Machida, Souza not yet contenders despite UFC Fight Night 36 victories
For an authoritarian eternity, the UFC middleweight division was a no man's land. Actually, it was a one-man's land, that man being Anderson Silva, champion for 15 fights over seven years. He was the icon of an unassailable era. Then along came Chris Weidman, and now it's a whole new ballgame. Especially for Brazilian fighters whose yearning for preeminence didn't include a longing to challenge their decorated and esteemed countryman.
Two such men are Lyoto Machida and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza. Both fought on Saturday night in front of an adoring throng in their home country. Both emerged as winners, but neither as a wrecking ball with a bead on Weidman's trophy case.
Machida (21-4), the former UFC light heavyweight champ, showed he's perhaps not quite the killer he hinted at being in his debut at 185 pounds back in October, when he'd head-kicked Mark Muñoz into semi-consciousness. But he remains the puzzle he's always been, his movement and distance control and sudden, quick strikes turning Gegard Mousasi (34-4-2) into a stalker without much that's offensive to offer. Lyoto took a unanimous decision in the main event of a UFC Fight Night in Jaraguá do Sul, Brazil.
"I obviously would like to get the champ," the 35-year-old Machida said afterward, "but it's up to the UFC. The president of the UFC has to decide who I am going to get."
It could be Weidman. Or it could be Vitor Belfort, who gets his shot at the champ on Memorial Day weekend. Or maybe Machida, who is No. 5 in the SI.com middleweight rankings, could end up in the octagon with No. 4. That would be "Jacare" Souza.
Souza (20-3, 1 NC), for his part, stated his case for a title shot after his victory in Saturday's co-main event. But he stated it more emphatically in his postfight interview than he had while fighting in the cage.
"I want the champ," he said. "I want whoever has the belt. And if the UFC doesn't think I'm ready for that, just put anyone ahead of me and I'll get over them."
"Jacare" was a clear step ahead after three rounds with Francis Carmont (22-8), riding the big Frenchman from back control, with a body lock, for nearly the entirety of the first round and for much of the third. He threatened throughout with a rear-naked choke, but didn't get it. And during those stretches when the fight was standing, Souza was not the better striker. He looked like a fighter whose best chance against Weidman would present itself if the champ became overconfident in his ground game and opted to take the fight to the canvas. Because he'd be the one making the decisions on any changes of venue.
Machida, on the other hand, showed against Mousasi that he'll be a handful for any 185-pounder. His ability to determine the distance at which a fight will be fought, combined with a lightning-quick and numbing answer for any over-eager advances into his range, makes him a challenge to engage with. Mousasi did land some jabs, some leg kicks -- in fact, he connected on a greater number of significant strikes than Machida did. But numbers lie.
On a night that saw 10 of the 12 fights go the distance -- tying a record set in the UFC's most recent previous event, UFC 169 in Newark -- the final two bouts were not exactly thrillers. Mousasi had his moments, and so did Carmont before him. But Souza and then Machida each did what he had to do to. Each showed himself to be superior to his well-regarded opponent, perhaps not devastatingly so but with little debate. Carmont saw an 11-fight winning streak broken, while Mousasi lost for the first time in eight bouts.
Chris Weidman is waiting ... but not for either of these guys, at least not yet. If he can take care of business on Memorial Day, then he'll set his eyes toward the next Brazilian in line. And he's just the kind of champion who can help us to sort things out in a definitive way.