Ultimate Fighting Championship history is going to be made this Saturday in Sao Paulo, Brazil by ... Jim Miller.
The UFC returns to the Geraldo Jose de Almeida Gymnasium with UFC Fight Night 119 -- a card that is paradoxically loaded with top-flight prospects and top-15 talent coming into their own, yet headlined by fringe middleweight contender Derek Brunson battling former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, who has not seen action in 28 months and just served an 18-month United States Anti-Doping Agency suspension for 7-Keto-DHEA use.
Speaking of the number 28 and symbolic of that same kind of irony, longtime lightweight standout Miller will set the all-time record for UFC appearances against Francisco Trinaldo with his 28th. This is made all the more weird by the fact that this achievement seems quaint and appropriate for the battle-tested 34-year-old: His opponent, still seen as a rock solid fighter with untapped potential, is 39; and in case you missed the memo, John Lineker is back in the cage in a mere matter of hours, so certainly you do not need any other excuses to dive into the odds and analysis for UFC Fight Night 119:
MiddleweightDerek Brunson (17-5) vs. Lyoto Machida (22-7)
ODDS: Brunson (-155), Machida (+135)
ANALYSIS: Machida is 39 years old, has not fought in 28 months and was brutally dispatched in his last two fights. The last time he posted a win, he was headlining UFC Fight Night 56 in against C.B. Dollaway nearly three years ago, lest you think Fight Night main events only got questionable recently. In fact, Dollaway is the only fighter Machida has beaten since Gegard Mousasi almost four years ago.
Even so, the former UFC light heavyweight champion is taking on a borderline top-10 middleweight and is only a +135 underdog, which says an awful lot.
It speaks volumes to the cruel twists of fate that have encircled Brunson, for a start. Who takes down Yoel Romero three times, dominates two rounds and then eats a flying knee, thereby losing resoundingly in his best career performance to date? Brunson does. Who rocks now-interim champ Robert Whittaker silly from the outset, putting him on roller skates before getting so overeager he gets himself knocked out a minute later? Brunson does. Who gets gifted an Anderson Silva bout on pay-per-view, only to lose a bogus decision? You get the picture.
Likewise, that betting line shows a reverence for the fighter that Machida was in his prime, the dazzling defensive maestro who could slip and parry the simplest of strikes, lunge across with his diagonal, darting cross on your chin, all while reaping your foot so you land on your face. The man knocked out Randy Couture in the Octagon with a literal crane kick. In the Brazilian’s prime or at least a few years closer to it, Brunson’s explosive, hard-charging style, complete with defensive lapses, would have been right in Machida's wheelhouse. Four years ago, the stylistic elements in play would have made this fight a no-brainer on paper, even with Machida having struggled mightily with left-handers like Brunson in his last two outings.
This example of hopeful nostalgia seems too extreme, though. Yes, Machida still has the requisite ability and power to counter one careless Brunson rush and make him pay, but is it so realistic that this fight is almost even money, no matter how worrisome the North Carolinian’s penchant for finding a banana peel and subsequently slipping on it? Brunson’s aggressive attack, takedown attempts, punch rushes and even his own kicking offense can capitalize on a slower, older Machida by moving him back to the fence, where he does his best work and where “The Dragon” has often trapped himself throughout his career. As he has gotten older and less fleet, Machida has proved less adroit at escaping those moments with the side-to-side movement on which he has traditionally relied; and it is in those tight spaces where Brunson typically unloads his heaviest artillery.
More than that, over two years away from the cage for a nearly 40-year-old fighter whose style is predicated on rhythm and reaction time seems less like a red flag and more like a giant waving banner, made from dozens of red flags stitched together. “The Dragon” may have some fire left, but 28 months away and 25 minutes inside the cage lead me to believe that Machida is due to get smoked and Brunson takes his scales inside the first three rounds.
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