Lyoto Machida wants another crack at UFC gold. | Photo: Sherdog.com
Lyoto Machida (19-3, 11-3 UFC) vs. Phil Davis (11-1, 7-1 UFC)
The Matchup: Machida’s extended reign as the light heavyweight division’s top contender continues for the third consecutive fight. The former 205-pound titlist earned that designation after each of his last two victories -- against Ryan Bader at UFC on Fox 4 and Dan Henderson at UFC 157. However, on both occasions, various circumstances altered Machida’s course. Now, as Jon Jones prepares to defend his crown against Alexander Gustafsson in September, a third straight victory over a top 10 opponent would almost assuredly get Machida another chance at UFC gold, unless, of course, Daniel Cormier is granted the shot first or Jones beats Gustafsson and then makes a detour to heavyweight.
Nothing is guaranteed in the UFC these days, and at 35 years old, time is not on Machida’s side. Still, the odds are in his favor against Davis, whose march up the divisional ladder has slowed since he was outclassed by Rashad Evans at UFC on Fox 2. “Mr. Wonderful” has rebounded to post wins against Wagner Prado and Vinny Magalhaes, but neither fight did much to prepare him to solve the confounding puzzle Machida presents.
While Davis showed improved standup in defeating Magalhaes, a decorated grappler, he will struggle to land punching combinations against an elusive karateka. Machida utilizes movement, angles, feints and changes of direction to keep foes off-balance. He has fared well against wrestlers in the past, limiting takedowns against the likes of Henderson, Bader, Evans and Randy Couture. The Brazilian was forced to be cautious against Henderson out of respect for the fight-altering power in the Strikeforce veteran’s right hand, but Davis is not nearly as threatening in that regard. Expect a more aggressive version of Machida to emerge as a result.
With his takedowns thwarted against Evans, Davis became tentative on the feet, throwing one punch at a time. This allowed Evans to counter with multi-punch combinations, and Davis never was able to find a rhythm. The Alliance MMA representative will own a five-inch reach advantage against Machida, but “The Dragon’s” unorthodox movements and attacks will keep the American guessing throughout the contest and ultimately limit his explosive shot.
Davis, an NCAA All-American wrestler and national champion at Penn State University, excels at using his strength and long frame to control opponents and pass guard from top position. His length also allows him to be active in pursuing submissions, but if he is unable to offer anything in the standup game, his chances of grounding Machida are slim to none.
The Pick: Machida could get a stoppage with a devastating counter if Davis gets too desperate in pursuit of the takedown. At the very least, “The Dragon” wins on points, more decisively than he did against Henderson.
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