UFC 173: Machida vs. Weidman
Fistic Dialectics: Weidman vs. Machida: Glitches, Patience and Divine Wind
I should preface this by noting I am an inveterate Machida fan. Like the Beatles with music fifteen years ago, Machida began a sea change in my perspective on fighting and the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.
The catalyst was his bout against Rashad Evans, when I initially noticed that unlike any other fighter outside of Fedor Emelianenko, Machida was able to occupy the space between fight and flight, or much like the illusory difference between love and hate, was able to point to a third entity; in the love vs. hate example, indifference, in fight or flight – patience. It is his patience to outlast, to wait, that makes him one of my favorite fighters, the ability to seek a glitch in his opponents training over the course of twenty five raised heartbeat minutes, and when found, strike with uncompromising commitment, quite literally crashing into his rushing opponent, leaping – a divine wind- between his opponents muscle memory and their fate.
Fight fans understand that what truly makes fights are the stylistic match-ups and this is precisely where Machida is dangerous. His style is both an anomaly and an anachronism, a Karate fighter content to pick you apart, and when he wins by decision,one can envision the extension of the fight to be a war of attrition in which his great resource is patience and can extrapolate the visage of his opponent after an additional twenty five minutes as broken and disheartened.
When we pit fighter A, a wrestler, against fighter B, a Muy Thai striker, we have at once the ceilings of their advantages and disadvantages laid bare. It is not so much mathematics as it is precedence and like chess to the obsessive fan, we can see the rooks and the pawns in every fighter. Rashad Evans, to use a previous example, will NEVER beat Jon Jones, but Alexander Gustaffson will beat Jon Jones 5 out of 10 times. Everything is fifty fifty without a trick coin, but much like the trick coin, weighted ever so slightly to one side, match-ups can be more compelling, more impelling, than skills in the history of a fighter.
This brings us to the match-up at UFC 175. Chris Weidman, the man who dethroned Anderson Silva twice (literally and figuratively) will face another Brazilian counter-striker master, but the results will inevitably be much different and the difference lies in the stylistic qualities. Where Anderson draws a counter with theatrics tethered to both impatience and skulduggery, hoping to incite a mistake, Machida will wait, knowing that mistakes, both his own and his opponents, are inevitable.
In the fights against Anderson Silva, Weidman plodded forward, behind jabs, behind leg kicks, behind take downs. Anderson never stepped to greet him, but rather fished to catch him overextending, reaching beyond his physical means, in an effort to catch Weidman forgetting himself. Where this approach failed was that both Weidman and Silva were singular in their end goal and in the end it was Silva who forgot himself and was gifted with a loss of consciousness for his amnesia.
The plodding approach by Weidman, evident in all his recent fights, plays directly into Machida's advantage. Machida takes the involuntary, the millionth jab, the thousandth shuffle step, and throws a wrench into its rote. Ryan Bader rushed forward with a one-two, and was caught in between his physical programming with a straight right. Mark Munoz was re-programmed within minutes by Machida, expecting everything but the sniper left high kick to his head. It is one lazy jab, one uncommitted shot, that Machida is looking for from Weidman, and as the fight wears on, the inevitability of one or the other is promised by the universe. Cardio makes cowards of men and kings of muscle memory. The mind becomes obsolete, and likewise the gameplans, the visualization. What is left is two tired fighters. The difference in the instance of Machida and Weidman is one fighter, Machida, is patient the whole time.
He has been waiting.
Machida's undoing has been from fighters who have the ability to improvise at near virtuoso levels of aggression and offense, such as Jon Jones, who saw the waiting game and learned, between rounds one and two, that Machida was waiting for Jones' leg kick, to counter with a straight right. Between rounds it was decided to feint a leg kick, to give Machida what he was waiting for, and pounce. This led to the guillotine choke that ended the fight.
Weidman has no such virtuosity. He is tough as nails and persistent. Undoubtedly his gameplan will revolve around securing a takedown, either via changing levels or leaping through a Machida knee. Problematic on paper is the fact that Machida has eighty percent takedown defense and that Weidman's best position for a takedown, the clinch, is also Machida's best position for knees and Sumo throws.
We have yet to see Weidman's patience tried, or physically, his cardio. He has been on a stellar undefeated run that has been largely determined by his no nonsense approach. His opponents, outside of Anderson Silva, have been mid-tier at best, and as such his ceiling has yet to be revealed. On paper his best chance is simply taking Machida down punching him out or submitting him. This will be a tall order. His takedowns of Silva were effortless, but Anderson's takedown defense is nearly non existent.
And so the fight centers around the space between fight or flight, patience and whose can outlast the other. Will Weidman have the patience to stick to his game plan after failed takedown attempts? Will Weidman have a plan B? We are gonna see frustration of the highest magnitude in a fight on Saturday, and a finish is just as likely in the opening minute as it is in the final. The difference is that for Machida the final minute and the opening bell are one and the same. He will, as he has before, wait five rounds for the glitch and the glitch will arrive between Weidman's plan A and plan B, all the while Machida will strike, will play the immediate game. Machida will play the part of the fighter who espouses aggression, athleticism and heart, but will be subliminally working his rhythms, his game of glitches, patience and divine wind.
Machida: Unanimous decision.