Niko Price has produced one of the knockouts of the year at UFC Tampa.
Not since Chuck Liddell had his four-fight title reign ended by Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s fist has the UFC light heavyweight title been defended on more than one occasion. On Sunday afternoon, Jon Jones has a chance to break that streak.
His opponent? Lyoto Machida, a former champion who knows very well the weight of expectation that is currently being heaped on Jones’ shoulders.
When Machida destroyed Rashad Evans to take the belt at UFC 98, Joe Rogan hailed the victory as the dawning of “The Machida Era”. A controversial decision win and then a brutal knockout loss to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua followed, bringing a crashing end to the short-lived era.
With close to the best year ever in UFC history, Jones finds himself him a similar position with both the media and fans anointing him the present and future of the division. Those are huge words to put behind a 24-year old with only 15 fights but there’s no doubt that his success has warranted it.
So is Machida just another warm body put in front of Jones for him to dispatch on his ongoing climb towards stardom? The odds makers definitely see it that way with Jones the heavy, heavy favourite but I’m not so convinced.
Out of all the contenders at light heavyweight right now, I’m comfortable in saying that Machida is the hardest riddle to solve for Jones. There’s a reason why Machida had an era named after him.
At the time of that Evans victory, no one had the faintest idea how to deal with him. Machida’s karate based style gave him a timing and an elusive quality that we just hadn’t seen before and he used it to simply baffle fighters. Simply put, no one wanted to fight him.
Unfortunately, Shogun’s game was pretty much kryptonite for Machida’s style and I feel the KO he inflicted on him in their second fight made Machida very hesitant in the Rampage fight. That lack of urgency cost him the first two rounds and ultimately the fight. But in the third round of that bout and his fight with Randy Couture earlier this year he showed that he had got his groove back.
Jones used his reach advantage expertly in his first title defence against Rampage, and obviously knows how to use distance very well. If he opts to use that same strategy again he will be doing it against someone that has pretty much trained their whole life doing it. That’s not to say he won’t have success or even win the fight from range, as he will absolutely dwarf Machida come fight time but it’s something to think about.
I’d also back Machida’s takedown defence over pretty much anyone else in the division outside of Phil Davis. Outside of a brief takedown against the cage by Rampage, Machida hasn’t looked like budging when anyone has tried to get him to the mat. Jones is a different animal entirely but if things aren’t going his way on the feet, it is definitely something else to ponder.
Ultimately, there is a lot that has to go right for Machida and I think the size difference will play a major part in the final result, but don’t write the Karate Kid off.
In other action both Nogueira brothers will square off in quality match-ups as Big Nog takes on Frank Mir and Lil Nog meets Tito Ortiz.
The former is a rematch from a UFC 92 clash that saw Mir claim the interim title and become the first person to stop the Pride legend. It was an absolute beat down by Mir but the win has been tainted in many eyes by the claims of the Nogueira camp that Nogueira was sick during the fight.
I’m in the camp that there was something wrong with Nogueira that affected his performance that night but I’m not sure it was enough to derail Mir then or now. Mir’s simply too young with a whole lot less mileage on the clock. I’d personally like to see Nogueira have another moment like his last fight against Schaub, but it won’t come against Mir. It will be more competitive but Mir gets him in two again.
After injecting some life back into his career with a submission win over Ryan Bader, Tito Ortiz came crashing back to earth when he we stopped with a brutal knee to the body by Rashad Evans a few months back.
Without a doubt, Nogueira is the most winnable fight (outside of possibly Forrest Griffin) for Tito inside of division’s top ten. Whether he can actually win the fight is something I’m not too confident in.
Nogueira did well in stopping some of Phil Davis’ shots when they met and did equally as well against another quality wrestler in Ryan Bader. Ortiz isn’t on that level and his wrestling shot has become pretty weak. If he can’t take Nogueira down then he has to deal with Nogueira’s hands which, when they are on, are lethal.
However, Nogueira does have a tendency to look disinterested and his hands look slow and sloppy. If that Nogueira shows up, Tito could very well do enough to take a decision. I’m not going to bank on it though.
UFC 140 is available on pay-per-view from 1pm on Sunday, and if you want something to convince you to buy the PPV, you can also check out some of the events preliminary match-ups live on ONE at 11am.