UFC Fight Night São Paulo preview
The Ultimate Fighting Championship comes to the Ginasio do Ibirapuera in the sprawling Brazilian metropolis of São Paulo this coming Saturday night (28 October) and there is only one fight on fans’ lips. The comeback of Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida, against American athlete Derek Brunson, seems to have the whole city talking.
Machida steps back into the octagon for the first time in over two years following a ban for consumption of an illegal substance. At the ripe age of 39, it remains to be seen whether such a sustained period of activity has done any lasting damage to his in-ring skills.
However, Brunson is hardly coming into this contest enjoying the form of his life. The man from North Carolina has won just one of his last three bouts, and is also searching to rediscover his finest inside the cage if he is to start climbing the middleweight ladder before it is too late.
The American is known as a hard striker, but if he uses that singular and restrictive approach against Machida then he could well be playing right into the Brazilian athlete’s hands. He may be approaching 40 and spent over 24 months away from competitive action, but prior to his enforced hiatus the Dragon was renowned as being one of the toughest strikers to deal with in the MMA organisation.
Much like Floyd Mayweather inside the boxing ring, Machida bases much of his game around an ultra defensive, evasive style of combat, which then allows him to counter attack ferociously when given an opening. If Brunson goes into the octagon simply hoping to outstrike his opponent, then he could well be in for a nasty surprise.
Machida is hardly likely to come out all guns blazing either and the first round of this contest may be a slow, tactical battle as both fighters size each other up. The Dragon is well known for his patience, and if this fight turns into a drawn out waiting game then he is likely to prevail.
That does, of course, depend on how well, not to mention how quickly, the home fighter acclimatises to being back in the heat of the battle. Even if Machida does win this one, given his age and time away it is unlikely any victory here would pave the way for another shot at the title – he has, after all, already had two, and ended up losing both of them.
This bout would seem more about Machida proving something to himself rather than putting his career back towards title contention. Brunson is at best a fringe contender and arguably his greatest scalps in the UFC have come against Daniel Kelly and Uriah Hall.
Indeed, if Brunson is to get the best of the Brazilian his best bet will surely be trying to strike early as Machida still finds his feet. The American dropped both Kelly and Hall in the first round, and there is the possibility that the Brazilian could also fall foul of Brunson’s striking abilities.
However, Brunson has fallen at tougher hurdles, and the likes of Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero both managed to get the better of him, as did former champion Anderson Silva. That’s not good news for the 33 year old, and you get the feeling that the longer this fight goes on then the greater the odds are in Machida’s favour.
Brunson currently sits at number seven in the UFC’s middleweight rankings. If Machida is to win this bout, it would be advisable to delay judgement on his comeback until he fights someone a little higher up the food chain.
What cannot be discounted, and what will undoubtedly play in Machida’s favour, is home advantage. The Dragon is a firm fan favourite in his homeland with an extremely high stock – the entire arena on Saturday night will be willing him on towards victory.
As well as being a black belt holder in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Machida is also a well known karate combatant, and his wide range of skills and techniques may be just too much for Brunson. With disappointing recent form, there is a real danger that, should the Brazilian hit the ground running, Brunson will run out of gas past the halfway point, leave himself open to attack, and it is exactly then that Machida will strike, with precision and devastating aggression.
This is a hugely intriguing fight, not only from that previously mentioned comeback storyline vantage point, but from an athletic angle as well – namely, how will Machida react to being back inside the octagon in front of a roaring crowd? His experience and vast array of capabilities are likely to be too much for the American, and expect Machida to complete a triumphant return to competition.
Odds: Lyoto Machida (2.30), Derek Brunson (1.62)