Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look at the main event of UFC Fight Night 119 as the legendary Lyoto Machida returns to the Octagon to square off against middleweight Derek Brunson.
Derek Brunson (Record: 17-5, -155 Favorite, Power Ranking: B)
The Jackson’s MMA fighter has rebounded well since getting knocked out by Robert Whittaker in November 2016. He went toe to toe with Anderson Silva losing a controversial decision in February and then followed that up with a first round knockout of surging middleweight Daniel Kelly.
Derek Brunson is certainly a formidable middleweight in the UFC. At 6’1” tall and a 77 inch reach he’s one of the best athletes in the division. For Brunson, everything starts with his wrestling. At the University of North Carolina Pembroke, Brunson was a three time Division II All American. That ability in collegiate wrestling has translated over to MMA as he’s secured a whopping 3.09 takedowns per 15 minutes in the octagon and has been successful in 32% of his takedown attempts. That includes three takedowns on Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero. Defensively he has never been taken down by an opponent inside the Octagon. In short, Brunson has dominated the grappling in his fights. In order to beat Brunson, his opponent must beat him on the feet. Brunson has made significant strides over the last few years to improve his striking. Boxing has become a major weapon for him and he has certainly built confidence knocking out some quality opposition in the last couple of years. With that said, if there’s an area where Brunson is vulnerable it is in his defensive striking. He has been knocked out in three of his five career losses and needs to protect his chin better if he’s going to contend for UFC gold one day.
Lyoto Machida (Record: 22-7, +135 Underdog, Power Ranking: B)
One of the greatest fighters in the history of mixed martial arts, Lyoto Machida returns to the octagon for the first time in over two and a half years. Machida last fought in June 2015 in a loss to Yoel Romero. He was scheduled to fight at UFC on Fox 19 against Dan Henderson, but was pulled from the card after he admitted to taking a banned substance. He received an 18 month suspension which allowed for his return to MMA in October 2017.
Machida has one of the most unique fighting styles in MMA. Karate is a key area of influence and it’s clear in watching him fight. He fights on the balls of his feet with his hands down. This allows him complete freedom of movement. Machida is certainly not a volume fighter (2.63 significant strikes landed per minute). He waits for his opportunities and then looks to land with precision. He lands 53% of his significant strikes which is one of the highest percentages in the middleweight division. Furthermore, he’s very difficult to hit absorbing only 1.59 significant strikes a minute inside the Octagon. Machida’s game has long been predicated on speed and reflexes. Movement is integral in his ability to find openings and ultimately to avoid his opponents aggression. As Machida has gotten older, he’s certainly absorbed more damage. In his last two bouts dating back to 2015, he was hurt badly by both Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero. He was finished in both fights and looked out of his depth in those contests. One can argue those bouts were against elite opponents, but it needs to be stated that age and reflex time tend to go in opposite directions.
The main event of UFC Fight Night 119 is an interesting clash of styles between Derek Brunson and Anderson Silva. The American is a slight favorite (-155) in this matchup because he holds a significant wrestling advantage in this fight. If this fight ever goes to the ground, Brunson will have a major advantage as he can work in ground and pound as well as control Machida on the mat. On the feet, this fight is much more interesting. Brunson’s boxing has improved in recent years and he’s become much more capable as a stand-up striker. Even with his striking improvements, it’s still a dangerous bout. Machida has made a career of being elusive and landing some stunning strikes on the feet. Whether it’s a front kick or a well-timed jab. Fighting Machida is like fighting no other fighter in MMA. His unique striking skill set makes as hard of a fighter to game plan for as there is in MMA. However, Machida hasn’t fought in over two years. He’s a fighter that needs to rely on reflexes and speed in order to have success. With being close to 40 and being out of action for so long, one has to wonder if rust will be a real concern. Plus, has Machida lost some of that speed edge he had in recent fights? History shows us that long layoffs are not conducive to immediate success when returning to the sport. Things are lining up for Brunson, but he needs to be mindful of Machida’s skill set. Even one mistake could be the end of the night for him. This is a fight to sit back and watch as it will tell us a lot about each fighter moving forward.