The fifteenth installment of UFC on FOX takes place at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey this Saturday April 18, 2015. The main event will pair two of the top contenders in the middleweight division in a pivotal bout that could very well determine the next challenger to Chris Weidman’s title.
Lyoto Machida, the 36 year old former light heavyweight champion has won 3 of his last 4 and is coming off a quick dispatch of top 10 contender CB Dolloway last December in his home country of Brazil. After coming up short in his competitive title fight with Weidman, he reminded everyone why he’s one of the most dangerous men in the middleweight division after TKOing Dolloway with a thunderous liver kick and follow up punches just 62 seconds into the contest.
Luke Rockhold, the 30 year old former Strikeforce middleweight champion has won three straight bouts all by early stoppage. After being knocked out with a highlight reel spinning wheel kick by the surging Vitor Belfort in his UFC debut, Rockhold has gone through middleweight contenders with relative ease. Most recently, Rockhold made an impressive statement by head kicking and submitting the notoriously tough Brit Michael Bisping last November in Australia. Rockhold staggered Bisping with a left head kick, and quickly locked on a mounted one arm guillotine forcing Bisping to tap and became the first man to ever submit Michael Bisping in his professional MMA career.
Both Machida and Rockhold are as good as they’ve ever looked. Machida has finally seemed to have found his true fighting demeanor and combined his high level counter striking with a calculated aggression that is a real threat to any man that weighs 185 pounds. Rockhold has really come into his own in the stand up realm and is now much more precise and economic with his strikes. Add that to his elite killer instinct and brilliant grappling skills and you have a fighter capable of beating and finishing any middleweight on the planet.
It is no secret that both these men are dangerous and closely matched. However, the not so obvious aspect of this fight is how similar their skills and styles actually are. It can be said that Machida and Rockhold are two sides of the same coin when it comes to their approach and tactics. Both fighters are southpaws and have a very kick heavy centered style of attacking, Rockhold throws many body and head kicks to gauge range and disincentivize his opponent from closing the distance. Machida, on the flip side, uses his lead hand to gauge distance and relies on his feints and speed to frustrate and keep the opponents guessing.
Takedowns have never been a strong suit of either fighter. It’s very rare to see them actively trying to drag the opponent to the mat, however the underutilized grappling can not be forgotten, and it can be very effective when timed properly. Machida uses very swift foot sweeps and clinch trips to disorient opponents and take opponents down. Rockhold has a much more defensive and grinding style of grappling when it comes to his clinch game and tends to use it when the opponent manages to close the distance on him or after he’s landed crisp close quarter punch combinations.
With the similarities having been stated, let’s look where they each have their advantages.
Machida has a clear advantage in striking, this is not to say that Rockhold is a non-threatening or subpar striker, but Machida’s record of lightning fast kicks and one punch knockouts illuminates the point of why Rockhold can’t just stay static, as he at times is liable to do, within range of Machida’s strikes. Machida’s speed and power is still very prominent and as good as Rockhold is on the feet, the probability of a KO lays heavier on the Brazilian’s side.
Lyoto Machida has been competing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship since 2007. In his nineteen Octagon appearances, eight have been scheduled for five rounds, and those are big numbers that can’t be ignored. Machida has almost twice the professional fights that Rockhold has and held his own for five rounds with a pound for pound great in Chris Weidman just under a year ago. Rockhold last went the full 25 minutes with Tim Kennedy in Strikeforce three years ago. Significant stats to take into account with a scheduled 25 minute bout approaching.
Though Rockhold doesn’t possess the dynamic double leg of a GSP, his ground game is very legit. Machida possesses a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt like Rockhold, however, unlike Rockhold, he owns very few submission victories. Rockhold is a very savvy, technical and opportunistic grappler, and can end a contest very quickly with transitional brilliance like his mounted triangle/Kimura submission over Tim Boetsch, or his previously mentioned homage to Urijah Faber one armed guillotine of Michael Bisping. Machida’s ground game is much more basic and he has shown bad habits of not advancing position and keeping a very open guard, he must keep everything tight and be keenly aware of his defense on the ground.
Both fighters have good conditioning but their work rate is much different. Rockhold will tee off with kicks at his mid-range distance and throws decent punching combinations as opponents move in on him. Machida tends to wait on attacks, so he can counter, limiting his output and that aspect of his game has come back to haunt him, namely, his bout with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and most recently to Chris Weidman. According to ufc.com, Rockhold has an average of 3.60 significant strikes landed per minute, beating Machida’s stat of 2.65 significant strikes. Waiting too long and being inactive is most definitely a risky proposition in a five round fight.
Each fighter has their work cut out for them, they both have excellent records, solid well-rounded skills and real fight finishing potential. Expect a slow feeling out process in the opening round since they both like to fight at range and use feints. Rockhold will land his fair share of strikes and may be able to wear Machida down for a bit against the fence with his strong over/under clinch game throughout the course of the fight. However, Lyoto Machida’s striking, speed, experience and overall craftiness should be enough to win at least three rounds in the judges scorecards.
Lyoto Machida by 48-47 Unanimous Decision.