The Blueprint - Rampage vs. Machida

The winner of Jackson-Machida will not only remain firmly entrenched among the division’s Preferiti, he may, indeed, stand first among them.  
Former champions Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Lyoto Machida clash on Saturday night in the main event of UFC 123.

Jackson is not shy about the fact that he is not overly excited about the matchup.  He views Machida as a defense-first fighter that hunts and pecks his way to victory, and Jackson prefers to face someone who will stand and slug with him.  Thus, he looks at the fight as a necessary evil if he wants to return to the top of the 205-pound mountain and reap the rewards that come along with occupying that post.  

Machida seems more intrigued by the fight.  He wants to continue testing himself against the very best fighters in the world (and he openly acknowledges Jackson as being one of the very best) as he continues his quest to personify bushido.  The journey toward becoming the perfect martial artist is more important to Machida than gold belts or money.  That is why he is so excited about spending up to 15 minutes locked in a cage with destroyer like Jackson, where the slightest mistake can lead to a brutal knockout loss.  

What I know for certain is that both men are coming off of disappointing losses, and neither can afford to suffer a second consecutive defeat without taking a major step backward in the UFC’s most competitive division.  Guys like Rich Franklin, Forrest Griffin, Ryan Bader, Jon Jones, and Rashad Evans are the 205-pound elite, standing right behind reigning champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.  None of those guys are riding a two-fight losing streak.  Just saying.

The winner of Jackson-Machida will not only remain firmly entrenched among the division’s Preferiti, he may, indeed, stand first among them.  

If Jackson wants to win this fight, he needs to take Machida out of his comfort zone by pushing the pace right from Jump Street.  He must force Machida to plant his feet and fight.  If that happens, he certainly has the ability to drop the Machida in sudden, emphatic fashion.

That may seem a bit counterintuitive because Machida is an expert counterstriker.   He needs an opponent to attack in order to create openings for him to land fight-ending blows.  Otherwise, he will dart in and out in pot-shotting fashion, content to score a unanimous decision win without taking any real risks.  

Breaking that down a bit, Machida has a very awkward style.  He basically stands with his shoulders perpendicular to his opponent, which is a traditional Karate stance, with his weight well behind his center point and his upper body noticeably leaning toward his back foot.  That is all designed to make him difficult to hit.  It has nothing to do with putting him in the proper position to launch an assault.  In fact, it makes it more difficult for him to attack, and but for his absurd quickness, it is a stance that would likely render him completely ineffective as an offensive fighter.   

Machida isn’t trying to be effective offensively.  Not in the traditional sense, at least.  He instead uses his stance to feint in exaggerated form from a safe distance.  He uses quick jab steps and sudden exaggerated shoulder movements in very herky-jerky movements to set the distance and pace of the fight.  He wants an opponent to react to those movements by covering up or starting a counter.

 If he gets no reaction, Machida will throw the occasional lead high kick on the end of one of those jab steps or he may sprint in briefly with piston-like punches, never more than two or three at a time.  Neither is overly dangerous—neither is meant to be, either.  

The progression of feints and the occasional strikes are designed to accomplish two goals:  set up his bread and butter attack, which is leading with a kick to the body followed immediately by a short straight left, and force his opponent into tentative one-strike attacks that he can counter.  Machida caught Evans with that kick-punch combination late in the first round and dropped him.  It wasn’t the force of the blow that led to the knockdown, rather the fact that Evans’ attention was wholly focused on defending the kick to the body.  

The best way to avoid eating that left hand is to be prepared to step in, though outside of Machida’s right foot, with a right hand down the middle as soon as Machida lifts his back leg to throw a kick off of his jab step.  By stepping in with a right hand, Jackson will close the distance, effectively neutralizing the body kick or high kick, if Machida is mixing it up.  Evans did that once late in the first round and it led to a tie-up, something Rampage would welcome with open arms because he would be thinking uppercuts, dirty boxing and big slams.

That is all fine and good.  But if I’m in Jackson’s corner, I would implore him not to sit back and wait for Machida to set the pace of the fight.  He doesn’t want to try and counter a guy with Machida’s speed.  He didn’t have much success trying to counter Evans.  Machida is even faster.  He would be better off forcing the action by moving forward with his hands up, focusing on cutting off the cage and throwing punches in bunches whenever he is within striking range.  

Expert counterstrikers, however, need a sense of order and calm in order to execute.  If overwhelmed with an all-out assault that was not telegraphed, Machida will react to chaos with panic.  Machida has shown that he will retreat in the face of an aggressive attack because he is a defense-first fighter.  He did that in both fights with Shogun.  When the Brazilian attacked aggressively, Machida pulled straight back before circling.  By contrast, when opponents tentatively attack, he will stand his ground and counter.   That is what he wants to do—stand and counter.

Jackson must, therefore, press the action with aggressive, forceful attacks to drag Machida kicking and screaming out of his comfort zone and into a brawl.  If this fight turns into a slugfest, Jackson wins by knockout.  Period.  He needs to be Rampage on Saturday night, not Quinton Jackson.  You get what I’m saying.

Machida, by contrast, must do what he does in every fight—dictate the pace, dominate his opponent’s mind with feints and then explode when the opening presents itself.

Machida might be the most underrated puncher in the sport.  His knockout wins over Thiago Silva and Evans demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has real pop in those hands.  But again, he is not a slugger.  His power comes from perfect technique and timing mixed with ludicrous speed.  He must limit chaos by controlling the environment in order to execute perfectly.  

He does that as outlined above.  There is no need to go through the progression again because that will be his Plan A, Plan B and Plan C.

So, who is going to win?  This is my favorite part of breaking down fights because, to be honest, I get it wrong so often.  Nonetheless, I actually think this one is fairly easy to predict.  If the fight ends inside the distance, I like Rampage all day every day.  I’m talking bet the farm confidence.  If it lasts the distance, Machida’s odds of winning are even greater.

How is that for sitting on the fence?  

If pressed, I tend to lean toward Rampage Jackson.  It is a contrarian pick, however.  Speed typically beats power.  Precision typically beats naked aggression.  And Jackson’s fights against ultra-fast opponents have been less than inspiring.  So, the smart pick is probably Machida.  Nonetheless, I have a feeling about this one.  Not sure why.  I just have a feeling.  

QUICK FACTS

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson

•    32 years old
•    6’1, 205 lbs
•    73-inch reach
•    30-8 overall (12-5 PRIDE; 5-2 UFC)
•    3-2 in last 5 fights
•    8-2 in last 10 fights
•    6-5 against 8 current or former UFC/PRIDE champions
•    Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
•    406-day reign as champion; 1 successful title defense
•    60% of UFC wins by KO (3 out of 5)
•    40% of UFC wins by decision (2 out of 5)
•    Both UFC losses by unanimous decision
•    Has only been submitted once in 38 professional fights, nearly 10 years ago
•    Stopped 3 times by strikes as a professional
•    First man to unify UFC and PRIDE titles (unified UFC and PRIDE 205-lb titles on September 8, 2007)
•    Fight of the Night twice (UD3 over Keith Jardine on March 7, 2009, and UD5 loss to Forrest Griffin on July 4, 2008)
•    Knockout of the Night twice (KO1 over Wanderlei Silva on December 27, 2008, and KO1 over Chuck Liddell on May 26, 2007)
•    Current layoff is 175 days (UD3 loss to Rashad Evans on May 29, 2010)
•    Undefeated in the UFC when fighting with less than 7 months off (5-0)
•    Longest layoff of his career is 448 days (UD3 over Keith Jardine on March 7, 2009, until UD3 loss to Rashad Evans on May 29, 2010)

Lyoto Machida
•    32 years old
•    6’1, 205 lbs
•    74-inch reach
•    16-1 professional record (8-1 UFC)
•    4-1 in last 5 fights
•    9-1 in last 10 fights
•    2-1 in championship fights
•    5-1 against current or former UFC  champions and PRIDE Grand Prix winners
•    Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
•    350-day reign as champion; 1 successful title defense
•    62.5% of UFC wins by decision (5 out of 8)
•    25% of UFC wins by KO (2 out of 8)
•    12.5% of UFC wins by submission (1 out of 8)
•    Only professional loss by KO1
•    Tied with Jon Fitch and Royce Gracie for 2nd all time with 8 consecutive wins in the UFC (Anderson Silva holds the record with 11)
•    Knockout of the Night in back-to-back fights (KO1 over Thiago Silva on January 31, 2009; and KO2 over Rashad Evans on May 23, 2009)
•    Current layoff is 196 days (KO1 by Mauricio Rua on May 8, 2010)
•    Previous layoff was 196 days and suffered his first career loss (UD5 over Marcio Rua on October 24, 2009, until KO1 by Marcio Rua on May 8, 2010)
•    Longest UFC layoff is 252 days (UD3 over Tito Ortiz on May 24, 2008, until KO1 over Thiago Silva on January 31, 2009)

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