Gegard Mousasi is 21-1-1 in his last 23 appearances. | Photo Taro Irei/Sherdog.com
When Lyoto Machida and Gegard Mousasi decided to plot the same course, it became a virtual lock that their paths would someday intersect.
Two of the more intriguing figures in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s 185-pound weight class, Machida and Mousasi will lock horns in the UFC Fight Night 36 main event on Saturday at the Arena Jaragua in Jaragua do Sul, Brazil. The winner could find himself knocking on the door to a title shot, as the MMA world awaits the showdown between middleweight champion Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort in May.
A former light heavyweight champion, Machida dropped to 185 pounds at UFC Fight Night 30 in October, when he knocked out Mark Munoz with a head kick at the Phones 4U Arena in Manchester, England. The 35-year-old has rattled off four wins in five appearances, a disputed decision defeat to Phil Davis the lone misstep. A black belt in Shotokan karate and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Machida owns wins over onetime UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, former two-division Pride Fighting Championships titleholder Dan Henderson, UFC hall of famer Randy Couture, 2005 Pride middleweight grand prix winner Mauricio Rua and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner Ryan Bader.
Mousasi will enter the cage on a four-fight winning streak. The 28-year-old former Dream and Strikeforce champion last fought at UFC on Fuel TV 9 in April, when he cruised to a unanimous decision over Ilir Latifi at the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. He then underwent reconstructive knee surgery and has been sidelined ever since. A potent finisher with exceptional all-around skills, Mousasi has delivered 29 of his 34 career victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
The UFC Fight Night 36 lineup provides plenty of water cooler fodder. We discuss some of it here:
Whitman: If Machida is victorious, do you think he should get a middleweight title shot or would you prefer to see him have one more fight?
Knapp: Not that what I think matters all that much, but I still believe he would be one win away from challenging for the belt. Personally, I would like to see Machida paired with Ronaldo Souza -- provided they are both victorious -- in a title eliminator, perhaps as the co-main event to the Weidman-Belfort headliner at UFC 173.
Whitman: Conversely, what would you like to see for Gegard Mousasi moving forward, should he best “The Dragon” on Saturday in Brazil?
Knapp: First and foremost, Mousasi needs to stay healthy. He certainly has the tools and experience to challenge for the middleweight championship someday soon, but he has only fought twice since December 2011 and his UFC debut against Latifi, while successful, did not exactly inspire the masses. Should Mousasi upend Machida, a matchup with Luke Rockhold would be of definite interest, if the American Kickboxing Academy ace defeats Tim Boetsch at UFC 172.
Whitman: Erick Silva came out of the blocks on fire but has since slowed down considerably. Are we still looking at a future welterweight contender or have your expectations been lowered?
Knapp: My expectations have been lowered -- and significantly so. Silva turns 30 this summer, and while he remains in his competitive prime, it is hard to overlook the fact that two of his three victories in the UFC have come against Charlie Brenneman, who has since downshifted to lightweight, and Jason High, a middle-tier welterweight who has also pondered a move to 155 pounds. At this level, results matter far more than potential, and so far, the results are just not there for Silva.
Whitman: The same might be asked about Charles Oliveira, though there is no shame in a 24-year-old coming up short against the likes of Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar. Do you see “Do Bronx” getting back to his winning ways at the expense of Andy Ogle?
Knapp: I think Oliveira has a higher ceiling than Silva because of his age and the division in which he competes. While I worry about the amount of damage he has absorbed, he has already beaten Darren Elkins and had posted a victory over Nik Lentz before an illegal knee ruined his night’s work. As past results have shown, Oliveira is not yet ready to beat the upper-tier fighters in the featherweight division, so it was a relief to see the UFC match him with more appropriate opposition. I foresee him submitting Ogle in the first or second round.
Whitman: Iuri Alcantara had some wind taken from his sails courtesy of his loss to Urijah Faber, but I still think the Brazilian is one of the better bantamweights on the UFC roster. How much should Alcantara fans read into his loss to “The California Kid” and will we ever see Alcantara in the title discussion?
Knapp: Alcantara had Faber in real danger in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 26 scrap. Only positives can be drawn from that experience. Yes, Faber rebounded to control rounds two and three, but I saw nothing from Alcantara that leads me to believe he is not capable of moving into title contention in the not-too-distant future, especially at 135 pounds. There, Renan Barao has already turned away a majority of the current contenders. The situation is made for a fast climber.
Whitman: It is a shame that cutting to featherweight was so tough on Rodrigo Damm’s body, because I was really interested in seeing what he could do at 145 pounds. With him returning to the deep lightweight division, do you think Damm will sink or swim?
Knapp: I think he sinks. The lightweight division has a way of exposing weaknesses, which is probably why the undersized Damm was hoping to test out the waters at 145 pounds.