Worthy challengers for Machida?
With his devastating win over Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida has opened the eyes of many doubters. Machida has always been “elusive” and “technically sound” but was never considered to be an overwhelming fighter.
His style made him a tough matchup for most fighters, and now that he seems to be getting better every time out (his last two fights were two of his best, in my opinion), it looks like he could have a lengthy title reign.
Lengthy is a relative term in mixed martial arts, especially for the light heavyweight class, which is generally recognized as the deepest in the UFC. But on the surface, it doesn’t seem like there are too many challengers on the horizon for Machida.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson was supposed to be next in line for a title shot, but he turned it down to coach on The Ultimate Fighter against Rashad Evans. That takes two top-five fighters out of the equation in the near future. Forrest Griffin is another highly-ranked light heavyweight fighter, but he has a match with Anderson Silva on the horizon at UFC 101. Griffin is a talented fighter but isn’t going to be favored in that fight.
Silva has repeatedly said he won’t fight Machida and that he didn’t even want to make a run at the light heavyweight title because he felt it was Machida’s to win. I don’t know that too many people took him seriously, but they have to now. Dana White says they will fight, but there would have to be some extreme arm-twisting to get the two to fight and I don’t see it happening.
At that point, I think you take a step down in light heavyweight contenders. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua is Machida’s first scheduled title defense, but Rua hasn’t looked like the Rua that fought in PRIDE for some time. Beating up on older fighters past their prime doesn’t give us much of a gauge on where Rua will be at 104.
If he’s not in top shape, there’s really nowhere else to go. It’s not clear where Dan Henderson will go after fighting Michael Bisping at middleweight and Rich Franklin could possibly be on the horizon for Machida, but Franklin still has a lot of work to get done at the light heavyweight level before earning a title shot.
It looks like Machida may hold onto the title for awhile just based on the lack of quality challengers. And it will still probably come back to Rampage after he wraps up The Ultimate Fighter.