Lyoto Machida entered the arena in Jaragua do Sul, Brazil to face Gegard Mousasi knowing that if he could walk away victorious and do so impressively that a title shot against either Chris Weidman or Vitor Belfort could be awaiting him next.
Machida had only one fight in the middleweight division when he stepped in to face former Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi. But with a resume that includes a title run at 205 pounds coupled with his knockout of Mark Munoz in his 185-pound debut, the writing was on the wall that ‘The Dragon’ was cruising close to another crack at the gold.
The real power Machida possessed at light heavyweight was his superior footwork and speed, which routinely confused opponents as he used a karate style to counter and frustrate numerous competitors. The drop to 185 pounds doesn’t seem to have hurt Machida’s advantages because several times while facing Mousasi, his hand speed was just too much for the Iranian-born fighter to catch up with round after round.
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Mousasi plodded forward trying to get close enough to do damage, but Machida just bounced away and fired back at will before getting out again without eating many shots from his opponents. From the start of the fight, Mousasi looked emotionless while stalking Machida around the cage, but after a huge head kick landed in the second round, the Brazilian’s infuriating style started to eat away at him.
According to the final tallies on strikes by Fightmetric, Mousasi actually out-landed Machida 66-35 in total strikes and 36-28 in significant strikes. But the story actually told in the fight could not be more different than the mere statistics.
Machida beat Mousasi to the punch at almost every turn and even managed to toss him to the mat during one exchange as the two fighters jockeyed for position on the ground. During one mat battle as Machida looked to get on top, Mousasi uncorked an up-kick that clocked the Brazilian in the face while his knee was on the ground, but fortunately he didn’t take any damage and the fight continued.
Despite being down late in the fight, Mousasi didn’t seem to exert much more energy in the final five minutes than he did in the first as Machida cruised toward a victory. The final scorecards had Machida winning every round, except one lone judge gave a single round to Mousasi (50-45, 50-45, 49-46).
Machida (21-4) now stands with two wins in the middleweight division, but it’s still unclear whether or not he’s defined himself as the true No. 1 contender, head and shoulders above anyone else in the race. The former light-heavyweight champion peppered Mousasi at will, beating him to the punch in almost every exchange, but still lacked the killer instinct to finish the fight, which has been one of the biggest criticisms launched against the Brazilian during his UFC career.
Following the victory, Machida admitted that he would love a shot at the title for his next fight, but he’ll listen to whatever choice the UFC makes for him regardless of the opponent.
"I obviously would like to get the champ, but it’s up to the UFC," Mousasi said. "The president of the UFC has to decide who I’m going to get."
Both Machida and No. 3-ranked middleweight Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza picked up wins on Saturday, so at the very least the UFC has the problem of two worthy contenders in line for either Weidman or Belfort later this year. The final call may not be made until after May when the middleweight title fight happens, and it’s then determined how soon or how long it will be before the next challenger can fight for the belt
Mousasi (34-4-2) will have to go back to the drawing board after having his first middleweight fight in five years. The former Strikeforce champion didn’t look bad in his return to 185 pounds and obviously faced one of the best in the world in Machida. But his lackadaisical style didn’t do him any favors as he tried to prove he belongs in the middleweight title conversation. Ultimately he still managed to outstrike Machida over five rounds, and they earned ‘Fight of the Night’ honors from the UFC, so Mousasi’s path back to another top contender may not be too far away.