Jones/Machida doesn't need to live up to Shogun/Hendo greatness
Before the fists even started flying last month in San Jose for UFC 139, the Internet was abuzz with media and fans proclaiming that Dana White and the UFC PR machine had overlooked the importance of their November 19th event in favor of heavily promoting UFC on Fox a week prior. People cried foul and claimed that Mauricio Rua and Dan Henderson weren’t getting the credit (and attention) they deserved for their UFC 139 main event.
Well, it turns out, none of that mattered in the end. After a grueling twenty-five minutes inside the octagon, Shogun and Hendo stood atop an elite MMA precipice. Their back-and-forth battle was quickly billed as one of the greatest fights of all time. And we’re not just talking MMA fights. We’re talking about all combat sports. Move over Ali-Frazier; time to make room for Shogun-Hendo. The fight that many thought the UFC had overlooked (or turned into an afterthought in the wake of UFC on Fox) actually turned out overshadowing not only the previous week’s heavyweight championship bout, but just about every other MMA fight of the past few years.
So what will happen when the UFC’s wunderkind and light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones, steps into the Octagon tonight to stare down challenger Lyoto Machida? Will it be a well-contested and exciting fight? Possibly. Will it live up to the bar that Rua and Henderson have now raised to a new height? Not a chance.
And that’s totally fine.
Originally slated as a championship bout between Jones and former teammate Rashad Evans, the Jones-Machida fight lacks both the legendary “we’ve-been-waiting-for-this-fight-for-years” status that Shogun-Hendo held as well as the emotional “we-can’t-wait-to-tear-each-others-heads-off” weight that Jones-Evans would likely have contained.
This fight, like so many other fights we’ve seen before (and will surely see again) is just another championship fight. Two skilled fighters that will test each other’s abilities, but that’s about it. Which, like I said before, is ultimately fine. It’ll be a good fight, but it won’t be Shogun-Hendo.
The thing that made the battle between Shogun and Henderson so great was the fact that it was the perfect matchup of styles. While Henderson certainly held a stronger pedigree in getting the fight to the ground, Shogun had the edge in quickness and creativity, but both fighters have always been aggressive rather than elusive. Both fighters have always pushed the pace and brought the fight right to their opponents. That, in my opinion, is what made Shogun-Hendo such an explosive back and forth war.
Lyoto Machida, on the other hand, made an entire career out of being elusive (sixteen wins in a row, to be exact; eight of which were decision victories) before employing a more aggressive style in his first loss to Rua. He’s had a few impressive stoppages (none more impressive than his knockout wins over Rashad Evans and Randy Couture), but he’s looked a lot less “unbeatable” since he started pushing forward rather than slipping away from attacks. With the title on the line against another creative fighter like Jones, I see Machida going back to the elusive style that won him sixteen straight fights and playing cat-and-mouse with “Bones” rather than engaging.
Jon Jones is really the x-factor in the fight. If he can be aggressive enough and creative enough to upset Machida’s rhythm, the bout could end up being an exciting tilt. If, however, he plays into Machida’s karate style and becomes tentative, you’re looking at what could turn into a less-than-stellar twenty-five minute title fight.
We’ve all heard it said a million times before: “Styles make fights.” Unfortunately, I just don’t think Jones-Machida has the right mixture of styles to create a hellacious five-round war like we saw at UFC 139. Nor do I think Jones or Machida have the chins that could withstand the kind of punishment Shogun and Henderson laid upon each other.
MMA fans, however, don’t need another Shogun-Hendo to headline UFC 140. We had that fight, and it was everything we’d hoped it would be (and more), but those kinds of fights are once in a decade. They aren’t the kind of bout you’re going to witness at every UFC event, and that’s totally one-hundred percent fine. With the increased exposure and education of MMA on the masses, fans will be more than happy to witness those bloodbaths on the rare occasions and, instead, revel in the quality of a good, well-fought, technical battle much more often. What we’ll get from Jones and Machida on December 10th in Toronto remains to be seen, but I’m banking on the latter…and there’s nothing wrong with that.