Lyoto Machida has lost twice in his last three outings. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returns to Fox Sports 1 with a hastily assembled but potentially entertaining slate of fights after a series of visa issues forced the withdrawal of 12 fighters less than two weeks out. In the headliner, Lyoto Machida makes a quick turnaround following a one-sided loss to Luke Rockhold and draws Cuban freestyle wrestling great Yoel Romero in a crackerjack of a matchup.
The rest of the card drops off precipitously. The co-main event was scheduled to be a probable barnburner between Erick Silva and Rick Story, but the Brazilian was forced off the card, so instead, a bout between Santiago Ponzinibbio and Lorenz Larkin will occupy that spot. Elsewhere, “The Ultimate Fighter” winners Antonio Carlos Jr. and Eddie Gordon will meet in a solid middleweight matchup, while the battle between rising featherweights Hacran Dias and Levan Makashvili has some potential. Otherwise, only the hardest of hardcore fans will find much to recommend in this offering.
Let us take a look at each UFC Fight Night “Machida vs. Romero” matchup:
MIDDLEWEIGHTSLyoto Machida (22-6, 14-6 UFC) vs. Yoel Romero (9-1, 5-0 UFC)
THE MATCHUP: The real question in this pairing is whether the legendary Machida, former light heavyweight champion and multiple-time title challenger, is at the end of his tether as an elite fighter at 185 pounds. That is not to sell Romero short: The Cuban has high-level skills, owns a five-fight winning streak over increasingly impressive competition that culminated in a controversial knockout over Tim Kennedy in September and deserves to be in the conversation at the top of the division. It was only two months ago, however, that Rockhold brutalized Machida and, quite frankly, made him look old. While his recent losses have come against the cream of the crop, time waits for no man, and Machida is no exception.
Machida’s game has changed over the years, as his once-incredible quickness has slowly faded. Where he once depended on constant circular movement and then picked his spots to leap in and out with single strikes, or baited the counter, he has become more aggressive of late and begun using his crisp footwork to walk down opponents instead of evading them. This transformation has masked Machida’s physical decline, and the greater power he packs now, particularly in his brutal left kicks, has to some extent made up for it. He can still crack with the straight left and finds consistent openings for his counter repertoire, but these sequences tend to take place at closer range, where Machida is more likely to eat hard shots instead of dancing back out of danger.
The rest of the Brazilian’s game remains competent. He is difficult to take down, particularly in the clinch, and he excels at breaking off and creating space when his opponent locks up with him. Although Machida rarely uses them these days, he has a nice arsenal of trips and body-lock takedowns of his own. On the mat, Machida mostly looks to control from the top or get back up from the bottom, and his ground game has proven rugged enough to deal with all but truly elite grapplers.
Romero is a physical marvel with unreal athleticism and power. His ability to cover distance is incredible, and his entire game is built on that explosion. The Cuban likes to flick half-speed round and side kicks at all levels as he moves forward before leaping in with a blazing straight left hand from his southpaw stance. Pressure is Romero’s preferred mode, but he can also counter a bit, even if it his not his forte. Offensive output is not his strongest suit; while he is exceptionally accurate with his strikes, he does not throw much and has a bad habit of slowing down as the fight progresses, even though he carries his power into the third round.
In the clinch and wrestling exchanges, Romero is everything you would expect from a competitor with his world-class credentials. He can hit driving blast doubles, trips, singles, step-outside throws and the smoothest ankle pick you will ever see. His takedown defense was a bit suspect earlier in his career, but he reportedly trained no wrestling for years; once he began working on it again, he has stuffed every shot with ease. More of a rinse-and-repeat takedown artist who likes to sneak in a few shots in the transitions than a control grappler, Romero excels at beating up his opponents from the front headlock but rarely looks to spend much time on the mat if he can avoid it.
BETTING ODDS: Machida (-170), Romero (+150)
THE PICK: On paper, this looks relatively straightforward: Romero will attempt to walk down Machida, using his diverse array of kicks to cut off the Brazilian’s angles and force him straight backward toward the fence, where he can unload his preferred left hands and flying knees. Conversely, Machida will try to circle and stay away from the fence, dropping counter shots when Romero overcommits. Machida has executed evasive game plans against far more accomplished opponents than Romero in the past, but he has increasingly struggled to do so in recent outings. Essentially, I think that this is the fight where age and wear will catch up with Machida, especially given that the Rockhold fight was only nine weeks ago. I expect Romero to struggle a bit to catch the Brazilian at first but for his unreal quickness and explosiveness to eventually surprise Machida and allow the Cuban to land a brutal left hand. The pick is Romero by knockout in the second round.
Next Fight » Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Lorenz Larkin