(‘I come only to drink my own urine and win decisions. And I am all out of urine for at least the next hour.’)
It’s….time! Here we go again, arguing over UFC 98′s most compelling, pre-packaged storylines and making oblique reference to awesome internet videos we’ve wasted our time watching lately. Just so you know what you’re in for. And so it begins…
When Mike Tyson spoke of impetuous style and impregnable defense, he might as well have been describing Lyoto Machida. How can Rashad Evans beat him on Saturday?
BG: According to Jackson camp trainer Mike Winklejohn, Evans’s gameplan will involve countering Machida’s counters. But come on — do you really think Machida hasn’t been working on countering counters to his counters? (Don’t read that sentence while standing between two mirrors or your head will explode.) To be honest, we don’t know what works against Machida. We know what results in utter failure, and that’s trying to strike with him; if Evans is seriously planning on beating Machida in a point-karate match, he’s fucked.
Because of his elusiveness and competent takedown defense, Lyoto Machida hasn’t spent much time on his back during his career. But don’t forget, Evans is a fearsome wrestler. And as much as I hate watching this strategy in action, a boring lay-n-pray decision is Rashad’s best shot at keeping his belt. He just needs to borrow Clay Guida’s “Energizer Blanket” approach — shoot and get stuffed, shoot and get stuffed, shoot and score the takedown, lay on top until Machida escapes or the ref orders a stand-up, repeat as necessary, and win an unsatisfying decision without inflicting any real damage. Yes, it would be ugly, and the fans would be livid. I’d much rather see Machida ghost-ride Evans’s ass with punches and foot-sweeps until Sugar has a nervous breakdown on the stool between the fourth and fifth rounds. But hell, you asked for an answer and I gave you one.
BF: Impregnable defense, I’ll give that much to Machida. But ‘impetuous’ in this sense means marked by an impatient, impulsive force or violence. Does that sound like Machida to you? He’s more like impregnable defense and indifferent style. Whether he finishes you or not is of little consequence to him. The guy can wait all night for a victory, and he has. But on to the question at hand.
Evans has to outwrestle Machida. Aside from hanging around and waiting for Machida to leave himself open for a one-punch KO (and a guy could die of old age waiting for that), it’s his only chance. He doesn’t want to spend all night chasing him around the Octagon, so he needs to cut him off, press him against the fence, and get him to the mat. That’s the only way for Evans to dictate the tempo and decide how the fight will be contested. If he plays Machida’s game, he’s going to get out-pointed. He’s got to bully Machida and get all up in his face, forcing him out of his comfort zone.
Honestly, I like his chances to implement that strategy, should he choose to commit to it. It’s hard to foot-sweep a dude who’s laying on top of you and feeding you a steady diet of elbows. It’s also hard to hold on to your title if you can’t even get your mitts on the guy you’re fighting, which is exactly what will happen if Evans lets himself become Machida’s dance partner for the night.
BF: I’d say I care about this fight in roughly the same way I care about corn dogs. I’m not going out of my way to get a corn dog. No one’s talking about the great new corn dog place that just opened on the corner. But if I’m at the fair and it’s right there? Yeah, I’ll eat a corn dog. Might even be happy about it for a few brief moments. That’s what this fight is to me. It’s a corn dog. It may not be good for me, but it’s not going to kill me as long as I don’t make a habit out of it.
Hughes is probably going to win via takedowns/bullying. In doing so he will have proved nothing much at all. He probably still can’t walk away from the sport just yet — because who the hell can? — so he’ll hang around and get beat up at least one more time before he realizes he’s too old and Dana White realizes he’s too unprofitable. What’s next for Serra after he loses? Shit, that’s a tough one. Drive-time sports talk radio show, maybe? Matty in the Mornings?
BG: I’ll see your food analogy and I’ll raise you one. The way I feel about Hughes-Serra is the way I feel about school-cafeteria pizza — I realize it’s a low-quality product, but it still holds a certain nostalgic value for me. You see, the sixth season of The Ultimate Fighter was the one that was airing when I first launched this site, and thus, the first season that I watched closely and wrote about. Back then, my episode recaps were very short and contained a lot of random Google Image Search results. Just reading that shit again gets me all wistful for the carefree days of fall 2007. Now I have a fiance, and a little Yorkie, and there are no easy answers in my life. But UFC 98, at long last, will bring closure to the rivalry that a lot of us were really, really psyched about at one time. Remember? Don’t be cynical pricks, you guys. Just time-warp your mind back about a year-and-a-half and enjoy it.
I’ll say Hughes by unanimous decision via takedowns and top control. Hughes will earn himself another fight, like you said, and I hope the UFC makes the most of it. Remember when Hughes fought Royce Gracie, and the torch was symbolically passed from the old-school to the new breed? They should do that again, but with Hughes playing the Gracie role. Maybe they can bring in Roger Gracie to choke the shit out of Hughes in a one-time open-weight feature, and the whole thing will have come full circle.
I won’t be surprised if Serra decides to hang it up following his imminent loss to Hughes, but I’m not too worried about him. He’s got his jiu-jitsu schools to keep him busy, and every Long Island guido thinks he’s the fuckin’ man. People around town will still hook him up with free haircuts and sangwiches, and he’ll get to say "OH!, I beat that mamaluke’s ass!" every time Georges St. Pierre shows up on television. That doesn’t sound like a bad life to me.
Excluding Machida and Evans, which fighter on the UFC 98 lineup has the most to gain from a win, and who has the most to lose from a loss?
BG: Though he’s earned big wins over Tyson Griffin, Spencer Fisher, and Hermes Franca, Frankie Edgar hasn’t been able to escape middle-of-the-pack status in the UFC’s lightweight division. Maybe if he beat Gray Maynard last year, he’d be considered a title contender today; maybe fans would still be overlooking him. As it stands now, Edgar needs a decisive win over a big-name fighter to get to the next level. Enter ex-lightweight champ Sean Sherk. I’m not saying this is a likely scenario, but if the Answer can somehow pull off an upset over the Muscle Shark tomorrow night, he shoots up the rankings, places himself on a title track, and gets people talking about him again. All good things.
If Sherk lost, he’d fall to the middling range previously occupied by Edgar, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the end of his career. (That would come after his next loss.) Matt Hughes on the other hand is facing retirement at UFC 98, Iceman-style. A loss to Matt Serra would represent his third consecutive defeat, and undeniable proof that he’ll never again be a contender at welterweight. I know Country Breakfast has said he’d like to move up to the middleweight division eventually, but give me a goddamned break. What 185′ers do you see Hughes beating if he can’t beat a swelled-up lightweight like Matt Serra? To protect his employment and his legacy — which becomes further tarnished with each loss — Hughes absolutely must win this fight. No pressure.
BF: Both good answers, but I think you’re starting a little too high up on the totem pole where the stakes aren’t quite so high.
Hughes loses and yeah, he looks washed up. But he’s still Matt Hughes, one of the most dominant champs in UFC history. He goes home to his farm and his trucks and his mud pits and his life still looks pretty okay. You know who doesn’t have that going for him? Drew McFedries. If he loses to Xavier Foupa-Pokam – and he probably will – he’s out of the UFC. No question. And then what? Small regional shows. Supplementing his income with a Home Depot gig. Giving that Marlon Brando speech from "On the Waterfront" every time he gets four beers in him. That doesn’t sound like fun.
As far as who has the most to gain, I’m going to say Dan Miller. He’s a rising middleweight contender with a solid 11-1 record who’s facing the toughest fight of his career, at least on paper, with Chael Sonnen. If Miller can not only beat Sonnen but put him away, he suddenly looks like a dude to be taken seriously. With that comes bigger fights and bigger money. With that comes class. With that, he could be somebody.