LA takes Machida
Date: 2012-07-29 00:00:00
Submitted By: Come Get You Some
This is the seventh installment of London-based writer Brian Mallon's column on the Ultimate Fighting Championship for The Asahi Shimbun. Mallon has been a martial arts practitioner, UFC fan and journalist for many years. The biweekly feature appears every other Monday. * * * In this week’s column, we look forward to karate expert Lyoto Machida’s Octagon return after his commendable December title challenge. We also preview a big night for Michihiro Omigawa as he bids to kick-start his UFC career, and we learn of a heavyweight matchup that will feature the meeting of Strikeforce and UFC standouts in a clash of titans. Arguably the best karate expert currently plying his trade in the UFC, Lyoto Machida is among the most feared fighters competing in the organization’s light heavyweight division. After boldly declaring that “karate is back,” Machida has ably demonstrated that when blended with solid grappling (Machida also studies sumo and is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt), high-level karate can be a complex puzzle to solve. In particular “The Dragon” uses sublime movement and evasive lateral footwork to be almost matador-like in his counter striking. His next opponent will be Ryan Bader. The last time out, Bader conquered perhaps Japanese fans' favorite fighting import, former Pride star Quinton Jackson. Bader has built some momentum and has enlisted two time shotokan karate world champion Hiroshi Allen in his efforts to mimic Machida’s style. Although Allen’s shotokan credentials are beyond reproach, I doubt whether he will be able to mesh the various facets of mixed martial arts in the seamless manner in which Machida can. Jon Jones was able to eventually get to grips with the former 205-pound champion, but not before Machida had gotten his attention with the type of movement and trickery that Jones had obviously not encountered before. “Bones” Jones, too, had attempted to re-create the Machida fighting style in the run up to last year’s title fight. Similarly, Randy Couture also brought in karate specialists prior to his fight with Machida. He saw the self-effacing 34-year-old as a “Rubik's Cube” of a fighter and glistened at the prospect of solving the Machida puzzle. But solve it he didn't, and his enthusiasm cost him a couple of front teeth and a memorable addition to Machida's ever-growing highlights reel. Machida is simply different, and on his day, only the most elite fighters can defeat him. I don’t believe that Bader, as tough of a wrestler as he is, falls into that category. Bader’s striking is concussive when he finds the target, but his unrefined right hand and relative lack of mobility will make him second to the punch once too often in this one. I believe that Machida will emerge with a signature win via second round knockout. Joining the famous Japanese-Brazilian on the Aug. 4 card at the Staples Center in Los Angeles is a Japanese veteran seeking to make a mark in the featherweight division. Michihiro Omigawa is a stocky judoka who has had mixed fortunes in his UFC tenure to date. He currently sits at 1 and 3 in his past four fights and surely needs a victory in Los Angeles to continue to campaign in the world’s top promotion. Standing in his way, however, is Manny Gamburyan, a talented judo practitioner who has been in there with some tough competitors such as Nate Diaz, Tyson Griffin, and the kingpin of the 145-lb weight class, Jose Aldo. Although Ibaraki’s Omigawa will be up against it in the Los Angeles Staples Center, he can draw comfort from the knowledge that Gamburyan is also under pressure. The Armenian is riding a two-fight losing streak and is looking at the dreaded walking papers in the event of defeat. Omigawa has a win over England’s Jason Young on his resume and so should be able to avoid too much damage on the feet and use his superior judo en route to a decision victory. Daniel Cormier has been handed his final assignment under the Strikeforce banner, and it is against none other than former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir. Mir is coming off defeat in his challenge for Junior Dos Santos’ heavyweight crown, and will be seen as the perfect litmus test for the fast-rising Cormier. Industry insiders have been talking about Cormier for some time, and this one is perfectly set up to mark his arrival in the UFC’s ranks with a marquee win. Another fighter who has been handed his next Octagon challenge is Ehime’s Yasuhiro Urushitani. Fighting out of Tokyo, Urushitani has been tentatively scheduled to meet John Lineker in September. With the recent injury-ravaged UFC 149 proving to be a rare disappointment for UFC brass, Japanese fans will be hoping that Urushitani gets the opportunity to bounce back from a difficult bout with Joseph Benavidez in impressive fashion. Kanagawa’s Yushin Okami has been rocked by the news in recent days that he will face a new opponent at UFC 150 on Aug. 11 at the Pepsi Center in Denver. With the bout only two weeks away, Okami will have to mentally prepare for a new adversary on the event’s main card. Initially slated to face submissions expert Rousimar Palhares, “Thunder” will now square off against the Greg Jackson trained Buddy Roberts. Okami will be a huge step up in competition for Roberts, and with him taking the fight on short notice, I expect Okami to get back in the win column with a resounding ground-and-pound effort.