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The Blueprint - Jones vs. Machida

Michael DiSanto breaks down the UFC 140 main event between Jon Jones and Lyoto Machida...
Jones vs. Machida headlines UFC 140 on Dec. 10There truly is no rest for the weary when it comes to Jon Jones.

Seventy-seven days after facing Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in the first defense of his UFC light heavyweight championship, Jones will return to action to face one of the toughest puzzles in all of mixed martial arts, Lyoto Machida. Eleven weeks is a short turnaround time for any elite fighter facing top competition, not to mention a champion defending his belt.  

It is common for prospects building their competitive resumes to fight monthly or even bi-weekly when building their resumes against grossly overmatched foes. But most UFC champions compete two, maybe three times a year, if the fans are lucky. This will be Jones’ fourth fight in just over 10 months.

That is a ridiculous pace. Conventional wisdom suggests that he cannot keep it up. Not if he wants to hold onto that shiny gold belt that currently sits around his waist.  

The question, of course, is whether it will impact Saturday’s main event. Will Jones be a bit overtrained? Is he getting mentally burned out? Only time will tell. I’m not sure if Team Jones even knows the answer to those questions just yet.

The fear over overtraining and burnout isn’t the only things working against Jones. History also favors the challenger.

Eleven men have reigned as the UFC’s 205-pound champion.  Only three have successfully defended the title more than once. Chuck Liddell was the last man to accomplish that feat, and his reign ended nearly five years ago.

Of the six champions since Liddell, only Rampage, Jones and Machida successfully defended even once. Those are startling statistics. The numbers clearly demonstrate the incredible parity in the UFC’s glamour division.

They also suggest that Saturday might be Machida’s night to finally make Jones seem human.

The problem with all of that is the fact that numbers are nothing more than numbers. People fight. Numbers don’t. And I’m quite certain that Jones couldn’t care less about the fact that his level of activity is far beyond the norm or that nobody since Liddell has successfully defended the title more than twice.

How am I so sure of that? Well, nobody in history had ever won a UFC title at the ripe young age of 23 until Jones did it back in March. No fighter had ever won UFC gold with less than eight weeks to recover and prepare since his previous bout in the Octagon. Jones snatched the title from Shogun a mere six weeks after bludgeoning Ryan Bader.

Only one man in the last decade has scored a submission win over Rampage. Yep, you guessed it. Jon Jones.

This guy breaks the mold in so many ways it is tough to keep up at times. He is anything but ordinary in terms of his fighting style and career accomplishments, so I’m going to go out on a rather short limb and suggest that neither his competitive frequency nor history will play any role in this fight. Jones will show up at his best—properly trained, physically strong and mentally ready to go.

I also fully expect Machida to show up at his absolute best. No other fighter in the sport lives mixed martial arts more than “The Dragon.” This guy personifies bushido in every aspect of his life. He would never disrespect himself, the sport or his opponent by taking a haphazard approach to preparing for a fight. No chance whatsoever.

This will be a fight decided by styles and skills, not extraneous factors, which raises the question of how these guys matchup against each other. Readers who regularly peruse my big fight breakdowns probably expect me to write that Jones, who has some of the best takedowns in the division, needs to put Machida on his back. While I’m confident the champion will do just that at some point in the fight, I don’t think he should hesitate to stand with Machida.

Jones is an extremely effective standup fighter, despite the fact that he has only been training that part of his game for a couple of years.  One thing that makes him so unique is his record-setting 84.5-inch reach. No other fighter in the UFC, not even guys in the heavyweight division, can match that wingspan. As a result, he can land strikes from distances that are virtually impossible to prepare for. His crazy reach gave Rampage and Shogun, two standup experts, tremendous problems. It will do the same to Machida.

Another unique thing about Jones’ standup is that he is almost perfectly ambidextrous with his punches, seamlessly switching between orthodox and southpaw stances at will. When he remains committed to the jab, his standup is masterful from either side. He can do that and score against Machida, dominating the fight from the outside.

The problem, and all fighters have problems, is that Jones tends to lunge with a lazy left when he leads with a power shot from a southpaw stance. It is one of the only shots that he throws without excellent snap. As a result, the shot doesn’t have much juice on it, and, worse yet, he tends to pull it back very low.

Machida is an expert counterstriker. An expert of the first order. He will absolutely be trying to key off of that shot with a right hook over the top, a left of his own down the middle, or a right high kick. If I were in Jones’ corner for the fight, I would hammer home the need to remain in the orthodox stance because I don’t think he can resist leading with a lazy left.

In my opinion, that flaw in his game, particularly when matched with a lightning-quick, expert counterstriker like Machida, overrides the fact that it is easier to shoot for takedowns from a southpaw stance. Remember, Jones’ right is his dominant hand. Unlike kickboxers and boxers, who typically keep their dominant hand back, wrestlers want their dominant hand forward to assist with takedowns.

Of course, that isn’t the only way that Jones can get the fight to the ground. He is freakishly good at Greco or Judo throws. Just ask anyone he has faced to date. Machida is excellent in the clinch. But he will get thrown by Jones from that position. Guaranteed.

Once he throws him, Jones should use his amazing ground control to keep the Brazilian on his back. Forget submissions because Machida is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt. Jones wants no part of that game. It should be all ground and pound all day. Jones can win by decision or stoppage that way.

Jones’ standup might be tremendous, but Machida is not overmatched on the feet. Not by a mile. As written above, I think he has one of the most awkward, difficult to solve styles in the sport.

Machida stands with his shoulders perpendicular to his opponent, which is a traditional Karate stance, with his weight well behind his center point and his upper body noticeably leaning toward his back foot.  That is all designed to make him difficult to hit, not to maximize his ability to strike.  

Indeed, Machida isn’t trying to be effective offensively.  Not in the traditional sense, at least.  He instead uses his stance to feint in exaggerated form from a safe distance.  He uses quick jab steps and sudden exaggerated shoulder movements in very herky-jerky movements to set the distance and pace of the fight.  He wants an opponent to react to those movements by covering up or starting a counter.

If he gets no reaction, Machida will throw the occasional lead high kick on the end of one of those jab steps or he may sprint in briefly with piston-like punches, never more than two or three at a time.  Neither attack is overly dangerous, nor are they meant to be.  

The progression of feints and the occasional strikes are designed to accomplish two goals. First and foremost, he wants to set up his money move, which is leading with a kick to the body followed immediately by a short straight left. Machida caught Rashad Evans with that kick-punch combination late in the first round and dropped him.  It wasn’t the force of the blow that led to the knockdown, rather the fact that Evans’ attention was wholly focused on defending the kick to the body.

The other goal is to tempt his foe to throw tentative one-strike counters that he can counter back. The counters are tentative because opponents are so confused by Machida’s movements. Hesitation is disastrous against a laser-sharp counterstriker like Machida.

Why? Machida has seriously underrated power. His knockout wins over Thiago Silva, Randy Couture and Evans vividly demonstrate that he is a killer on the feet, when he wants to be.  But again, he is not a slugger. His power comes from perfect technique and timing mixed with insane speed.

Suffice to say, this fight will be a chess match, not a slugfest. Saturday’s main event features two amazing, though very different, technicians. One wrong move by either man can bring the fight to a violent end. Then again, neither has shown a great tendency to make mistakes, so this one may go to the judges. In fact, everything points to a bout that lasts the distance, but I don’t think it will unfold that way.

I think this fight is going to end by knockout. I just have a feeling.

QUICK FACTS

Jon Jones
•    24 years old
•    6’4, 205 lbs
•    84.5-inch reach
•    14-1 overall
•    Lone UFC loss was a DQ for illegal elbow strikes to Matt Hamill in a fight Jones was dominating
•    Reigning UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
•    266-day reign as champion; 1 successful defense so far
•    Last 7 fights ended inside the distance
•    57.1% of wins by KO/TKO
•    28.6% of wins by submission
•    14.3% of wins by decision
•    Knockout of the Night, Fight of the Night, Submission of the Night winner
•    Current layoff is 77 days
•    Longest layoff of career is 188 days

Lyoto Machida
•    33 years old
•    6’1, 205 lbs
•    74-inch reach
•    17-2 professional record
•    3-2 in last 5 fights
•    8-2 in last 10 fights
•    16 straight wins to start professional career
•    6-2 against 7 current or former UFC  champions
•    Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
•    350-day reign as champion; 1 successful title defense
•    52.9% of wins by decision
•    35.3% of wins by KO
•    11.8% of wins by submission
•    Knockout of the Night three times
•    Current layoff is 224 days
•    Longest layoff of career is 308 days
•    2-2 in career following layoffs over 190 days

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