Ben Fowlkes
Thursday May 21st, 2009

Depending on what kind of fight fan you are, Lyoto Machida is either cryptically elusive or just plain, old-fashioned boring. The way you see it probably says a lot about you as a person, but that's a discussion for another time. The point is, much of Machida's MMA career has seemed dedicated to proving that you can become a great professional fighter without really having to hurt people all that much, which is impressive in its own way, even if it isn't bound to be terribly popular with the average fan.

What remains to be seen is if Machida's style of "violent non-violence" is the beginning of a new era in MMA or just an anomaly that will soon be forgotten. Rashad Evans will help us find out on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

Throughout his professional career, Machida (14-0) has never faced a fighter like Evans (18-0-1). The UFC light heavyweight champ is a powerful wrestler and explosive athlete who can either methodically control the pace of the fight or end it in one brief spasm of offense. He's also a smart fighter who won't be easily frustrated by Machida's unwillingness to wade right into the fray. It's because of that style contrast, and partly because both men enter this bout without a loss on their records that this could easily be one of the most compelling UFC title fights in the past year. At least, on paper.

The chances are just as great that Machida-Evans will turn out to be a snoozefest of feints, and counters to counters. And this might go on for five painful rounds. It will either be an instant classic or a forgettable bore. Either way we learn something about both men that we didn't know before, and that's worth the price of admission right there.

The thing that was once so compelling about the Matt Hughes-Matt Serra fight was not simply that they genuinely hated each other, which they do, but that it fit so perfectly into the narrative of a culture war. On one side you've got Hughes, the Bible-toting, gun-loving, Midwesterner, and on the other you've got the obnoxious, aggressively insulting Strong Islander, Serra. If ever there was a fight built for the two America's era of the 2008 elections, it was this one.

But a fight based on pure acrimony and very little else has a limited shelf life, and this one is past it. No matter who wins this fight, it's hard to imagine that either fighter will have much of a future in the UFC's welterweight division. As great as Hughes (43-7) once was, he's not that guy anymore. He's probably still big and strong enough to bully Serra (16-5) around the cage for three rounds, but then what?

These two guys are still going to hate each other after this fight. Winning won't make either of them a title contender, though losing will move them one step closer to getting ousted from the UFC. Just don't expect a lot of good-natured backslapping afterwards.

When it comes to the UFC's lightweight division, there's no better way for a fighter to signal that he's at, or near, the top than by beating Sean Sherk. The trouble is, only the champ, B.J. Penn, has done it, making Sherk (37-3-1) almost too good in his role as gatekeeper.

If Frankie Edgar can somehow find an answer for Sherk's non-stop motor and his overwhelming wrestling, it will easily be the biggest win of his career. In order to do that, Edgar (9-1) will have to show up looking very different than he did against Gray Maynard, who used a very Sherk-like gameplan to give Edgar his only career loss. Otherwise, Edgar better hope for a massive screw-up approach from Sherk.

The latter is probably more likely, simply because Sherk has shown a willingness of late to keep the fight standing in order to prove that he can win with his striking. That would be an error of ego here, since Sherk has the perfect tools to expose Edgar's weaknesses. All he has to do is be smart enough to use them.

You may not get to see them all on the televised portion of the card (PPV, 10 p.m. ET), but there are a few bright prospects to watch out for on the undercard. Former kickboxer Pat "HD" Barry (4-0) was electric in his UFC debut last December, leg-kicking his way to victory over Dan Evensen in just one round. He's not a big heavyweight but his stand-up game is absolutely brutal. When he lets it go, he's a walking highlight reel, which could spell big trouble for Tim Hague.

Brock Larson vs. Chris Wilson is a battle between two hungry up-and-comers, and there's only room for one of them in the crowded welterweight division. Wilson (13-5, 1 NC) was the victim of a home invasion robbery in Brazil a few weeks ago. Gunman stormed into his apartment, terrifying his wife and two children, and stealing just about everything they could carry. That's not the kind of tranquil training camp you hope for as a fighter, but Wilson seems to have shaken it off extremely well. Whether his takedown defense has improved enough to stop a bulldog like Larson is another question.

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