If "styles make fights," then a major question mark should hang over the main event of this weekend's UFC Fight Night 36. While the matchup of Gegard Mousasi and Lyoto Machida does pit two elite fighters against one another, their fighting styles could create the exact type of fight that mainstream fans and the promotional powers within the UFC hate to see. Machida and Mousasi fight in a way that could not only puzzle each other, but those spending their Saturday watching around the world.
If any term could be used to describe the start of the UFC's 2014 campaign, "slow" comes to mind. Four events into the year and the results have been lackluster at best. Two main events were marred by controversy, and the launch of UFC Fight Pass at UFC Fight Night 34 had technical issues. UFC Fight Night 35 was the highlight, when in the main event, Luke Rockhold gave the fans a vicious stoppage to enjoy. That brings us to UFC Fight Night 36 and a main event that might be just as perplexing for fans watching as it will be for the two men facing each other in the cage.
This fight pits two competitors against each other that boast a combined 54-7-2 record. They have held a combined four championships across the Ultimate Fighting Championship, DREAM, and Strikeforce. And still, this fight hasn't received the publicity that it should heading into the weekend. The prevailing opinion may be that this fight isn't the big draw that the UFC needs at this point in the year. Part of the reason is that these two competitors are known for implementing strategies that may not be what the mainstream fans want, but are enough to get their hands raised at the end of the night.
Machida has been widely criticized for a cautious style that has created some tough decisions and contests. Before dropping down to middleweight to dispose of Mark Munoz with a first round head kick, Machida was struggling at light heavyweight. Mousasi didn't look great during his UFC debut, but it was revealed that he needed knee surgery, which kept him out the rest of 2013. Now that they face each other in a bout that will push the winner up the short list of middleweight contenders, one must wonder what style they will employ when under the main lights in Santa Catarina, Brazil.
With 18 knockouts on his ledger, it's clear that Gegard has the ability to finish fights with his striking. He's competed for some of the biggest kickboxing organizations in the world, and has the record to prove success in that arena. However, he also has a high enough fight IQ to know that Machida is one of the game's best counterstrikers, so attacking him aggressively may not be the best strategy to employ. In fact, when speaking to MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani during the lead in to this fight, he mentioned that he and his team noticed "holes" in Machida's style that lends to him being susceptible to counterstriking as well. But if both fighters lean towards "playing it safe" while in the Octagon, that won't create the dynamic necessary for afight that will leave fans chanting for more.
In addition, Mousasi would be ill-advised to take a conservative approach against Machida in his home country. It's a widespread assumption that Brazilian fighters get a "home court advantage" when fights go the distance in their country, even if Machida did lose a close decision to Phil Davis at UFC 163 in Rio de Janeiro. Mousasi may have to be more aggressive than he wants to get a stoppage during their 25-minute confrontation. This could create the kind of opportunities that Machida has scored with in the past, or push the action well enough to create an exciting contest.
The UFC needs a big matchup to get fans excited about the promotion after a slow start to this year. Although on paper Lyoto Machida vs. Gegard Mousasi doesn't appear to be that matchup because they don't use the most electric styles at this point in their careers, there's still a chance that something occurs to get fans talking about the event. With how things have started, the UFC needs it more than it is willing to admit.