Light heavyweight stalwarts Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida and “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis will face each other on August 3 at UFC 163 in Brazil.
Fans have appraised this match as a plan by the UFC to consolidate Machida's highlight reel, but Davis' chances shouldn't be discounted.
The implications of this clash are monumental. Machida, racing his age, is mounting a final crusade for Jon Jones' belt. A loss would thwart this quest.
Meanwhile, people will doubt Davis' ascent into relevance until he mounts a solid performance, as he's desperate for a career-defining moment.
With The Dragon opening as a favorite (minus-250 per 5Dimes.com), oddsmakers are favoring Machida's elusive, calculating tactics over Davis' grappling acumen.
Considering Machida's ability to negate takedowns using movement and sumo-oriented clinch work, those odds are apt. Davis, however, isn't a sacrificial outlet for Machida's glory. Perhaps Mr. Wonderful has the discipline and athleticism to duplicate the successful strategies that others have used to defeat the Brazilian.
Machida, a karate wizard, tends to ensorcel wrestlers like Davis into a frenzy. The Dragon employs feints and an arsenal of kicks to distance himself from grapplers, thereby dealing damage from a range that is safe from incoming takedown attempts.
Vexed, his foes become impatient, leading them to charge into Machida's trap—his straight counters.
Davis cannot plod into Machida's web, as did Ryan Bader and Thiago Silva. Instead, he needs to emulate those who have upset Machida's range in the past, like Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Jon Jones.
Shogun was able to punish The Dragon before he could roost by intercepting his escapes with thudding leg kicks. Rua's adherence to smashing Machida's motor—his legs—reduced his opponent's speed and agility, allowing Shogun to hone in on a gimpy Machida.
Davis could consider spamming kicks, too. Granted, Mr. Wonderful is not the Muay Thai kingpin that Shogun is, and kicking Machida isn't a routine task. Exhausting The Dragon with leg kicks, however, is a more plausible route to Davis' likely game plan—taking Machida down—than bull rushing him is. Machida is too well-equipped to deal with overzealous charges from grapplers.
Davis would be wise to Jones' success against Machida, too. In Round 2, Machida wilted under the pressure of the champion's grapple-centric approach. This outcome may have been a result of The Dragon's failure to utilize the disciplined, long-distance probing he used to shoo Jones in Round 1.
Jones took advantage of Machida's errant burst of confidence by pursuing a takedown once they were in a clinch. As soon as Jones dragged him into his realm, Machida was ruined. Should Machida present any such opportunity to Davis, the American needs to capitalize with the same urgency that Jones did.
The odds against Davis are steep. The ravenous Brazilian crowd will seethe at him as they await his demise. The hometown hero, a man with a skill set tailored for beating fighters like Davis, will be confident and eager to impress his nation.
Still, a fighter of Davis' mettle can overcome any odds. Watch for Mr. Wonderful to close the distance methodically, apply pressure when advisable and punish Machida for any strategic lapses.