By Josh Stein on May 25, 2009
With Lyoto Machida now installed as the UFC lightheavyweight champion, a crowning that I think we can all be proud of given the exciting nature of his win over Rashad Evans, displaying that his knockout of Thiago Silva was not at all a flash in the proverbial pan, it’s worth taking a second to look ahead at what’s next for the karate master from Brazil.
Immediate questions arise: Who will he look to defend his title against first? Will he continue to finish as the champion? How long will he maintain that title in a division that seems packed with talent and fierce contenders? How long will his immaculate record, free of the loss of even a single round in the confines of the Octagon, stay in tact?
It’s one thing to be undefeated when you are among the contenders, beating fighters all clawing their way to the top, focused more on the prize of the division, that bulky strap, than their opponents, much of the time. It’s different when you’re that ultimate target, that fighter that everyone is looking to take down a peg. When you’re that final goal, everyone is gunning for you, and it will be interesting to see how Machida copes with that pressure.
Still, what will have more impact, in my opinion, than the nature of the division as a whole, are the specific cast of talented characters we’re looking at in the division, so I thought I’d walk through the matchups I see coming (as well as a brief overview of their likelihood, to see if I could offer a little insight into what’s next for the new champ.
Of course, the matchup that seems most widely discussed is the potential bout between Machida and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. The possibility of this ending up a season of TUF seems likely, but nothing has been announced by the UFC. Rampage seems the only really definite TUF coach, as he may (and, in my opinion, this seems more likely) end up coaching Rashad Evans.
Lyoto Machida vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
It seems that Rampage may be Lyoto’s easiest matchup in this division. As aggressive, as powerful and as explosive as Rampage can be, it’s hard to imagine what he can do to Lyoto.
Walking through approaches that Rampage might take, it’s hard to see what he’s going to try that could be effective. He can try and do what Rashad did and force Lyoto to move forward, but it’s hard to believe that he’ll go that route.
Without the NCAA wrestling background it’s hard to see Rampage shooting and looking to put Machida on his back, but the way that Machida moves on his back foot, keeping the distance, it’s hard to believe that utilizing the shot would be a viable option anyway.
Rampage could choose to clinch, but even if that happens, I think that Rampage would struggle to stay standing up with the use of footsweeps. This seems like a matchup built for Machida to win, as Rampage isn’t a fighter that has the technical ability to land the power punches he would need to in order to win the bout.
Lyoto Machida vs. Forrest Griffin
Sometimes it only takes one big win, even after losing a title fight, to hurtle a contender back into that top position and, if Rampage and Evans end up coaching the Ultimate Fighter, the winner of the UFC 101 matchup between Forrest Griffin and Anderson Silva could make for a legitimate top contenders bout. Basic time-frame work gives the challengers enough time to recover and then train for a title fight with Machida as well as time for the UFC to hype a bout in late fall or early winter. As a former champion, TUF winner and generally charismatic guy, Forrest Griffin would make for a pretty easy sell (so would Anderson, but I’ll get to that in due course) as a top contender for Machida.
Again, it’s hard for me to see a way that Forrest can plan for this fight, but it’s hard to see how anyone can plan for a fighter who’s style is unique and, let’s face it, bizarre for fighters used to dealing with straight ahead boxers and muay thai fighters, especially when that’s all that they have around the gym.
Forrest has one edge that I don’t think Rashad or Rampage really had. He gets more aggressive as he gets more beat up. Many fighters get broken psychologically after they start to take hard shots, and we’ve seen that psychology with Rampage (though we’ve never seen Rashad so sufficiently beaten over a long fight that it’s set in), but Forrest seems to get angrier. The questions remain: Will he be able to keep going even as he get hurt? And, if he does, will he be able to hurt Machida?
I’m not convinced he’ll be able to hit Machida. Forrest also tends to get a little sloppy as he gets aggressive, but it’ll be interesting to see how Machida would react to Griffin’s attempts and make for an exciting battle.
Lyoto Machida vs. Anderson Silva
I can’t think of anything more exciting than Anderson Silva looking for his eleventh (or perhaps twelth, if he defends his middleweight title once before) straight UFC win against Lyoto Machida, looking to be the first fighter to hold two belts at once. That is a huge selling point, and if Silva defeats Forrest Griffin, especially if he does it in exciting and devastating fashion, it could legitimize him as a force at 205 pounds. A win over Forrest isn’t necessarily a mark of lightheavyweight consistency, but if the UFC wants to get a superfight between Lyoto and Anderson before Anderson retires (which still looks like it may be at the end of his UFC contract) they may make this fight happen.
Silva is a warrior, and these guys are, in my opinion, the two best strikers in the sport. Both do things that their opponents still can’t work out. Both are athletic, quick and capable of executing their games at full range and in the clinch (Silva’s thai clinch is well noted and Machida’s footsweeps are worth acknowledging).
This is the one bout I don’t really think I understand yet. Anderson’s upcoming bout with Griffin will reveal alot about his ability to compete in the lightheavyweight division. Anderson is often noted as a big middleweight, but he’s not as big a lightheavyweight as many seem to think. He’s powerful, explosive and dangerous, to be sure, and because of how technical Anderson is, it’s hard to judge how much of a roll size plays in the bout.
That said, it would be interesting, physically, to see how big Anderson and Machida are next to each other, Machida being a moderately sized lightheavyweight and Anderson looking pretty sizeable in his bout with James Irvin. This factor and, many others, would be incredibly exciting to test, especially if Anderson maintains his dominance in his upcoming bouts.
There’s a lot for Machida to do before we can call him the next dominant UFC champion, but it’ll be interesting to see how people address the curious puzzle that is his striking game, or if they try and get him to the canvas to get around it altogether. Machida is a warrior, and definitely worth taking note of. Will he be the first champion since 2007, since Chuck Liddell, to successfully defend his title? I don’t know, but it’ll be an interesting move step forward for the division, and the karateka at the top of it.
Filed Under: MMA
About the Author: Joshua Stein is a writer and editor for MMA Opinion. He has worked as a photographer and journalist and has a number of print journalism credits. He also works as a moderator for MMAForum.com and a grappling columnist (covering judo, collegiate wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and submission grappling) for profighting-fans.com.