Enter The Dragon:The UFC coming of a Shotokan wunderkind named Lyoto Machida.
Until the Friday morning of June 5, 2009, the much anticipated Machida-Jackson matchup in UFC 104 had been sending out Jurassic Park tremors felt and seen even by little old ladies sipping tea in Bayou trailer parks. The reason for the techtonic “thump, thump, thump” heard around the world, had not been some Jurassic Park monster, but a Shotokan wunderkind named Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida. His showdown with Quinton Jackson for the UFC light heavyweight championship would have roiled the masses, and made Mir vs Lesnar look like an undercard of a three-month fight card …. if you get our drift.
This tantalizing scenario was a distinct possibility until that Friday morning when the equally earth-shaking announcement was made that the much anticipated fight would not happen. Reason? Well, nobody really knows the real reason except Quinton Jackson and Dana White. The story that is being fed the masses is that it was Quinton Jackson who made the final decision to nix the Machida-Jackson title fight in favor of fighting the loser of UFC 98. In other words he was chosing to fight a dethroned gadabout, Rashad Evans instead of the man who had handed him his head in UFC 98 which would stand him a chance of winning back his light heavyweight belt. Makes sense? No?
Well, don’t try too hard because very little makes sense here. The first problem has to do with Quinton Jackson himself who is less than convincing when he tries to tell the world why he is choosing to fight a loser. Locker room humor is no substitute for telling the truth:
Money? Settling a personal score? Jackson sounds like he is dissembling here. The best he stands to win from this is a bit of PPV chump change (if you buy his arguments) but this would really be coming at the expense of whatever credibility he has had as a fighter and career strategist. We believe Jackson when he says that he isn’t afraid of Machida but we also know that he knows he cannot beat Machida at this point in time – which could “splain” the business calculus that went into this. So the fans who are suspicious of his motives when he bobs, ducks and weaves around the question of dodging Machida, are not as crazy as he would like the world to believe. Jackson’s attempt to pooh pooh the fans’ skepticism just pits his shaky credibility against thousands of fans.
Despite the power and mofo swagga, did Jackson blink when faced with the prospect of an almost certain defeat at the hands of Lyoto Machida?
The truth may very well be that Jackson is trying to extend his 15 minutes of fame here; The same 15 minutes that would be eclipsed by a lopsided loss to Machida. Losses at certain junctures of a fighter’s life can create a tricky slippery slope. Just ask Chuck Liddell, or Wanderlei Silva for that matter. The damage can be perceptual, mental, financial or a deleterious combination of all of the three. Talking about which, watch Rashad Evans trying to dig himself out from the deep hole Machida left him in at UFC 98. Existing perceptions of him aside, Evans comes across in that video as a sympathetic, down to earth contender who is willing to shuck former octagon theatrics and eat crow where he deserves to eat crow; a situation which kind of takes the air out of Jackson’s contention that he is fighting Evans for “getting in his face” after his fight with Jardine.
Mauricio Rua will now take Jackson’s place in the Machida/Rua fight at UFC 104 in Los Angeles. This fight will just not pack as much of a media and emotional wallop as Machida/Jackson fight would have. The argument that Jackson’s grudge against Rashad Evans took precedence over winning back his light heavy-weight title is just plain hooey. Rashad, especially after Machida, doesn’t even have the makings of a worthy arch rival. Forget about that staged confrontation following UFC 92. It was tripe and bad acting straight from the cheesiest Vince McMahon playbook.
Message in a bottle: We will probably never know what went on behind the scenes to bring about the delay of the Machida/Jackson fight, but it certainly wasn’t good for MMA. While it may conceivably be good for the “green core” (read that dollars and cents), it certainly isn’t good for the “hard core” which is the spirit of MMA. This smacks too much of the decisions that brought about the inexplicable ascendance of Brock Lesnar to the top of the heavyweight division. Such decisions breed skepticism and make fans step back the way some boxing fans stepped back from Don King and company when the management and promotional jinks just got funkier and funkier. What this means in practical terms to UFC 104 for example, is that some fans who may have shelled out $45 for Pay Per View or flown to Los Angeles for the actual Machida/Jackson fight will either settle for seeing it in a local sports bar or read about it on the internet.
What this also portends for the more perceptive fans is that the UFC is a phenomenon that should be enjoyed from a safe tactical distance; which in practical termsmeans is not falling for every piece of hype and tripe of UFC. This way, they get to keep their wits about them, not to mention their money.
The fact of the matter is that UFC does not really need this crazy baggage … or taint. We hope the Fertitta brothers are reading this and someone talks to Dana White about keeping things on the up and up.
By way of background to an increasingly convoluted story, Lyoto Machida is the Shotokan specialist who punched out Rashad Evans in spectacular fashion at UFC 98 and set the MMA world a-flutter with talk of a new “Machida Era.” Hype or triumph? Read up on the buzz and decide for your self. And just to clear some people’s wilful cobwebs, it was Dana White himself who averred that Jackson would be the first to take a shot at Machida’s title. He accented to this at the post-UFC 98 press conference:
To be fair, he did not say where or when the fight would happen, but he did mention that it would coincide with the first defence of Machida’s title, which would make it UFC 104. Now given that admission, it stretches credibility to a breaking point that the final word on the fight would be left to someone as external to the management loop as Quinton Jackson.
Jackson is to Machida what Rua will never be: No man is invincible, but Machida looks impressive right about now. His last two wins have established him as an uber technician who combines speed with power and accuracy in ways that are unprecedented in MMA. (Check out “The Machida Era Begins” by Richard Hubbard at Nokaut)
After his impressive win over Evans, his seventh in the UFC, Machida is now set to face fellow compatriot Mauricio Rua whose aggressive stand-up is a clear foil to his counter-striking style. While from a technical standpoint, the fight has the potential of igniting jaw-dropping pyrotechnics, it just doesn’t pack the same wallop on an stylistic and iconographic level. While the outcome of a Machida-Jackson fight was a foregone conclusion, it still made for a more intriguing fight than Machida vs Rua will ever be. And the reason has to do with what Machida vs Jackson represented (The old vs the new with a tinge of the corn-fed vs the range-fed rivalry, if you get our drift.)
Jackson, a tough-as-nails Pride vet who brings a Tysonesque frenzy to the octagon would have been a perfect foil to Machida; a martial artist whose will o’ wisp elusiveness is only matched by his blinding speed. The two fighter’s physical stats are almost identical. However Machida’s speed and south-paw/back leaning style would have created serious problems for Jackson. Very few fighters have figured out how to deal with Machida’s extended “event horizon.” He creates it by a spring-loaded left foot that is always cocked on a hair trigger. The quick retraction of that foot upon devastating impact may be one of the secrets behind the Machida mojo. He retracts it to create tactical distance as well as regain balance in almost zero time. It is this very foot that took the air out of Evans before Machida moved in for the coup de grace. (That short video clip will be studied for years to come.)
Jackson’s problem would not only have been his vulnerability to kicks ( four of his seven losses have been due to knees and kicks), but his lack of speed in and outside of the clinch zone. Jackson would have been a conventional fighter in a fight that would have been anything but conventional. His 30 fights would have been nothing but an open book for Machida to study and dissect before stepping into the ring to blow his head off. Jackson would have been a sitting duck short of bringing something new to the octagon; a prospect which would have been as unlikely as his victory. Perhaps more than anything, Jackson’s bull-headedness would have stood to do him in quicker than Machida’s “fists of fury.”
UFC104 at the Staples Center in September 2009 down-graded to a shootout between fellow Brazilians Machida and Rua. This fight card, while good, will not lead to the PPV Lolapalooza that Jackson vs Machida would have garnered.
UFC 104 with Machida vs Jackson would have clearly overshadowed UFC 100 by a long shot. Pay Per View would have gone through the roof because of people clamoring to see how the newest kid on the block was gonna put a Shotokan kibosh on one of MMA’s toughest muthas. The dojo vs the mean streets. Brilliant!
Frank Mir vs Brock Lesnar is gonna be big in its own right, but there is a relative limit to how big it can get because of what it represents; namely more of the same. Machida vs Jackson would have been different; the charge of the new light brigade versus the old …. and all on a tab and timetable that would have pleased MMA fans to no end. After the Brock Lesnar fandango, Dana White at least owed MMA fans that much.
The fair breeze blew,
The white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.
Samuel Coleridge Taylor
(Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner)
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