It’s difficult to imagine who could possibly beat him. He’s a fighter who is outstanding in all areas. He’s rarely touched by his opponents. He’s very good at keeping his distance; on the rare occasion an opponent manages to get inside, he’s usually punished with strikes or thrown to the ground. He’s not just a striker, or a wrestler… he has a terrific ground game also. Having never been defeated in a fight, with nobody ever coming close, it appears that there is no end in sight for this fighter’s title reign.
Jon Jones? No… Lyoto Machida!
At least, Lyoto Machida before he ran into Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. It’s amazing to think that, just a couple years ago, it was Machida who was considered nearly unbeatable as a fighter. “Elusive” was the word of the day, but it failed miserably to describe just how Machida was so successful in his fights. Machida was the master of hitting without being hit, of moving around the cage in a way that benefited him, and put his opponents at a disadvantage. He had a very good clinch game, throwing fighters like Tito Ortiz to the ground, and a very good ground game to top it all off.
Of course, as soon as the “Machida era” begun, it ended. After winning a very controversial decision against Rua at UFC 104, it was Rua who defeated Machida by first-round KO in a rematch at UFC 113. So much for the hype.
Now, the hype has shifted to Jon Jones. While Jones’s skill set isn’t the same as Machida’s, there are some real similarities. Like Machida, it’s very difficult to hit Jones. Like Machida, Jones is extremely good at managing distance and keeping opponents where he wants them. And like Machida, Jones has an excellent clinch game, but even better than Machida’s, as Jones has been tossing opponents to the mat with relative ease.
So, how to beat Jones? Knock him out? Good luck… Jones has an extremely good overall Strikes Absorbed per Minute of 1.43 in his UFC career, but remove his first two UFC fights against Stephan Bonnar and Andre Gusmao, and that rate shrinks to a microscopic 0.92. It’s not impossible to score a KO, it’s just very unlikely. Take him down? Well, if you manage to take him down, you would be the first… Jones has never been taken down in his UFC career. And if you can’t take him down, you probably won’t submit him; as Mauricio “Shogun” Rua found out, trying to submit Jones from bottom position is a dubious undertaking. Jones has an extremely strong base, and pretty good instincts on the ground himself.
So it would appear that Lyoto Machida’s best bet would be to win by decision. If Machida can manage to out-strike Jones in three out of five rounds, he’ll win the decision and once again become the UFC light-heavyweight champion. To do that, however, it would appear that Machida would need to change the way he likes to fight. Machida is a very passive striker. He prefers to allow his opponent to attack first, and then capitalize when the opponent makes a mistake. Due to what figures to be a massive reach disadvantage, Machida won’t be able to do that against Jones. Machida can be passive all he wants, but as long as Jones is feeding him a steady diet of straight punches, it will be very difficult for Machida to counter.
That means Machida needs to be more aggressive, but for Machida to remain the same fighter he’s always been, he needs to be aggressive while still being elusive and difficult to hit. If doing that against Jon Jones sounds like a nearly impossible task… well, it probably is.
What’s more likely to happen is that Machida will slowly get picked apart, over time. I expect Jones to land more strikes than Machida, and I expect Jones to mix in a few takedowns as well. As great as Lyoto Machida’s takedown defense is, he’s never had to defend the takedown of Jon Jones. Over time, Jones’s steady attack will break Machida down until either Jones wins by TKO or the fight goes to decision, where I would expect Jones to also be named the winner.
SILVA PREDICTION: JON JONES (91.94) OVER LYOTO MACHIDA (78.22)
In each of Jones’s fights, I’ve calculated what his SILVA score would be if his DQ loss to Matt Hamill was considered as a win instead. Normally, to conduct such an analysis, I would throw out the fight, but because Jones had so thoroughly beaten Hamill, I think it’s more telling to treat that fight as a Jones win. Well, in a system I designed to be loosely on a 0-100 scale, Jones would have a SILVA score of 100.08. He would be estimated as THE best MMA fighter in the world, regardless of weight class. No disrespect to Lyoto Machida, who is an outstanding fighter… but this fight is Jones’s to lose.