The UFC returns to England for UFC Fight Night 30, where Lyoto Machida will be making his middleweight debut against Mark Munoz in the main event. Machida is filling in for an injured Michael Bisping, who suffered an unfortunate eye injury that will prevent him from fighting in his home country come Saturday the 26th. The winner of this bout will be very close to the top of the division and could very well be the next title challenger, so expect to see both guys bring their A game.
Lyoto Machida (19-4 overall, 11-4 UFC)
Strengths: Elusive movement, counterstriking, defense
Weaknesses: Fan-displeasing style, doesn’t fight to win – fights to not lose
Mark Munoz (13-3 overall, 8-3 UFC)
Strengths: Ground and pound, big power in his hands, strong wrestling
Weaknesses: Inconsistent, doesn’t fare well against elite opponents
Fight Breakdown – Fights with Lyoto Machida can go one of three ways. First, a guy will be aggressive in pursuing Machida, who will undoubtedly use his defense and elusiveness to avoid almost any contact, let alone danger, and said guy will get more and more frustrated as the fight goes on. He may let his guard down at precisely the wrong moment, and Machida will strike. Rinse and repeat and this will lead to either a decision victory (Dan Henderson, Tito Ortiz) or a KO finish (Ryan Bader, Randy Couture).
Second, Machida will be just a bit too defensive and a bit too elusive to the point of being tentative and avoiding an actual fight, and that will lead to him losing a decision he easily could have won (Rampage Jackson, Phil Davis).
And third, someone will have the ability to just bum-rush him and not give him a chance to get his timing and strategy right, not give him any breathing room and let him escape to regain his balance and composure. Shogun Rua and Jon Jones (2nd round) did just that and put Machida on the ground.
Mark Munoz certainly has that ability, he’s got fierce punching power and is just a beast of a fighter overall. His comeback fight against Tim Boetsch showed he’s pretty much 100% and he will need every bit of it if he’s going to stand a chance against Machida. Munoz has the skill and power to tag Machida, but he’s got to brilliant in picking his spots and setting up his strikes. Munoz has also been KO’d by less accomplished strikers than Lyoto Machida, so getting over-aggressive and over-confident will lead to his downfall. Munoz should look more at what Phil Davis and Jon Jones did to beat Machida, and stay away from fighting a Dan Henderson-type fight. Looking for a haymaker against Machida is exactly what to do to lose. Munoz has to employ an assortment of jabs, uppercuts, hooks and crosses, and the always undervalued leg, body and front kicks. He’s got to change levels and target the head and body and not become predictable, because Machida, for all of the hate he receives, is an elite thinker in the cage and reads opponents like Peyton Manning reads opposing defenses.
It will be interesting to see how Machida comes out in this fight. He’s probably going to have a chip on his shoulder from that semi-controversial decision he lost to Phil Davis, which was almost a reprimand to Machida, who is famous for moving backward more than he moves forward. Machida won fights doing that before, even if he didn’t win fans, but now he has to recognize that this style won’t do either now. So look for Machida to be just a little more aggressive. He may still play the counter-striker role, but expect to see him charge forward with his patented barrages more frequently.
This could actually work in Munoz’ favor if he can sneak in a spear-like takedown. People are usually too busy backing up and getting hit when Machida rushes forward to do any kind of countering, but it would be an opportune moment for Munoz to throw caution to the wind and surprise everyone by powering in for a takedown. It’s doubtful we will see that, but it’s always an option. Machida’s striking and footwork is without question the best that Munoz will have ever seen, so he’s going to get a little confused come fight night. Machida will never be a stand still slugger like Diego Sanchez or Wanderlei Silva, but he’s shown he has the ability to finish guys with combinations or a single, devastating strike. He doesn’t have to KO Munoz to jump up the middleweight ladder, but he’s got to take some more risks to win in convincing fashion.
Key to Victory: Can Munoz shut down Machida’s dodging tactics?
Munoz has basically two chances at this. One, a KO finish. A KO finish against Machida would be a statement, precisely because it would be so unlikely and difficult to pull off for Munoz that if he did it, it would raise some eyebrows. He has a good chance of course, but Machida is too good and smart to fall into risky situations against Munoz. So while Munoz may look for that big finishing punch, he has to have a back up plan if/when Machida proves too difficult to touch.
Back up plan: clinch, grapple, takedown, clinch, grapple, takedown. So many fighters are content to stay standing against Machida, and that’s a huge testament to Machida’s takedown defense. If you can’t catch the guy and he doesn’t stay still, and when you do catch him he fends off your takedowns, how are you supposed to bring it to the ground? It’s a problem every opponent has faced and Munoz is going to be the latest guy to get a crack at it. He can’t let Machida dictate the flow of the fight, if this is a strictly stand up battle, Munoz is going to have his work cut out for him. He’ll have to eat three or four punches for every one he lands, but if he can manage it, then bullying Machida into a bad spot and just overpowering him would do the trick. But that’s unlikely, so Munoz has to be the aggressor in terms of locking it up, keeping Machida where he wants him and thus, winning the fight.
Why It Matters – There is probably one guy ahead of the winner of this fight that will challenge the winner of Silva vs. Weidman II, and that’s Jacare Souza. Vitor Belfort is of course high up there, but if Silva wins, then we’re unlikely to see Belfort get a shot before someone like Souza does. Of course if Weidman wins then all bets are off, and we could see any number of new and fresh match-ups being made.
But fighters can’t worry about all of that, they only have to worry about one thing: their next fight. At the very minimum, the winner of this one is in title eliminator discussion with guys like Souza and Belfort. Bisping is deserving too, but he’s off the shelf for a while and then he has to get back in fighting shape and work out the ring rust.
A big win for Munoz would elevate him to the same level as Souza and Belfort. Beating someone like Machida handily is something only two guys have done, one is an MMA legend and the other is becoming one. So Munoz could make a serious move here.
This is Machida’s first fight at middleweight, but it won’t matter. Beating someone as good as Munoz, especially in convincing fashion, would put Machida right at the top of the division as well, considering Machida’s overall resume.
It’s a substitution fight, but the potential reward hasn’t changed at all. Munoz is ready for the big stage, but he probably isn’t ready, and may never be ready, for a fighter the caliber of Lyoto Machida.
Prediction – Machida