best that we could hope for with Shogun-Vera? I think it was to see whether Vera could answer the most important question that he has always faced, the one that has dogged him throughout his career: does he want it? He answered with a resounding “yes”, turning what many (myself included) thought would be a mismatch into one of the better fights of the year. It was a performance that bodes well for the next few years of his career as a UFC fighter, even if the lofty goals he set for himself upon his UFC debut back in 2005 seem no more likely than before.
For Shogun, it was also refreshing to see that at this stage of his career, he could fight someone that he was expected to win against, end up with a tougher fight than he should have had, and still win decisively. It was the kind of performance we should have seen against Forrest Griffin and Mark Coleman years ago, but didn’t for a number of reasons.
In many ways, it brings Shogun full circle to his UFC debut, where he fought a similarly-determined underdog in Griffin who managed to defeat him, spoiling his coming out party and casting his future as an elite light heavyweight in doubt. Here he is now, right where he should have been in 2007: having beaten a game opponent who fought over his head, and now working toward a title shot.
He’s been in a lot of wars now, and the wear and tear on his body far exceeds what you would expect of a 30-year old fighter. Let’s see if he can make another run at the title, nonetheless.
–Lost in the endless replays of Machida’s counter right hand that put Bader on his back Saturday night was the expertly-timed block he used with his left arm to keep Bader’s powerful right-handed haymaker from reaching its target. If his next 205 pound title shot doesn’t work out for him, think of all the great matchups at middleweight that would await “The Dragon”.
–We were treated to two nice comebacks on the main card, as well. Both Joe Lauzon and Mike Swick, who have both faced their shares of adversity recently (though this is much more true of Swick), were up to the challenge of surviving difficult first rounds en route to finishing their respective opponents. Lauzon looked rough early on, as Jamie Varner hurt him multiple times with powerful punches, while Swick was battered from the mount by DaMarques Johnson in the opening stanza of their bout. Each man capitalized later on when their opponents made mistakes; Varner was swept by Lauzon and submitted in the third round, while Johnson telegraphed a leg kick that was caught, leading to a seamless takedown and falling right hand that knocked him unconscious. Kudos to both Lauzon and Swick for showing determination that we don’t always see from fighters who drop opening rounds.
–Nam Phan really can’t help ending up in close decisions, can he? I think the judges made the right call in this one, though, favoring him over Cole Miller in a competitive contest.
–Michihiro Omigawa can’t say that he didn’t get enough chances to succeed in the UFC. The Japanese fighter, who came to the UFC having won eight out of nine and ranked in the top ten at 145 pounds by many in the MMA world, has been a complete bust in his five bouts within the Octagon. He’s lost four out of five now, with all five going the distance.
This time around, Omigawa (1-4 in his last five), Josh Grispi (0-3 in the UFC), and Oli Thompson (0-2 in the UFC) may have seen their last Octagon action in awhile. I think that longtime UFC vet Cole Miller (1-3 in his last four, but 7-5 overall in the UFC) will keep his spot for the time being.
Movin’ On Up Award
Machida will get the next title shot. The question is: would you consider that a gift or a curse? Machida wants it, which shows what kind of competitor he is.
Beautiful Loser Award
Who else but Vera? On a night where Miller, Johnson, and Varner also looked great at times before succumbing to their opponents (or in Miller’s case, not earning the favor of the judges), Vera really fought up to the level of his top-five opponent. It was an inspiring effort that has given many hope that Vera will start to realize his considerable potential.
Holy $#!% Award
I’m torn between the exquisite timing of Machida’s counter and the skillful brutality of Swick’s standing-to-ground punch, which was executed simultaneously as he dumped Johnson to the ground. Machida gets bonus points for stopping his assault before the ref intervened once he realized Bader was unconscious, but both are deserving of this one, nonetheless.