Josh Gross
Wednesday May 6th, 2009

Ignoring the advice of self-help books, Greg Jackson has made a career of sweating the small stuff. Details, the successful trainer likes to say, determine results. And as he prepares UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans for another high-stakes fight, against Brazil's Lyoto Machida, the coach is determined to prove brains win out over brawn.

An ideal counter argument to those who claim mixed martial arts is all physical, Jackson's cerebral approach to fighting has formed the basis for much of his success, including a burgeoning notoriety for razor-sharp strategies -- which he can make sound both esoteric and simple.

"Everything's tethered within physics and the structure of the techniques," Jackson said. "But you're playing within those structures ... you're doing different things and making them work for you."

Germane to any game plan Jackson engineers in his Albuquerque, N.M., gym is adaptability. Regardless of the degree to which fighters execute techniques, no matter how efficient their attacks, he believes little good can come from relying too heavily on even the most effective tactics.

"If you put your eggs in any psychological basket at that top level, saying that my 'ace in the hole' is this large thing, then it would be very hard for you to win because if that doesn't go your way, you don't have a plan b," he said. "It's more important to look at little things, which, of course, I can't divulge."

Over the past month, Jackson focused on the best ways Evans might carry out a varied assault against an opponent many consider his toughest to date. It would be a mistake to think Evans could easily wrestle Machida to victory. Or that an overhand right will inevitably find its mark like it did against Chuck Liddell. Some combination of both -- feinting strikes to set up takedowns, for instance -- could be the right mix, though it's difficult to say.

"[Machida's] whole style is unique," Jackson said. "There are karate elements in it, but it's definitely a Lyoto Machida style. I love that. I love [Muhammad] Ali with his hands down. I love that unorthodox stuff."

With less than three weeks remaining until Evans (13-0-1) puts his title on the line at UFC 98, the trainer's focused gaze has intensified into a 24/7 obsession. Defensively, Jackson said, Machida is good enough that he has consistently gotten away with landing just a handful of power shots per round. Frustrating the opposition, capturing judges' cards and staying out of danger is more than a habit with Machida -- it's his life's work.

"He's really unorthodox, which is fun when you're trying to figure out a way around things," Jackson said. "It makes you do things that are a little bit different. Fighting for little things -- stepping, timing, distancing -- in addition to rhythm and techniques," may not be fun for casual followers of the sport to watch, but they should captivate him and others during what he anticipates will be a highly stylized, tactical bout.

By any measure, Jackson sounds correct regarding the matchup. Evans, 29, is terrifically suited against Machida, and vice versa. Both have confidently entered the prime of their careers. Each is athletically gifted: Machida's deftness should strike a nice balance against Evans' speed and power. Neither lacks skill in any one area, though Machida (14-0) might have a submission edge, while Evans' wrestling should be graded a notch above his challenger.

Still, despite a host of reasons to get excited for the May 23 showdown -- fighters gifted with attributes like Evans and Machida rarely maintain unbeaten records long enough to meet in the cage with so much hanging in the balance -- a concern lingers that the pair's histories and strategies might clash, just not in the way some interested in prizefighting might like.

"Boring" is a word that has been bandied about, even if purists like Jackson can't imagine anything of the sort when "two guys that are steadily improving and meeting at important times in their careers" face off.

In the end, Evans-Machida pits two undefeated, young fighters on the verge of greatness, under the most challenging of circumstances. And Jackson knows it would be no small accomplishment if his charge successfully defends the title.

Not that he's sweating it or anything.

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