Matchmaker: Fights to Make Post UFC on FOX 15.

image

UFC on FOX 15 is in the books, and the event can be summed up in one word, “Wow.” Not the most sophisticated way to expound on the results of what happened Saturday night inside the Prudential Center, but it’s as close as one can get. From top to bottom there were upsets, competitive contests, shellackings, and breakthrough performances, about everything a mixed martial arts fan can ask for in one night. So now that there’s been some time to digest the evening’s offerings let’s discuss the possible options for the athletes going forward.

Luke Rockhold vs. Chris Weidman/Vitor Belfort winner
The debate for the next title shot has officially commenced. Rockhold or Jacare? Both are deserving, both make sense, unfortunately only one spot is available and that spot should be reserved for the AKA standout. Luke’s performance was easily the best of his career. He outstruck Machida, dropped him and on the floor, it was a mismatch of an absolute master grappler against a virtual novice. Machida is a legit Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt but Rockhold was hearing none of it and went for the finish with total disregard to  his opponent’s ranking. That is the reason why Rockhold has earned his date with the champion, he is dangerous on the feet, even though he’s not an elite striker, his killer instinct is unmatched and his ground game is true artistry. The arsenal he wields is a serious problem for both Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort.

Lyoto Machida vs. Chris Weidman/Vitor Belfort loser.
To say Machida’s performance was underwhelming is an understatement. Machida was hurt, was outmatched and by the second round, utterly broken. But make no mistake about it, Lyoto Machida is still one of the most dangerous guys in the middleweight division. Machida is rarely given an easy fight but given the beating he took at the hands of Luke Rockhold, he needs some time away and a top ranked opponent with a similar situation. The loser of UFC 187’s co-main event makes all the sense in the world. If Chris Weidman retains his title, a fight against a veteran like Vitor Belfort is great, and if Belfort manages to pull off the upset, a rematch of one of the best fights of 2014 between Machida and Weidman could be even better.

Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. CB Dolloway/Michael Bisping winner.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza could be the most unlucky man in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s roster. Jacare is a top contender with world class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and ever improving striking that poses nothing but problems in his division, and yet, given a set of severely unfortunate circumstances, he is now known as the guy who has involved in the least dramatic and unlikely rematch in UFC history. Yoel Romero pulled out of what was an already rescheduled bout between him and Jacare a week out from the fight, Chris Camozzi took the spot and the outcome was no different than their first encounter two years ago, dominant first round submission. No one will begrudge Jacare for wanting to sit on the sidelines and wait for the opportunity to fight for the belt, however that can be easily over a year away. The winner of CB Dolloway and Michael Bisping is not a great matchup, but it is the best match available for him, it keeps Jacare busy with a respected opponent who he should most likely beat.

Cub Swanson vs. Ricardo Lamas
Both Cub Swanson and Ricardo Lamas were outgunned and finished in their last bout. Lamas was on the receiving end of a stunning first round knockout by Chad Mendes in Fairfax, Virginia earlier this month. Swanson was outclassed and submitted by the rising prospect in Max Holloway on Saturday’s Fox card. A pairing between these perennial contenders makes perfect sense, both will be hungry for a win after such sound defeats and the fight will be a gauge of their future standings in the featherweight division.

Max Holloway vs. Chad Mendes
Max Holloway’s performance against Cub Swanson was not only the best of his career, it was a statement to every featherweight under contract that he is here, and he is for real. Chad Mendes is being seen as the prince in Jose Aldo’s kingdom, and after his quick KO of Ricardo Lamas, it’s rekindling talks of a third crack at the title. It may be too much, too soon for the 23 year old Hawaiian, but let him test the waters of the elite competition at featherweight. If Mendes is able to handle Holloway, it’s a nice feather in his cap, and if Holloway beats Mendes, the search for new contenders to Aldo’s crown is rapidly over.

Felice Herrig vs. Joanne Calderwood
Felice Herrig handed the torch to Paige Van Zant in Newark, New Jersey. Herrig was already being considered as a gatekeeper to the stars before the Van Zant bout, Saturday’s performance might have just cemented it and unequivocally showed that Van Zant was the new cute blonde girl who can throw fisticuffs. Herrig is a solid fighter with well-rounded skills, she is still a tough out for any woman weighing 115 pounds and isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Joanne Calderwood received her first professional loss in Krakow, Poland earlier this month to newcomer Maryna Moroz and it has to be eating away at her. A bout between Herrig and Calderwood is a good bit of matchmaking due to their complimentary styles, it is a very feasibly entertaining fight between two women who are still climbing to reach the top.

Paige Van Zant vs. Maryna Moroz
“12 Gauge” Paige Van Zant is in elite company, just six fights into her professional career, she could easily be named the third biggest name in women’s mixed martial arts only below Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, respectively. The comments on her good looks, kind demeanor and exciting fighting style will unquestionably continue, but the real focus should be set on her skill set. For as good as Van Zant is, she’s still very raw, not surprising, given her age and experience, and even after a solid win over a well-respected opponent in Felice Herrig, the questions will continue to linger. After a shocking first round submission over top ranked Joanne Calderwood, Maryna Moroz was met with praise but also some doubts over the validity of her unexpected domination of Calderwood. Let there be no more questions, a fight between Van Zant and Moroz will answer all questions including one of pinnacle importance, “Who can challenge for Joanna Jedrzejyczyk’s title?”

Beniel Dariush vs. Al Iaquinta
Beniel Dariush showed what a real talent he is against Jim Miller, he outgrappled the well-regarded Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and just blanketed him over 15 minutes. Al Iaquinta is being bashed over some “heat of the moment” comments he yelled to the audience, but his skills are where the real focus should be. Although his win over Jorge Masvidal was controversial, Iaquinta was still very competitive and gave Masvidal some problems. The lightweight division is hardly ever in need for contenders, but it’s always fun to see when the young guys come out and try to state their claim. Pair Dariush with Iaquinta and let these youngsters make their argument with some exciting MMA action.

Jim Miller vs. Danny Castillo
Saturday’s event highlighted Jim Miller’s descension from perennial top 10 contender to the unenviable fringe top 15, Danny Castillo is facing similar problems. Castillo was last seen being starched by a spinning back fist from Paul Felder at UFC 182 and is being thought of in the same light as Miller. Both fighters are coming off back to back losses and both are dreading being in the sub-15. Miller’s aggressive grappling style against Castillo’s wrestling and strong boxing skills is a recipe for some good old-fashioned scramble inducing mixed martial arts.

Aljamain Sterling vs. Frankie Saenz
Aljamain Sterling had a lot of hype behind him since his Octagon debut last year, Saturday night he proved that the hype was warranted. Sterling dominated tough veteran Takeya Mizugaki for 3 rounds before catching him with a once in a blue moon seen, arm triangle choke from the bottom. It was impressive to say the least but now it’s time he faces some real contenders in the division. Frankie Saenz put on a wrestling clinic on Iuri Alcantara in February, it was a pretty big upset considering the betting lines. Saenz’s dominant wrestling, speed and pace can provide a very stern test for Sterling.

Takeya Mizugaki vs. Iuri Alcantara
Takeya Mizugaki is a strange fixture in the bantamweight division. Most will agree that Mizugaki is most likely not going to challenge for the title any time soon, and in that regard is seen as a gatekeeper to the stars, but his skills and record imply he’s much better than that. Iuri Alcantara was seen as a dark horse at 135 pounds for a bit but after his loss to Frankie Saenz, it appears those claims have softened. A fight between Mizugaki and Saenz is a fun stylistic matchup and is very close to call even at first glance. A win for either man will clearly establish their place in the rankings.

Lyoto Machida Vs. Luke Rockhold. In-Depth Breakdown and Prediction.

image

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.

image

THE MATCHUP
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’S ADVANTAGES
Striking.
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.

Experience.
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.

ROCKHOLD’S ADVANTAGES
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
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.

Work Rate/Output.
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.

THE VERDICT
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.