UFC 163 brings the squared circle back to Brazil, where Featherweight champion Jose Aldo defends his title against challenger “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung. Meeting in the co-main event are two light-heavyweight title hopefuls in Lyoto Machida and Phil Davis. Machida, a former LHW champion, looks to build on recent wins over Ryan Bader and Dan Henderson, while Davis is also on a two fight win streak, defeating Wagner Prado and Vinny Magalhaes.
Lyoto Machida (19-3 overall, 11-3 UFC)
Strengths: Super-elusive, elite counter striking, excellent defensive skills
Weaknesses: Plays it a little too safe
Phil Davis (11-1 overall, 7-1 UFC and 1 NC)
Strengths: Excellent wrestling and top control, underrated submissions
Weaknesses: Striking, which is improving
Fight Breakdown – This is a classic striker vs. wrestler matchup that is becoming more and more rare in MMA today as fighters are developing their weaknesses to become more well-rounded. Machida has that famous bait and strike style that can confuse and frustrate opponents, while Davis looks for his takedowns to ground and pound guys or set up a submission.
Machida probably has two goals in this fight, aside from winning of course: first, keep it standing for as much of the fight as possible and second, try to finish Davis. Machida is absolutely certain to test Davis on the feet. Mr. Wonderful hasn’t fought a striker as accomplished and polished as Machida and it’s going to show from the very first minute of the bout.
Expect Machida to do his dance and move away from Davis for a large portion of this fight, until he picks his moments to zoom in, strike and back off again. Machida puts on guerilla warfare clinics in the octagon and Davis will get a first hand lesson. Davis hasn’t shown any terrifying striking ability, so look for Machida to be a little more aggressive in his striking and take some chances that he didn’t take against Hendo.
It would be surprising to see Davis and Machida evenly matched on the feet. We’re not likely to see Davis earn a KO in the stand-up against a guy like Machida. While Davis’ stand-up has gotten noticeably better with each and every fight, until he starts to consistently dominate guys and even put a few out cold, he’s not going to be feared as a a striker. There aren’t a lot of guys that want to stand and trade with Glover Teixeira and Dan Henderson, and Davis is a lot more physically imposing than those two. But he hasn’t really floored anybody the way those guys have.
So look for Davis to turn to his excellent takedowns and wrestling to bring the fight to his realm. Machida is no stranger to the ground, but if Davis can manage to consistently bring Machida down, it’s going to be a long night for The Dragon. Stifling top control and ferocious ground and pound would be a surefire way to win and possibly finish this fight. Problem is, very few guys have been able to even grapple with Machida, who has excellent takedown defense and evasion skills, as noted. Davis is going to have to be aggressive enough to chase down Machida and lock him up, but also smart and capable enough to do it without eating a flurry of punches and kicks.
Davis, if he can manage to get a hold of Machida in the clinch, also has a chance to do some damage a la Jon Jones. Jones was losing his fight against Machida until he caught him against the cage and implemented some brutal Muay Thai. One thing Davis is not is weak, and if he is able to do what Henderson and many other fighters could not, he should look to throw short elbows and knees with bad intentions. He has to make this fight ugly and keep Machida from getting into a rhythm, and that starts with controlling both Machida and the cage.
Key to Victory: Can Davis implement his wrestling and keep Machida on the ground?
It’s that simple. Machida is going to utilize his renowned strike and evade tactics, which Davis can neutralize if he is able to take Machida down and keep him there. Whoever wins this battle is going to win the fight.
Why It Matters – This is one of those fights where the implications are different depending on who wins.
For Davis, he will find himself on the short list of contenders for the light heavyweight title. Gustafsson is set to meet Jones, and Teixeira has to be in the discussion as well, but outside of those two (assuming Daniel Cormier is not in the picture yet), and possibly Gegard Mousasi somewhere down the line, the other guys either aren’t ready yet or don’t deserve a shot. Davis is in both categories, especially the former, but with a dominating win he has a chance to jump out of both.
Davis has to make that leap. He’s obviously got the physique of a Spartan god, but all the muscle in the world won’t matter unless Davis can use it to his advantage in both the stand up and the ground game (right Brock?). He’s 28 years old with only 12 professional fights, so he’s obviously got a lot of room for growth and improvement, but it’s time to show he’s living up to his potential. Davis can be an absolute terror if he can manage to blend everything together. We’re starting to see it now, but Machida will be his sternest test and it will tell us a lot about where Davis is as a mixed martial artist.
Machida on the other hand, in that lackluster performance against Dan Henderson, didn’t do himself any favors and he certainly didn’t wow anyone enough to start talking about a title shot again. He beat the guy who was supposed to get a title shot, so now he should get a shot right? Wrong. Not when Jones already finished him in two rounds in their first title bout and Machida didn’t come close to dropping any jaws against Hendo.
It’s always a question which Machida is going to show up, the guy that floored Randy Couture, Ryan Bader and Rashad Evans, or the guy who did just enough to not lose against Henderson. Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger recently took a lot of heat for their clash, which looked an awful lot like Machida vs. Henderson. Machida is the type of cold-blooded strategic fighter that won’t always please fans, but will get the W at the end of the day. That’s well and good to stay relevant and keep fighting top flight competition, but small risk usually means small reward and Machida won’t sniff a title shot fighting the way he did against Hendo.
He’s the UFC-ranked #1 contender, but there are very few people calling for a rematch with Jones and even fewer people who want to see them fight again, not when fresh contenders like Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira are in the mix. Machida can change all of that with an impressive performance against Davis. However, if instead of fighting to win and finish, he fights not to lose as he did against Hendo, he’ll be in a weird gate-keeping spot as the guy to beat to get a crack at Jones. Machida has to take some risks and put on a show this weekend, especially in his native country.
Prediction – Davis with the upset