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Too close to call?
Evans-Machida could have you running in circles

Preview by Brady Crytzer

For the first time in UFC history, two undefeated fighters clash for the world title as light heavyweight champion “Sugar” Rashad Evans meets rising star Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida on Saturday May 23rd in Las Vegas, NV. While the challenger Machida is the early betting favorite, the main event of UFC 98 will certainly prove to be one of the most difficult title bouts to handicap in recent memory. Because of the extremely diverse and dangerous skill sets of each fighter, Evans vs. Machida will be a battle of circumstances with neither man having a clear advantage in any category. Though it’s a tall task, will break down the action one step at a time.

Striking: Stylistically speaking, a comparison of stand up skills is essentially like playing “pick your poison.” Over the last three years since winning the second season of The Ultimate Fighter Evans has gone from a fairly one-dimensional wrestler to a vision of the modern mixed martial artist. Since his bout with Sean Salmon in 2007 which he finished with a devastating head kick, Evans has left a trail of crumpled bodies including UFC legend Chuck Liddell and most recently Forrest Griffin.

Machida, on the other hand, has made a statement since his debut as a patient striker with a personal commitment to the proliferation of his Karate based style. Though he has been criticized for being overly cautious, Machida has used well timed bursts to finish fights violently with precision KO blows. While three of his UFC bouts have gone the distance, “The Dragon” has shown his ability to close the show in his January bout with fellow unbeaten Thiago Silva by chalking up a devastating one punch knockout

Rashad Evans will have a considerable edge in hand speed and power. Machida however gets the nod in accuracy, pedigree and experience. Because of his recent penchant for finishing fights, a slight edge falls to the champion Evans.

Grappling: Although Evans has come a long way, this match is most easily broken down as a battle of wrestling against jiu jitsu. Evans has certainly learned enough jiu jitsu to stay out of danger, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be submitting anyone anytime soon. His natural gifts lend themselves quite well to a strong wrestling based attack, and that’s what he’ll use in this fight.

It’s no surprise that Machida has been drawn primarily to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu considering his national heritage. While he is admittedly still learning the art, “The Dragon” has used his substantial training to nearly catch Tito Ortiz in a triangle choke in 2007 and submit Thierry Sokoudjou in 2008.

Machida gets the nod in this category. Though the wrestling of Evans has the chance to be effective in this fight, Machida’s submission appears to be a sleeping giant waiting to explode into the public eye.

How They Match Up: This main event is a matter of taste, but either way don’t expect this to be the fight of the year. Look for a calculated display of patience and timing.

For either of these men to win, a lot of variables need to fall in their favor.

Machida has made a career by staying out of danger, and for Evans to catch him he will need to become more aggressive and deviate from his usual counter-punching style. Don’t expect a right hand like the one that floored Chuck Liddell to come early however. Evans will need to catch a tired Machida late to land a punch like that.

On the flip side, Machida will need to stay uncharacteristically busy throughout the bout as Evans is easily the most dangerous and versatile challenge of his six year professional career.

Machida has been heralded by pundits as the second coming of Rickson Gracie (that was a joke) in recent months and a win will surely propel him into the top five pound for pound on most lists. Evans, despite having held the title for five months, is widely regarded as sixth in the world.

After considering the skills, history and possible futures of each fighter, an underdog bet on Rashad Evans by late stoppage or decision would be a good one.



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