Here's a basic question: among betting underdogs competing at UFC 129, who stands the best chance of upsetting the favorite? For the purposes of simplicity, let's eliminate fighters competing on the Facebook and Spike TV portions of the card. So, as a function of the pay-per-view portion, which underdog is ready to prove the oddsmakers wrong? If you listen to UFC President Dana White, Randy Couture is probably at the top of that list:
"The style that got [Machida] all those wins, all these years is kind of backfiring on him now. I don't think people have figured it out, but he lays back a little too much," White said. "I think he needs to be more aggressive and come forward. And he's definitely gonna have to be that way with Couture. Cause Couture's gonna be right in his face the whole fight."
The USA Today/Bloody Elbow MMA poll has Couture at No. 16 in the world and No. 12 in the UFC. White says the rankings are [expletive]. Does he really stand a chance against a top five 205er in his prime? The oddsmakers say no. Machida is a massive minus-350 favorite.
I'm not going bother arguing about the Couture ranking, although I generally side by the rankings community who places Couture outside of the top ten. Still, it is fair to argue Couture stands a decent chance, among underdogs, of upsetting.
I personally see this fight for Machida. The two issues for me are Couture's ability to absorb punishment. In the later stages of his career in fights against Brandon Vera (a light heavyweight) and Brock Lesnar (a heavyweight), Couture's ability to handle damage has been compromised with age. The other issue is Couture's necessity to close to the distance. I sincerely doubt Couture plans on striking with Machida from the outside. To win, he has to make this a wrestling or clinch battle. That means he has to close the distance effectively. Couture will have to corner Machida with clever footwork to cut off the cage, force Machida to engage and use that to create the sort of fight that favors his style. I see Couture eating shots if he gets overly aggressive or unable to properly corner Machida if he's too lax.
All that said, Machida has a tendency to lay back in long portions of a round. Running from Couture could cost him with the judges if the fight is close otherwise. And provided Couture can put Machida on his back, we've never really seen what Machida is capable of there. Couture's aggressive footwork is likely going to force Machida to take more chances in order to avoid having his normal style penalized by the judges and that will give the UFC Hall of Famer opportunities to mix it up.
Machida should win this fight if on nothing other than reflexes and precise striking prowess. But Couture's made a fool of me and countless others before. It wouldn't shock me if I'm eating crow again on Saturday.