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Enter the Dragon?: Was making Machida the No. 1 contender the right call?

Posted By Erik Schmidt On Aug 7 2012 @ 1:24 am In MMA,UFC | 1 Comment

When Lyoto Machida fought Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight title back in December it didn’t go particularly well. 

The first round could be considered a small moral victory for the slippery Machida, who used his slick karate-based striking to get the better of the champ. Then round two rolled around and Jones decided he would have no more of that nonsense, and promptly choked Machida out like a reticulated python. While Machida was still standing.

When Jones let go of the hold Machida fell to the floor in such a bizarrely flaccid manner it seemed like gravity had decided to take the day off.

And so Machida, who had attacked Jones with such methodical and deft precision in the opening round, literally came crashing back to earth five minutes later. It was a testament to the tumultuous nature of the UFC, and the violently incendiary nature of Jones. 

For the Dragon, it meant a sore neck and a long way back to the top. 

Yet six months and one fight later Machida is getting another crack at Jones’ title, which is a lot like a lucky surfer going after the shark that just let him out his mouth. At first glance, it would appear that either UFC president Dana White is an unwavering believer in Machida’s abilities, or he’s simply trying to get him killed.

But really, did the UFC have any other choice but to once again offer Machida as human sacrifice? The answer is paradoxically yes and no. The problem, in essence, is Jones, who has been so dominant and so active he’s cleared out what was the UFC’s most stacked division in about a year. That’s what happens when you’re 24, freakishly athletic and have elbows like serrated knives: you win lots of fights and become rich and famous. You also run out of people to punch in the face very quickly.

Right now the top light heavyweights after Jones are, in no particular order, Machida, Shogun Rua, Ryan Bader, Rashad Evans, Rampage Jackson, Glover Teixeira, Phil Davis, Alexander Gustafsson and Dan Henderson. Jones has already fought five of those people and treated their faces like hamburger meat.

Henderson, the old bull with a right hand made of plastic explosives, will fight Jones in September. He’s tough and dangerous, but also 41 and severely undersized; barring an enormous upset he’ll be sent back to the end of the line in due time. Which leaves us three:

Davis, the bright young wrestler from Penn State who was being groomed as the next big thing, got outclassed by Evans a few months ago, received a “No Contest” last Saturday after jabbing opponent Wagner Prado in the eyeball, and is now as close to a title shot as Sisyphus is to getting that infernal boulder to the top of the hill.

Teixeira is an interesting name, but it’s also a vaguely anonymous one. He’s tough, to be sure, winning 15 straight fights dating back to 2006, though he’s already 32 and only recently made his octagon debut in May and is now on the books to fight the fast fading Rampage come October.

Then there’s Gustafsson, perhaps the only fighter of the bunch who could be classified as a legitimate threat to Jones’ throne. He’s 25 with limbs like a spider monkey that seem to jut out every which way as he clobbers opponents. He’s won five straight in the UFC, and in a division that (after Jones, of course) is as competitive as they come, that might as well be a million.

However, his future is a big question mark. He throttled Thiago Silva back in April and there hasn’t been the slightest murmur about who his next opponent will be. Many fans clamored for him, and not one of the four main eventers from Saturday, to take on Jones next, but it seems like the UFC is trying to prep him a bit more before throwing him into the fire.

Which brings us back to Machida. The former champ’s star has dulled a bit over the past few years, and his first showing against Jones, while somewhat successful, was still miles away from good enough to win. Yet he’ll get another shot, and whether you like it or not, it’s most likely the smartest choice the UFC could have made. A brain with any concept of common sense wants to reject that notion, but barring a miraculous change of heart from pound for pound kingpin Anderson Silva, it’s simply the truth.  

Perhaps Machida isn’t the right man to take on Jones, but when you really think about it, is anyone?

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