Lyoto Machida (17-3, 9-3 UFC) vs. Ryan Bader (14-2, 7-2 UFC)
The Matchup: Though neither man has quite the avid following of Mauricio Rua, this is a more compelling 205-pound pairing that could have easily been shifted to main event status. Bader has done a nice job recovering from his shocking loss to Tito Ortiz at UFC 132, earning wins over Jason Brilz and Quinton Jackson in his last two outings.
For one round at least, Machida appeared to recapture his old mystique against Jon Jones at UFC 140, baffling the champion with his movement while landing timely strikes. The resurgence was short-lived, however, as Jones took control and submitted “The Dragon” in round two. Despite the loss, Machida remains one of the top 205-pounders in the world.
There is no secret about what Bader needs to do. An All-American wrestler at Arizona State University, he will attempt to close distance and get Machida to the canvas, where he can control the fight with ground-and-pound. The strategy worked well against Jackson, but “Rampage” was clearly out of shape and made himself an easy target for takedowns by swinging desperately once it became clear he was behind in the fight.
Nobody will ever accuse Machida of being a stationary target, and without the huge reach disadvantage he faced versus Jones, he will be able to implement his usual game plan of staying elusive and fighting from the outside. Bader has decent boxing technique and a powerful overhand right, but there is a huge difference between knocking out a Jason Brilz and laying hands on someone like Machida. The 34-year-old Brazilian is able to frustrate his opponents by constantly circling and changing directions, making it difficult for anyone who faces him to find a rhythm. Compounding the problem is that the former light heavyweight king is unfailingly patient; if his unorthodox combinations are not landing early, he will simply adjust instead of getting desperate.
Neither Bader nor Machida absorbs a lot of damage, Bader because he spends the majority of his fights in top position and Machida because of his ability to use different angles and constant feints. Machida is the more accurate and varied striker; Bader has fairly heavy hands, but he will have a hard time connecting with any type of home run punch.
A better strategy for the Power MMA Team product will be to use his jab and the occasional leg kick to set up takedowns. While Machida is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, he is much less difficult to solve when grounded.
The Pick: Takedowns will ultimately be difficult to come by for Bader, as Machida piles up the points on the outside. As Bader becomes more desperate, he will leave himself exposed for a counter, and Machida will capitalize in round three for a TKO win.
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