He defeated the greatest fighter on the face of the planet twice, successfully calling the middleweight throne his own in the process. Even after doing all of that, some people still feel the newly crowned champ lacks the sort of credibility his predecessor had.
Machida has always been a difficult puzzle for most fighters to solve, but Weidman has never been defeated in his professional mixed martial arts career.
With both fighters set to have their hands full, here are the keys to victory for both Weidman and Machida.
Lyoto Machida: Keep the Distance and Embrace the Boos
Machida is an elusive but remarkably patient counterstriker who can frustrate and evade the most talented fighters who are looking to simply march forward and strike—something Weidman has always been fond of.
The Dragon is agile enough to prevent even the most talented MMA wrestlers from taking him down and scoring points—again, a pivotal aspect of Weidman's game.
Machida is not new to the fight game, though. He's privy to what fans want to see him do: knock the other dude senseless. But, as painstakingly boring as it is for the average MMA fan to endure, that's only going to happen if his opponent is willing to engage first.
He's welcomed the boos in previous fights, such as his bout with Dan Henderson at UFC 157, and should definitely welcome them here—he has to stay out of Weidman's range in order to win this fight.
On paper, this shouldn't be too difficult of a task for The Dragon to accomplish—he's faster and far more skilled on foot than the champion is.
Unless Weidman plans to supplement his critics' arguments with a barrage of boos during his first title defense against somebody other than Silva, Machida just needs to sit and wait for the champion to grow tired of not engaging.
Chris Weidman: Cut Off the Cage and Get the Fight to the Ground
It's really no secret—Weidman probably needs to get this fight to the ground in order to retain his belt against his striking savant of an opponent.
Sure, Weidman was able to show his improved striking skills against Silva in both of his title bouts, but it's highly unlikely Machida leaves his hands down and verbally calls at the champion to touch his chin. Knowing Machida and his tactical capabilities, it's improbable he fires leg kicks in high volume in this fight, too—so go ahead and eliminate any freak-accident leg-snapping incidents from this equation.
Weidman can't just move forward the way he did against Silva; he needs to be more patient and slowly close off the cage. The champion has to be as careful as ever—even the smallest mistake can stop him from taking the strap as a carry-on on his way back to the Serra-Longo Fight Team.
Closing the distance and maintaining some sort of constant contact with Machida is the only way Weidman takes this fight to the ground. There, and only there, can the champion begin to paint his ground-and-pound and submission-filled canvas en route to securing his title and eliminating all hopes of the second-coming of "The Machida Era."
Kristian Ibarra is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He also serves as the sports editor at San Diego State University's student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter at @Kristian_Ibarra for all things MMA.
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