By Josh Gross
May 20, 2009

I'm not sure it's fair to label the prediction of a Lyoto Machida victory over Rashad Evans a "fashionable" choice. There are, as odds makers dutifully remind us, more than a few cogent arguments in favor of the Brazilian light heavyweight dethroning the current UFC champion.

Make no mistake, Machida (14-0) is blessed with athleticism and size. His unique skills have been honed throughout his life under the guidance of a master craftsman, who just happens to be his father. In essence, Machida was bred for this sort of thing.

Against an opponent who came to fighting later in life, Machida should be the sensible, almost preordained selection. Perhaps I'm contrarian by nature. Or maybe I think Evans (13-0-1) really is that good. (I do.) But when this fight was announced in March, my gut and head led me to the same belief: Evans will keep the title.

Here's why:

In a confined area, it's sometimes tough to decipher speed from quickness. Machida gets a lot of credit for movement and elusiveness, yet these things have less to do with raw speed than they do excellent technique. Almost any way you wish to measure it, Evans is the faster fighter.

When the pair exchange -- and I'm fairly confident they will -- pay special attention to the number of punches Evans gets off in comparison to Machida. The Brazilian doesn't throw many combinations, but if he chooses to Saturday, he'll be risking a lot against Evans, whose hands are the swiftest in the division.

Evans' speed lets him engage without simply sitting in the pocket. And that's important against Machida, who's grown accustomed to controlling distance and pacing versus opponents that charge straight ahead, or aren't physically gifted enough to get away without being perfect. He is generally the one who dictates circumstances in a fight, and has done so based on an impressive ability to counter.

Against a fighter who cannot only match his speed but also trump it, that won't be an easy thing to pull off.

I won't go so far as to say Evans is more fluid than Machida. He isn't. No one is. But the champ has wonderful feet, and like his challenger, footwork is key to his defense.

Though their styles here are very different, and will mark a stark contrast in the Octagon, everything starts from the ground up with these guys.

Machida keeps a wide stance that provides a solid base. It helps him sit on his punches, kick, turn the corner and slide away after countering. Evans, meanwhile, transfers his weight more like a boxer, darting in and out to compensate for a shorter frame.

The key for Evans resides in his ability to cut off the cage, and counter the counter. Machida will want to get in and get out. He won't stand in front of Evans. You can forget that. It's all about creating angles and openings for the Brazilian, and even though he's a big man, his feet let him work beautifully in close quarters.

That's key because too many fighters make the mistake of moving along one line. Jumping forward, retreating back -- Machida doesn't do that. When the southpaw chooses to exploit an opening, his line of retreat is to the side (usually to the right), then a 180-degree spin along a path that leaves him facing the direction from which he came.

I believe this is where Evans and his camp will capitalize on their movement (and speed), and where I think he can surprise Machida.

Here's why I'm more excited for this fight than any other so far in 2009. And why I can't imagine a boring outcome. (Oh, there will be lulls. But they'll be strategic lulls.) Just because Evans and Machida aren't the kind of fighters who will try to kill each other for 25 minutes won't mean they aren't deeply locked in a fight.

My expectation is the need for both camps to adapt on the fly, and as much as Machida and his crew are pros, there isn't a better camp at identifying exploitable weaknesses during a fight than GregJackson, MikeWinkeljohn and others.

In-fight strategy will be a major factor in determining a winner at UFC 98.

Evans is the best striker/wrestler Machida has faced. If the champion decides to press Machida, it won't come in the way of a frontal assault. He'll need to be smart, and that means feinting one thing to find another. Here, Evans is perfectly equipped to put Machida on his back, where the champ's underrated ground-and-pound could provide an avenue to victory.

Simply taking shots at double-legs, however, is a recipe for disaster. Machida uses his hips incredibly well. It would be a mistake for Evans to try to force takedowns. He'll burn energy, which could cost him speed and all that comes with that.

Machida isn't overly aggressive. He doesn't fire combinations. All that makes it more difficult to take him down. To do so, Evans must confuse Machida. strike sometimes to strike, strike sometimes to set up takedowns. The latter become much easier with the help of the former.

This might play out over the opening two or three rounds, but at some point Evans would be smart to get Machida down, which I expect the 29-year-old ex-Michigan State wrestler to accomplish.

Evans' speed and footwork lead to one place: explosive power. He has an edge here, perhaps the most significant of any category between the two.

With Machida, 30, providing such a difficult target to sight, Evans must make the strikes he lands worthwhile. And he has the power to do that.

There is too much defense and too much skill to expect a finish from either fighter. Neither man is prone to mistakes. Each has skills and attributes that offset the other.

This might be the best "boring" fight ever.

Put me down for Evans three rounds to two, 47-46, in a fight that could easily deliver a split decision.

Also, Matt Hughes will defeat Matt Serra by decision, and Sean Sherk will edge Frankie Edgar by decision.

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