Sunday, January 2, 2011

UFC 98 Review: Machida, Hughes Big Winners

By Ross Everett

When golf legend Jack Nicklaus was still a young upstart in the sport and only starting to tear up PGA courses, legend Bobby Jones commented following 'The Golden Bear's''65 Masters win that "he plays a game with which I am not familiar". Following Lyoto Machida's absolute destruction of Rashad Evans in the main event of UFC 98, there's likely a few MMA fighters saying the same thing. Machida completely befuddled Evans en route to a 2nd round TKO victory after which 'The Dragon' looked as if he'd barely worked up a sweat.

The fight started slowly, with each man trying to get a feel for his opponent and wait him out to see who blinked first. Evans, who prefers to counter punch, quickly began to become uncomfortable with facing an adversary who didn't come right at him. Late in the first round, Machida went on offense with frightening suddenness, flooring Evans with a nice straight right hand. Evans gamely tried to fight back, but a final right hand from the Shotokan Karate master left him out cold.

After the fight UFC announcer Joe Rogan proclaimed the start of the Machida era and this is not just mere hyperbole. Machida is unlike any fighter before him, rooted in mastery of traditional martial arts but with the versatility of a modern MMA competitor. He's essentially a Mortal Kombat character come to life--in a more realistic cross disciplinary comparison he shares many of the same characteristics as boxing great Floyd Mayweather, Jr. as he combines insane handspeed, underrated stopping power and nearly impenetrable defense into an unorthodox and extremely lethal package. Like Mayweather, hes a tough opponent to prepare for as there's simply no way to replicate his skill set in sparring. In another similarity with boxing's recent pound for pound king, Machida has been bred to fight since birth. His father is a first generation Japanese --Brazilian and a Shotokan Karate legend, Yoshizo Machida. He began training in his fathers discipline at the age of 3 and by the time he was 12 years old had earned a black belt.

The comparisons with the insanely talented but equally insanely arrogant Mayweather end when the final bell sounds. Outside of the cage, Machida is a modest and respectful gentleman who is quick to give credit to his father and his karate teachers for his MMA success. He spent most of his UFC 98 postfight interview not singing his own praises, but imploring others to strive to realize their dreams.

An odd trivia note about Machida serves as further repudiation for MMA neophytes who think that the sports kinship with pro wrestling began with Brock Lesnar: Machida was discovered by Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki, and became something of his protege. He trained for some time at the New Japan Pro Wrestling dojo in Tokyo and made his MMA debut on a NJPW card in 2003, defeating Pancrase veteran Kengo Watanabe.

Perhaps the most frightening thing about Machida is that hes only now reaching his full potential as an MMA fighter. In other words, hes only going to get better which is a scary prospect for opponents given the fact that hes never lost in MMA competition. Early in his UFC career he had a reputation as a boring fighter, but in his recent bouts hes shown a downright lethal ability to end fights. He stopped Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou at UFC 79 with an arm triangle choke, and blitzed Evans and previous foe Thiago Alves with punishing punching combinations en route to TKO victories. The so called boring fighter has in the process earned two UFC knockout of the night bonuses by virtue of his evolving power punching skills.

Machida will very likely face Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson at some point and its difficult to see him faring much differently than Evans did. One thing working in 'Rampage's' favor is his greater experience and a resume filled with high level opponents of various fighting styles. Still, everyone comes back to the fundamental reality that no one has ever really seen a fighter quite like Machida before.

In the co-main event of the evening, Matt Hughes defeated Matt Serra by unanimous decision to gain the upperhand in their long running feud. It was a surprisingly entertaining fight, with Serra taking the first round with his power punching before Hughes used his takedown and ground control abilities to win rounds two and three.

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