Unique Fighting Challenge: Chris Weidman defends title against distinctive Lyoto Machida
LAS VEGAS - Lyoto Machida changes a fighter's dialogue.
Those cliched "knock him out" or "look for the finish" or "impose my will" statements mysteriously disappear, replaced by phrases such as "figure him out" and "solve the puzzle" and "chess game."
That's what Machida and his karate background present for Baldwin's Chris Weidman as he makes his second middleweight title defense tomorrow night at UFC 175 at Mandalay Bay.
"He fights like no other fighter in the UFC," Weidman said. "He has that karate style. He'll stay away from you, stay away from you, he looks for you to make mistakes then capitalize. He's not very aggressive moving forward. He's just very different, so it throws people off."
Twenty-one times it has worked for Machida. Four times it has not.
Machida, a former light- heavyweight champion now in his third bout at middleweight, brings patience into the octagon. He's fine waiting for the opponent to make a move so he can counter. That's how Machida knocked out Ryan Bader with a short right punch to the hard-charging Bader's wide-open chin.
It was one of very few damaging strikes with the right side of his body. Bader's momentum created the knockout as much as Machida's fist. UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones noticed Machida's far-left tendencies while training for his successful title defense in 2012.
"We really just practiced defending techniques that come from his left," Jones said. "Outside of the Randy Couture crane kick, he's never really hurt anybody with a right-sided attack. His right side is completely harmless."
Machida's knockout of Mark Muñoz last October? Left high kick to the head.
Machida's three knockdowns of Rashad Evans to win the title in 2009? All left punches.
Despite the lefthanded lean, Machida still remains arguably the most unique fighter in the UFC.
Weidman brought in Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, a former kickboxing world champion with a 4-1 record in the UFC, to mimic Machida in sparring. Thompson did the same for Weidman during training camp for both fights against Anderson Silva.
"He becomes a Machida," Weidman said of Thompson. "Just moving around with Machida [on Saturday], it won't throw me off as much as it would have if I didn't have Wonderboy."
Thompson, a welterweight, sparred with Silva and Machida several years ago and comes from a karate background. That puts him at the same natural distance Machida fights at, giving Weidman exposure to Machida's tricky approach.
"With Anderson and Lyoto, they've fought the exact same way their whole careers, for the most part," Thompson said. "Most Machida attacks are straight down the middle. He punches and kicks moving forward and then back. It's fairly easy to mimic."
Thompson added an important caveat: "It's always different when you're out there in the cage," he said.
Yes it is.
But the experience of seeing Machida-esque strikes gave the undefeated Weidman (11-0, 7-0 UFC) enough familiarity to where he can use his fight IQ to adjust accordingly during the fight.
"He's very patient," Weidman's trainer Ray Longo said of Machida. "He's a counter fighter, he tries to lure you in. He's got that one shot, one kill mentality. With the little gloves on, that poses a little bit of a problem. Chris is at a level where he'll make the right adjustments in the octagon."