“Each of the Five Points is a finger,” said Bill “The Butcher” Cutting in the film Gangs of New York. “When I close my hand it becomes a fist. And, if I wish, I can turn it against you.”
Twenty-two of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s mixed martial artists will enter the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif. on Oct. 24 for UFC 104 Machida vs. Shogun, make fists, and turn them against each other. Here are five points to watch for on Saturday night.
The Machida Era or Shogun’s Restoration?
Lyoto Machida exclaimed “Karate is back!,” and “The Dragon is the champion!,” after stealing Rashad Evans’ consciousness and title at UFC 98 in May. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua plans to cut through Machida’s karate mystique with his hyper-aggressive muay Thai and prove he’s still the fighter that won the 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix—if not better.
The Brazilian showdown features two incredibly diverse mixed martial artists who, at their best, seem invincible. Unfortunately for Rua, Machida has never appeared anything but while “Shogun” has yet to turn in a stellar performance in the Octagon against top competition. Still, Rua’s injuries and cardio deficiencies should be behind him for the potential 25 minutes he must try to slay “The Dragon.” He’ll need to push the pace to force the allegedly flawless Machida to make mistakes. Rua’s punching power, dangerous muay Thai clinch, takedown ability, aggressive ground and pound, submission game present numerous threats to Machida.
The champion’s affinity for counterpunching forces opponents to fight his fight and Rua’s blitzkrieg style begs for Machida to capitalize. However, the former Chute Boxe prodigy knows better and will challenge Machida on technical fronts, turning up the heat like only he can. He must keep his strikes veiled behind takedown threats and vice-versa. Speed is his best weapon—a definitive advantage that allows for combinations and to dictate range, which Machida masterfully controls. For Machida, the song remains the same. Whoever emerges victorious can hold the division’s horns for a king’s reign.
It’s no secret Ben Rothwell, known for dominating the IFL’s heavyweight ranks, wants to stand and fight against two-time All-American and Pac-10 champion wrestler Cain Velasquez. He even spent his camp under striking guru Duke Rofus. A nimble big man at 6’5”, 265-pounds, Rothwell will need 15 minutes of high-end cardio because fighting off Velasquez’s takedowns or getting back to his feet once on the mat will sap his energy easy. Velasquez’s ability to advance position once on the ground is the biggest problem Rothwell should expect.
If he can keep the fight upright, Rothwell’s tree trunk head tilts the fight in his favor against a powerful striker who is still green on his feet. A win for Velasquez keeps his “next big thing” hype going, while Rothwell can steal it away and keep his promise that his underdog status will make gamblers tons of money.
UFC 104 preliminary bouts hit SpikeTV again and heavyweight leg kick enthusiasts Pat Barry and Antoni Hardonk usher in the night. The fight was chosen for its obvious potential for fireworks, but Barry’s speed and technique standing from his K-1 background likely pushes Hardonk to take the fight to the mat where he can take advantage of Barry only having a year’s worth of grappling experience.
Newcomer Chase Gormley has the size to garner attention. In his first UFC bout, he draws incredibly durable Stefan Struve. Struve’s ability to work off of his back and his reach standing should keep him out of trouble against the imposing Gormley.
Still No Okami Sightings
The people’s challenger Yushin Okami finds himself in a dark match again. This time Chael Sonnen is Okami’s make or break fight. The Team Quest fighter is a ground and pound fighter like Okami, so this bout is likely a plodding stand-up fight unless one takes the fight away on the mat early. Whatever the case, both desperately need emphatic finishes or will be lost in the contender shuffle forever.
Bader Nation to Expand or Disband?
Ryan Bader hopes to pass a difficult submission test in Eric Schafer on the Spike TV portion of UFC 104. “The Ultimate Fighter” season eight winner is one of the light heavyweight division’s brightest prospects, demonstrating heavy hands and a relatively strong knowledge of jiu-jitsu positions and submissions to compliment his two-time All-American wrestling background. Schafer’s lone two UFC losses have been to TUF veterans, so he’ll be ready to capitalize on Bader’s name value, which will deflate or inflate depending on if he can bypass Schafer’s Pedro Sauer black belt and serviceable striking.
Rumble or Roll
UFC welterweight standout Anthony Johnson has the wrestling and knockout power to give anyone fits. Yoshiyuki Yoshida, though, is a judo black belt with a lockjaw submission game who won’t have any interest in standing with “Rumble” after enduring one of the sport’s worst knockouts against Josh Kosheck in December.
It’s a style match up at its best and “Zenko” has to clinch quickly and be patient with his throws to avoid wasting energy against the much larger opponent. If he can do that, his grappling experience should re-enter his name in the contender sweepstakes, which is where Johnson expects to be after another knockout (all four of his UFC wins have come via stoppage).