Tomorrow night, UFC 123 brings the insatiable fans of the MMA world a second heaping helping of world class bouts just one week after UFC 122 appeared free on Spike TV. In addition to appearances from TUF alums “J-Lau” Joe Lauzon (19-5), “Hurricane” Gerald Harris (17-2) and George Sotiropoulos (13-2), the UFC has brought in new talent a la “Big Rig” Maiquel Falcao (7-1), the next big thing in the form of “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis (8-0), and a rubber match for the ages from long time welterweight foes “The Prodigy” BJ Penn (15-7-1) and Matt Hughes (43-7). However, all eyes are on the main event. Former light heavyweight champions “The Dragon” Lyoto Machida (16-1) and “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (28-8) will each seek to rise from the ashes of defeat at the other’s expense. Both of these men are coming into this bout on the heals of sobering losses and both want nothing more than to prove their glory was more than a flash in the pan. Lyoto seeks to regain his belt from current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion “Shogun” Mauricio Rua (19-4) and establish a championship dynasty of Machida Shotokan Karate. “Rampage” seeks to regain the respect of his fans following what many saw as him abandoning the sport that gave birth to his name in order to pursue a career in film. Both men are hungry for different reasons and haunted by different demons. The only thing that they share is an overwhelming desire to regain what they lost.
At First Glance: This fight practically embodies the chaotic glory that is the peak of the UFC light heavyweight mountain. While not a title fight or a title contention bout, Machida and Jackson will determine the future of the light heavyweight title picture for the majority of 2011 with this fight. Should Machida emerge victorious, it will likely result in a rubber match with Rua should he be healthy enough to defend his belt, or an interim title rematch against “Sugar” Rashad Evans (15-1-1) who he KO’d in the spring of 2009. Jackson would then become the gatekeeper of the title merry-go-round facing the best of the up-and-comers looking to join the aforementioned trio of number one contenders. If Jackson takes out Lyoto, the picture gets even murkier. Jackson could have potential rematches with Rashad or Forrest Griffin (17-6) or be put on hold to face “Shogun” while either of the first two fights could also fall to “The Dragon” as well. In fact, a Jackson victory could even lock Rashad and “Shogun” away until the champ is able to defend his belt while “Rampage”, Machida, Griffin, and a few breakthrough fighters like “Bones” Jon Jones (11-1) vie for a shot at the winner.
In Depth: “Rampage” couldn’t face a worse challenge stylistically. Throughout his career he has never been able to handle technical combination strikers and that is the area where Lyoto Machida knows no equal. Jackson also shares several stylistic similarities with Rashad Evans, a man that defeated him and was left crumpled against the cage by Machida after two rounds of total embarrassment. The problem for Rampage is he lacks the ability to take “The Dragon” to the mat and his one punch counter attack strategy simply won’t fly against a man who is statistically the least hit man in the sport. Machida’s refined footwork and highly elusive karate striking style will prove even more effective against a one note fighter like “Rampage” than the overwhelming aggression the Chute Box Academy used to slaughter him in PRIDE. In a battle of strength vs. technique, technique always wins. That’s why fighters don’t simply spend their entire training camp hitting the weights. It’s also why “Rampage” will have a very difficult time dealing with “The Dragon”.
The Wild Card: The one thing Jackson has always had going for him is raw power. From massive power bomb style slams to technically hideous shoulder thrown hooks, “Rampage” is a specimen of pure physical brutality. If he can manage to lay hands on Machida against the fence and muscle the smaller man around with brute force, there’s a chance he will be able to end Machida’s night with a few short punches in the clinch. Machida is also coming off not only his first loss, but a KO loss. There is never any way to account for how a fighter will react to either of those things.
The Verdict: In the end, technique, movement, and strategy will prove Jackson undoing as it frequently has in the past. Griffin, Rua, and Evans all beat “Rampage” in much the same manner. Griffin used outside striking and leg kicks to cripple “Rampage”, “Shogun” used solid combination striking and pin point accurate aggression to dominate him, and Rashad used head movement and takedowns to control him. “The Dragon” is a monument to technical perfection in all of those areas except the takedown department, where he has proven to be merely on par with the NCAA Div. 1 standouts in the UFC light heavyweight division. Quinton may last longer, but his night will end the same way his rival Rashad’s did. Machida via KO, Round 2.