Title implications of UFC 88 & 89…
With UFC 88 just a few days away and UFC 89 on the not too distant horizon I figured that now is a good time to weigh in on what the title implications of the two major fights on those respective cards. I am of course referring to Liddell vs. Evans (UFC 88) and Machida vs. T. Silva (UFC 89).
Liddell vs. Evans: On paper, this looks like a serious mismatch in Liddell’s favour, as Evans represents the exact style of fighter that Liddell feasted on in the two years that he reigned over the Light Heavyweight division. That is: A fighter who’s a very good wrestler and/or has very good jujitsu, yet only mediocre striking ability. This is Evans to a “T”. Evans has remained undefeated in his MMA career because he’s a strong guy with very good wrestling(And he’s faced mostly sub-par talent), but his striking, aside from one highlight reel KO vs. Sean Salmon, leaves much to be desired. Liddell fares so well against these types of fighters because of his incredible sprawl. If Liddell does not want to go down, there’s really no way that you’re going to get him down, and keep him down long enough to do any sort of significant damage. Evans is a very good wrestler, but better wrestlers then him have tried and failed to keep the Iceman down. What this means is that all of Liddell’s fights are virtually straight kickboxing matches, and Liddell’s long reach, heavy hands, great chin, and unorthodox style make him a very difficult match up for any fighter who does not possess excellent stand up skills. The great thing about MMA is that it’s a sport where anything can happen, and that means you can’t entirely rule Evans out. That being said, just because something theoretically CAN happen, doesn’t mean you should bet on it to happen…I have to go with Chuck on this one. Let’s say: 2nd round KO
Machida vs. T. Silva: This is a fight that a lot of hardcore fans have been screaming for for months, and either Dana actually listened to the hardcore fans for once, or it just happened to be a coincidence, I don’t really know, nor do I really care, I just want to see this fight. The reason a lot of hardcore fans have wanted to see this fight for a long time is because they want to see exactly how good each of these fighters really are. Machida has the rap of being boring fighter, because he doesn’t like to stand toe to toe and slug it out, like many other top Light Heavyweights like to do. Instead, he likes to back away, make his opponent chase him, and catch them with a number of quick counters, then quickly get out of there before his opponent realizes what’s hit him. This is a strategy that hasn’t won him a lot of fans, but it has won him a lot of fights (All of his fights in fact). What’s missing though (Aside from a lot of “Finished fights”), is a victory that’s got really great striking. Sokoudjou, who Machida defeated via submission at UFC 79 is far and away the best striker that Machida has faced thus far, and in fact, Sokoudjou was faring relatively well against Machida on his feet(At least compared to his other opponents), but Sokoudjou’s ground game is virtually non-existent, and knowing this, Machida quickly got the fight to the ground, and was able to keep it there, where he eventually locked in an arm triangle in the 2nd round and earned his first, and thus far only, finish in the UFC. Thiago Silva though, presents a much more well rounded match up for Machida then Sokoudjou did though. Like Sokoudjou, Thiago Silva is a very aggressive and very skilled striker, but unlike Sokoudjou, Silva actually has a ground game, and excellent ground game to be exact. In fact, many folks believe Silva and Machida are 1a and 1b in the division when it comes to skill in jujitsu, so it’s unlikely that Machida will be able to simply impose his will on Silva, should the fight go to the ground, like he was able to do against Sokoudjou. On their feet, Thiago will certainly be the aggressor here, but he needs to avoid being TOO aggressive. What he needs to avoid doing is making the same mistake that most, if not all, of Machida’s opponents have made thus far, and that is just simply chasing him around the octagon. What he needs to do is attempt to cut Machida off, corner him, and force Machida to engage him on his terms, which is something Machida is not used to doing. If Thiago can do this, and get a hold of Machida, he can do a lot of damage. Machida is extremely quick in his striking, but he lacks and real semblance of knockout power in his hands, unlike Thiago, who possesses very, very heavy heads. My main concern with Thiago is his gas tank. He’s had 4 fights thus far in the UFC, 3 of them he has finished in the 1st round. The one fight he did not finish in the 1st round though, was against Tomasz Drwal at UFC 75. Drwal hung in there until almost the end of the 2nd round, and by that time, Thiago looked completely exhausted, although he was still able to put Drwal away. UFC 75 will have been over a year ago once UFC 89 rolls around, so perhaps Thiago has been working on his cardio extensively since then. For his sake, I hope he has, as it could play a very big factor in this fight against Machida. All of Machida’s fights in the UFC aside from his fight with Sokoudjou have gone to a decision, knowing this, and given Machida’s fighting style, anyone who steps into the octagon with Machida has to be prepared to go 3 rounds, otherwise they could end up in some very serious trouble. As for my predictions for this fight; my heart says Thiago, but my head says Machida. You know what, I don’t want to have to root between being right and being happy, Thiago is the pick, lets say a 3rd round TKO.
Now that I’ve gotten the predictions out of the way, it’s on to the subject featured in the title of the blog, the title implications of these two fights.
While a win over Silva in all rights should give Machida the next title shot, as he’ll then be 7-0 in the UFC, and holding wins over a number of very talented fighters in his UFC career(Nakamura, Sokoudjou, Ortiz, Silva), and even two victories over fighters earlier in his career, who went on to become UFC royalty if you will(BJ Penn and Rich Franklin), the next title shot will almost certainly go to Chuck Liddell, if he gets past Rashad Evans at UFC 88. Let’s face it, the UFC is a business first, and the main objective for business is to make money. That said, which fight do you think will draw enormous pay per view numbers, and which do you think will draw pretty average numbers? The choices are: Griffin vs. Liddell or Griffin vs. Machida? Obviously, the answer for “Which will draw enormous pay per view numbers?” is Griffin vs. Liddell, as they are arguably two of the 3 or 4 most popular fighters in the UFC today. Also there is the added storyline of Liddell “Wanting to get his belt back”. Compare that to a fight between Griffin and Machida. While Griffin is very popular and the card likely wouldn’t be a complete disaster so long as he’s in the main event, the UFC would need to absolutely stack the card with a number of other top notch fighters if it wishes to draw the same kind of numbers that a card headlined by Griffin vs. Liddell would draw. Now, if Evans defeats Liddell, then the chances for Machida getting a shot become a little more interesting. I know Dana is salivating at the thought of two former TUF winners, battling it out for the title in the deepest division in the organization, but Evans isn’t nearly the draw that Liddell is, not even remotely close. He can likely outdraw someone like Machida, but a Griffin vs. Evans card likely wouldn’t dwarf the numbers of a Griffin vs. Machida card in the way that a Griffin vs. Liddell card would, so the possibility that Dana may do the right thing and give the man that’s done the most to earn it a title shot is going to increase significantly if Evans defeats Liddell. The odd man out in all of this of course, is Thiago Silva. Regardless of the outcome of the Liddell vs. Evans fight, I just don’t see Thiago getting a title shot if he beats Machida. As I’ve already discussed, a big factor that goes into putting together these fights is what Zuffa figures the drawing power of the two fighters in the main event will be, and while Thiago is a very talented, very exciting fighter to watch, a great many fans still have no idea who he is, and most of the fans that do know him, simply know him as “That guy who knocked out Houston Alexander, right?”, and it would be very difficult for them to market a fight between Forrest Griffin, and The Guy Who Knocked Out Houston Alexander And Lyoto Machida.
So for a quick recap: If Liddell wins, the next title shot is his. If Evans and Machida both win, it could be interesting, but if I had to bet, I’d say Evans gets the shot, due to the TUF 1 Winner vs. TUF 2 Winner storyline. If Thiago Silva wins, well, tough luck Thiago, you’re going to have to beat a few more people it looks like.