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UFC 123 Main Event Breakdown: Rampage Jackson vs. Lyoto Machida

DETROIT -- There is a saying that some people use in the MMA world that goes like this: If you've never lost, you're not fighting the right people. For a time, Lyoto Machida seemed to turn that saying on its ear. He had fought BJ Penn and Tito Ortiz, Rashad Evans and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, and yet a zero still followed the dash on his record.

After he captured the UFC light-heavyweight belt, more than a few declared it the "Lyoto Machida era," sure that he would become a dominant champion with a lengthy reign. But it wasn't long before the rematch with Rua proved what we already knew: that if you fight long enough, you will lose. You will have an off-day or someone will simply be better than you on one night.

But what happens next? What we've also learned in MMA is that how you rebound from losing is what ultimately defines you. Some guys fall apart, some are filled with self-doubt, and others simply re-double their efforts to ensure they will give themselves every chance to win in the future. At UFC 123, against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Machida will take that crucial step of stepping into a cage after rebuilding broken confidence.

How will he respond to the new adversity? Who knows. But from strictly a style standpoint at least, Machida seems to have the right formula to frustrate Jackson and keep it a fight with a pace and tempo to his liking.

Machida's karate style, unusual spacing and excellent footwork will make him a hard target, and Jackson, who really likes to counter rather than throw first, may have trouble hitting his target in the early going.

While many believe that Rua wrote a blueprint to defeat Machida, it's not one many will be easy to follow. Rua combined aggressiveness and Muay Thai in perfect symphony that night, pressuring Machida, backing him up and effectively overwhelming him with technique and fury. As previously noted, Jackson has settled into a counterpunching style peppered with moments of aggression, and he focuses mostly on using his hands. According to Compustrike stats, almost 90 percent of Jackson's standing strikes are punches.

If he focuses exclusively on that single dimension on Saturday night, he's going to have a much harder time beating the crafty Machida, who despite his recent knockout loss is an excellent defensive fighter.

But there is the possibility he will focus on a more varied attack. In training for his last fight, he prepared with Muay Thai coach Lance Gibson, and despite losing, he used his other weapons a bit more. Seventy-two percent of his standing strikes were punches while 28 percent were kicks. Mixing it up like that will make him a more difficult foe for Machida, and he continued to work with Gibson for this fight, leading to the possibility he will in fact be more dynamic in his approach.

The times he reverts to a power puncher with feet planted into the ground are the times he will be more susceptible. Machida's footwork and timing are too good to miss out on those opportunities.

Compare Jackson's punch-heavy performances to Machida, who over his last nine fights, has thrown an average of 30 arm strikes and 26 kicks in each fight, a much more even distribution. That's part of the Machida puzzle; while more and more fighters become punch-dependent, he continues to use all his tools.

All that said, when Jackson is "on," his hands are super-fast and his hooks in particular are game-changers. One of Machida's few technical errors is the fact he tends to back out of exchanges with his chin untucked, and a Jackson counter hook is a significant danger in those instances.

It should also be noted that while Jackson tends to keep his hands up high to defend most of the time, his body is often available for kicks, and Machida will certainly take whatever openings are there. Jackson has also recently noted his dislike for fighters who are slow to engage, so one has to wonder how it will affect him on Saturday if he becomes frustrated by Machida's more tactical style of fighting. In the matchup of who will blink first and initiate the offense, Jackson has sort of painted himself into a corner with his comments about mixed martial artists who aren't fighters, per se.

The style matchup favors Machida, but Rampage is one hook away from ending things at any time. Still, Machida's defensive excellence throughout most of his career makes it unlikely he gets tagged in two straight fights. Jackson is too tough and too durable to be finished, but the prediction is that Machida mixes up strikes to the body and head more effectively than Jackson, outpointing him on the way to a decision.

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