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Machida's Mistakes/Shogun's Success (Long and gif-heavy)
So we all know now that a rematch is going to happen between Shogun and Machida. Since BROK® pulled out of his UFC 106 fight with Carwin (rescheduled to Jan. 2nd), it's even possible that this fight could replace theirs at UFC 106 (note that this is pure speculation, I haven't heard it reported or even rumored yet). So Lyoto Machida needs a gameplan, and fast. What did he do wrong at UFC 104? What did Mauricio "Shogun" Rua do right? Here's my opinion, for what it's worth.
(***Note that I'm no technical genius and have a total of probably 3 months of Muay Thai training. However, I've been boxing for a year and a half, been an MMA fan for 5 years and formerly trained for a loooong time in Tang Soo Do, aka Korean Shotokan***)
This mistake was so glaring to me, I'm surprised more people haven't been mentioning it. For (usually) having such great elusive footwork, Machida circled to his left, better known as "where Shogun's right leg lives" the entire fight. Let's watch the replays the UFC showed at the end of round 5.
Notice especially the leg kick and punch. In both cases, Shogun leaps forward with a wild left-handed fake. Machida goes for it, moves to his left and eats a tremendous front leg power kick and a stunning overhand right, respectively, for his trouble.
Shogun did this all night long, from the first round to the last, and had a lot of success with it. Mostly he used it to set up body kicks, which he landed at a decent rate. Machida continuously moved away from a jab or feint from the left hand, straight into an oncoming Shogun body kick.
To make matters worse, Machida's left arm was usually in no position to block a body kick. Instead, he usually tried to sweep the kick away with his right hand. This is a decent defense, particularly against straight kicks, when you want to catch the foot as it comes in. In this case however, reaching across the body to catch a roundhouse kick traveling the other direction proved to be ineffective. Making matters worse, naturally, was that Machida moved into the kick by circling to Shogun's right, giving himself even less time to parry the kick or catch the foot.
The solution to this problem is fairly simple. Machida needs to circle to his right, away from Shogun's power. This might also create a better angle for his left straight and left body kicks, if he can pull it off.
2. Head movement
I feel like maybe this is related to his footwork. Simply put, I didn't see Lyoto being confident enough to step to the outside (his right) of Shogun's left jab, and I'm wondering if it's because he lacks any head movement beyond forward and backwards. He's shown small flashes of it in the past, but only when leading with his arms. Note how he avoids Nakamura's punches to set up his sweeps.
He didn't do this at all against Shogun, and to be honest I think Shogun's power scared him. Look above to the gif during the last round, Shogun's wild overhand right that knocked Machida against the fence. Machida clearly respects that wild left-handed fake. Why? Compare it to a similar feint from Rashad.
The biggest difference I see, beyond respecting power or not, is that Shogun already had Machida backing up before he throws this feint. Therefore, Machida is not in position to counter with any power, and it comes back to footwork again. Shogun realized he needed to disrupt Machida's space with footwork before attacking, while Rashad tried to disrupt Machida with fakes before entering with footwork. We can see which one was more effective.
Coming back to headmovement, here's a gif that demonstrates the aspect of Machida's game that I personally always thought would be his achilles heel. This is from Machida's flurry at the end of the 3rd round.
Machida does a decent job of pressing the action here, and lands more shots than he takes. But look at his hands-down at his sides. Watch his head-it moves only forward and back, away from Shogun's punches and in when Machida is attacking. Basically, he gets away with it because he's attacking, and only sustains an attack like this when he thinks he's hurt (or can hurt) his opponent, but this is a recipe for disaster. The biggest shot landed in the entire exchange is the big right hook Shogun throws, which may have rocked Machida and caused him to initiate the clinch. If he's going to have success being aggressive at left straight chamber-punching range (his best weapon), Machida either must keep his hands up, or start moving his head side to side.
This was another downright uncharacteristic aspect of Lyoto's performance. Usually the 2nd most accurate fighter in the UFC (behind Anderson), Machida missed an unusual number of head power strikes (41 according to FightMetric), many of them straight lefts. As pointed out by Hesperus in the UFC 104 discussion thread, many of these simply bounced off a static guard from Shogun, missing his chin right between the two arms. Shogun's head movement while kicking had an impact too, however.
Notice Shogun's body kick from round 1. I can't tell if this is bad accuracy or poor targeting from Machida, meaning: did he intend to hit the chin and miss horribly? Or did he intent to hit the body, in which case it was a poor choice for a body kick counter? Either way, the punch did not hit its intended target (chin or solar plexus), partly due to the movement of Shogun's body and head while kicking. Shogun also follows up with a decently powerful punch to the head, highlighting Machida's lack of head movement or shoulder roll on the punching side.
Part of Machida's inability to counter Shogun's kicks (besides circling the wrong way) was Shogun's excellent kicking technique. Let's compare a kick Rashad Evans threw to one Shogun threw in the 2nd round.
This perfectly highlights what makes Shogun so damn good at Muay Thai. Although his boxing technique has never been excellent, look at how: 1. Shogun turns his body 180º with amazing quickness, 2. Rolls his shoulder to protect his chin, and 3. Throws the kick with a bent knee in the perfect trajectory to catch Lyoto across the abdomen rather than on the side. In particular, Shogun's placement of the shin takes away all the power of Lyoto's counter. This is tragic for Machida, as it's one of the few times in the fight he's able to stand his ground and line up his favorite power punch accurately. Being Machida, he's quick enough to try and follow up with a sweep of Shogun's left leg, but the kick is so powerful that it's robbed him of the necessary balance.
Compare Shogun's kick to Rashad's, where Rashad gives away the kick with unnecessary motion, fails to turn his body quickly enough, does not roll the shoulder and aims for Machida's side rather than the front of his body.
Machida's Successes and Future Plans
A. What Machida Should NOT Do
Check leg kicks.
I realize this is crazy talk. The best defense against leg kicks is to check them, of course! The problem is, I believe lifting the front leg to check Shogun's kicks would disrupt Lyoto's stance an inordinate amount because so much weight is on Machida's front leg. He relies on that stance for power in his punching and in order to move quickly. Shifting weight to pick the front leg up is slow and invites punches to his face-undefended by his hands, which are down by his chest most of the time. Shogun would have a field day mixing up leg kicks with feints and following up with straight punches. It's a better idea to circle to the correct side and force Shogun to either reach with his right leg or take the time to switch stances and kick with his left. Both of these invite counter opportunities, either from being off balance, or the time it takes to switch stances.
B. What Machida Should Do
In my opinion, Machida's main success was highlighted in the rounds 1 and 2 gifs found above. In both of those rounds he was able to land multiple earth-shattering knees that Shogun took with characteristic stoicism. Still, I was surprised at how effective those knees were against such a good Muay Thai practitioner. In particular Machida's quick switching of stances before moving in during the 1st round gif seemed to put Shogun on the defensive and add power to the strike. Machida should think about using these knees (or faking them) to set up his left straight in the rematch.
Essentially, the rest of Machida's gameplan should be first and foremost to circle to his RIGHT. As mentioned before, this will set up his own left straight and left leg while avoiding Shogun's power side.
He also needs to make a commitment to keeping his hands up at least shoulder level at all times. Head movement would be great, but learning to accurately slip the correct miniscule amount while not exposing himself to headkicks against a great kicker like Shogun, all within the time Machida has before the rematch...that just won't happen.
Finally, I think Machida needs to be more aggressive with his foot sweeps and leg kicks. Even though Shogun likely has the slightly better ground game, looking for opportunities to kick out Shogun's plan leg can dramatically alter the power and commitment Shogun is willing to kick with. He can take a page out of Shogun's book here (Page out of Shogun...heh. Anyway) from the first round. I can't find the gif, but the first time Lyoto went for a head kick, Shogun calmly waited for the perfect moment, and hit Machida's plant leg with a powerful leg kick while covering up, taking away the danger the headkick posed.
In closing, I think this plan is workable in the month or two Machida will have to prepare for an already-confident, more-determined Shogun when they meet again.