Jon Jones has looked unstoppable since entering the UFC. | Dominic Chan/WENN.com
One more victory can add the proverbial icing to the cake of what has been a very memorable year for Jon Jones. Solving the always-vexing Lyoto Machida on Saturday at UFC 140 will give the light heavyweight champion wins over three former 205-pound titleholders, as well as one of the division’s top prospects, within 12 months. It is pretty heady stuff when considering that many 24-year-olds are simply trying to adjust to life after college, if they have gotten that far.
Many believe Machida’s elusive style is tailor-made to knock Jones off his pedestal. In front of what is sure to be a rabid crowd at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, “The Dragon” will have his chance. Holding on to light heavyweight gold is an accomplishment in itself, as Jones looks to become the first person to defend the belt twice since Chuck Liddell did it three times in 2006. A look at the UFC 140 “Jones vs. Machida” main card, with analysis and picks follows.
UFC Light Heavyweight Championship
Jon Jones (14-1, 8-1 UFC) vs. Lyoto Machida (17-2, 9-2 UFC)
The Matchup: It was not long ago that Machida was the UFC’s unsolvable riddle, an elusive karate expert who did not drop rounds, much less fights. A steady diet of kicks to the legs and body from Mauricio Rua at UFC 104 exposed a chink in the armor of “The Dragon,” and “Shogun” shattered the aura of invincibility with a first-round knockout in their rematch at UFC 113.
Now Machida, like the rest of the light heavyweight division, finds himself in the considerable shadow of Jones. The 205-pound champion has run roughshod over his competition, blending reach, creativity and athleticism to near perfection. In many ways, Jones is now the puzzle for foes that Machida was once viewed to be. The 33-year-old is a dangerous foil for Jones, an intuitive counterstriker who is equal parts patient and intelligent.
In recent bouts, opponents have not had an answer for Jones’ quickness, but Machida will demonstrate that he has much more mobility than the likes of Quinton Jackson, Rua or Ryan Bader. The Brazilian is excellent at creating space between himself and his opponent, attacking and retreating while moving in and out of harm’s way. This task will prove much more difficult against Jones, who owns a 10-inch reach advantage over the former champion. Against “Rampage,” Jones landed a variety of kicks and punches to his opponent’s head, legs and body while avoiding the potential one-punch knockout counter. Meanwhile, Machida, perhaps wary from his recent knockout loss to Rua, allowed Jackson to control the cage in a split-decision setback at UFC 123. He will have to be willing to take more chances here.
Machida is an excellent tactician, but he will find his affinity for the counter tested, as Jones lands kicks from what seem like impossible distances. He will also have to be on alert for Jones’ takedowns, which tend to come from all angles and directions. The karateka’s best plan of attack involves using unique angles and feints while constantly changing directions in the Octagon. He must keep his back away from the cage at all costs, because Jones’ Greco-Roman skills will allow him to take the bout to the ground at a moment’s notice, at which point he can launch his vicious elbows and ground-and-pound. Machida is competent fighting from his back, but Jones’ superior size and length will make him extremely difficult to defend.
The one downfall to being so dominant is that Jones has yet to experience serious adversity inside the cage. The Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product has yet to be rocked or planted on his back in a fight, raising questions about how he would respond. More than mere good fortune, Jones’ ability to avoid precarious situations is a testament to rapid improvement. The New York native’s reach allows him to be more creative than most fighters would be willing to, all while still picking his spots with incredible timing and balance.
Machida began his run in the UFC with the label of a boring fighter because his bouts often went the distance. He changed that perception, starting with his knockout of Thiago Silva at UFC 94, and his ability to throw odd combinations will be unlike anything Jones has seen. That said, Machida will need to wade through danger to test the champion. Simply fighting from the outside will allow Jones to methodically pick him apart for five rounds.
The Pick: The bout could begin slowly, with both fighters feeling each other out over the first five minutes. Expect the action to pick up considerably by round two, as Jones begins to time his opponent and connect with creative combinations. Absorbing punishment will force Machida to abandon his preferred style and take more risks. Machida has only been finished once in his career, but Jones has made a habit of defying expectations. Jones, with a barrage of elbows and punches on the ground, wins by third-round TKO.
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