COMMENTARY | Lyoto Machida might as well stop looking around and look in the mirror, because he only has himself to blame.
Yes, his loss to Phil Davis was extremely controversial, considering that it looked to many like he won the fight and it was in his backyard of Brazil. But Machida and his fighting style have become an MMA Rubix cube of sorts that neither fighters no judges can figure out. And at UFC 163 it caught up with him in a major way.
The first two rounds against Phil Davis were close, but late takedowns by the wrestling stud left a lasting impression on the judges that Davis had won the round. Not because those takedowns resulted in overwhelming damage, but because it was the only clear thing that happened in each of those rounds.
For those watching at home with the benefit of commentary, multiple camera angles and having numerous stats thrown at them, it appeared that Machida had won. But when you are cage side and are watching Machida, who is so good at masking his strikes that even the judges don't see them, it's far more difficult to be convinced that The Dragon won the rounds convincingly (except for the third). And this isn't to say that Machida didn't win the fight; this is to say that Machida didn't convince the people that mattered that he won the fight. And that's what really matters when it comes to the fight: being convincing. It is something that Machida has failed to do and, as a result, is watching his stock tumble in the UFC.
Once upon a time, there was this thing called "The Machida Era" that had apparently begun after Machida knocked Rashad Evans completely senseless. At the time, Machida was an impressive 15-0 and had looked like a fighter who was unbeatable due to his cautious, yet deadly approach to fighting where he traps his opponents into making a mistake and then makes them pay dearly for it. He's like a jack in the box by the way he lulls his foes to sleep and then springs into action. The formula worked against Evans, Thiago Silva and Tito Ortiz. But when he fought Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, something changed.
Rua caught on to Machida's game and opted to go chess instead of checkers for five rounds. Never would Shogun over-commit and allow Machida to take advantage of a perceived mistake. The result was a controversial unanimous decision in favor of Machida but had the MMA world grumbling because some pegged Rua as the winner. The fact that Rua landed more strikes but still lost a 48-47 unanimous decision demanded a rematch.
However, something even more interesting came out of that fight: If you don't do anything, neither will Machida. It's a nasty habit that Machida hasn't changed since the losing the second Rua fight even though the rest of the MMA world has caught on. For the most part, if you move around a lot but do nothing, Machida won't attack. There are rare cases where he will totally catch his opponent off guard (i.e. Randy Couture), but he mostly sizes up opponents, twitches and waits. When the opponent attacks, Machida skirts away and shoves a counter strike into their face or body. But what ends up happening is that an opponent can win a fight by outworking Machida rather than trying to score a knockout.
In the rematch with Rua, Machida decidedly came out more aggressive but paid dearly for his shift in strategy as Rua landed an overhand right to the temple that floored Machida and subsequently led to a finish via ground and pound. Just as quickly as "The Machida Era" began, it had ended. And the ill fated strategy by Machida to be more aggressive and more convincing fell flat. And with that, Machida opted to never adopt that strategy again.
The loss to Rampage Jackson in his next fight was simply because Jackson has a hard head and outworked Machida. The cautious approach had failed to yield the desired results for a fighter who leans on being both elusive and efficient. But, again, Machida never went out to be convincing. After knocking out Couture, Machida was choked to sleep by Jon Jones, whose talents and advantages are pretty much otherworldly and smashed the Rubix cube. Machida dusted off Ryan Bader with a counter right hand in his next fight before narrowly defeating Dan Henderson at UFC 157.
All of those fights found Machida doing the same thing: waiting for a mistake and capitalizing. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. And against Phil Davis, even though a lot of people thought it worked, it didn't. Those late takedowns left a lasting impression on the minds of the judges. Nothing else really stuck out and convinced the judges otherwise. Sure, Machida landed some hard shots, but it took slow-motion replays (which judges don't have access to until after they turn in their scorecard) to show just how precise and accurate those shots were. However, there was no doubt about the takedowns. Everything else was shrouded in a fog of, "Hey, did that land?"
The saying that a fighter should never leave it in the hands of the judges should probably be stapled to Machida's forehead. Every single Lyoto Machida fight is an affair that relies more on the opponent than Machida. When Machida wins, it's because the opponent made a mistake. However, when Machida loses, it's because of whatever alterations his opponent made to deal with his fighting style. Very few have actually figured out exactly how to solve the Machida puzzle, so instead they decide to not give Machida what he wants and wait it out. When you know that Lyoto Machida isn't going to come into the cage looking to knock you out, you are safe for the most part. The goal at that point is don't make a big enough mistake to lose but last long enough to get to the judges. In the meantime, put together an impressive enough flurry late to steal a round and give the judges something to remember. If you do that, you have a 50/50 chance at winning because the judges are completely lost on what they are watching without the benefit of commentary, statistics such as "significant strikes" and multiple camera angles.
In the grand scheme of things, this puts Machida at a precarious position. He's no longer at the top of the light heavyweight ladder clogging things up and forcing guys ranked lower to fight him. To make matters worse, he has never been exciting to watch for the casual fan and nobody is begging to see a Machida fight by any stretch of the imagination.
As a result of the Davis loss, there are many that have asked for him to drop to middleweight, but the same problem will take place there as it did at light heavyweight. It isn't the weight class, it is his approach to fighting. Now, to suggest to somebody who has attained as much success as Machida had to suddenly switch up his style might sound a bit asinine. You don't ask Floyd Mayweather to change his chess to checkers, unless he's losing. And that's exactly where Machida is at. His fighting style is no longer working for him consistently and that, coupled with it being not very crowd pleasing, leaves him with only himself to blame when his MMA future is questioned.
Andreas Hale is a former editor at websites including BET.com and HipHopDX.com. Today, he resides in the fight capital of the world and has covered boxing and MMA for mainstream media outlets such as MTV.com and Jay-Z's LifeandTimes.com, as well as die-hard outlets, including FightNews.com, Fight! Magazine, Ultimate MMA, CagePotato.com and others.
You can follow him on Twitter (@AndreasHale).
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