|Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza enters the Octagon to impress on Saturday Night. (yahoo.com)|
Just because the fight card for Saturday night's UFC event in Brazil says Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza and Lyoto 'The Dragon' Machida aren't fighting each other doesn't mean they aren't facing off. Yes, UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Mousasi might as well read as UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Jacare. The two Brazilians are the co-main and main event of the evening and while winning their fight is top priority, the biggest prize is the win their fight spectacularly on Saturday to get a shot at the middleweight title.
Both Machida and Souza are more than capable of the spectacular in the Octagon. Souza has finished his last five opponents with four of them coming in the 1st Round. Machida is no stranger to finishing fights, and his debut at 185 ended abruptly with a shin to Mark Munoz's head. As the lead in to this event, UFC President Dana White has said that Machida is the one who stands to get the next title shot after Vitor Belfort should Machida defeat Gegard Mousasi, however, as we all know White likes to see finishes.
It's the reason the UFC implemented the new bonus structure effective immediately changing the KO of the Night and Sub of the Night to two separate Fighter Performance of the Night bonuses. The company slant on this is that sometimes there isn't a KO or a sub so this bonus money goes wasted. Now, since it's more open to interpretation this $50K bonus can go to whomever the UFC wants to give it to. Yeah, right.
The UFC does whatever it wants within the confines of their company. If there isn't a KO or a sub, then I can guarantee they're giving out that money on top of the already infamous backdoor paychecks the UFC cuts for fighters who go above and beyond in the Octagon.
This move directly correlates to UFC 169, which set a record for fights going to the scorecard. White was not happy, so things needed to change. Overall, this isn't going to greatly impact the fights, but the message is clear: just because you happen to triangle choke some guy in a boring fight, you're not walking off with $50K. You have to put on an entertaining fight and you have to go for not just finishes but for 3 or 5 rounds of continual action.
So Machida can't just dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge his way to a decision. Nor can Jacare play it carefully (not that he usually does). This is a fight where not only are the bonuses up for grabs but the caliber in which each fighter is able to finish the fight will directly affect his ability to get a title shot. This is something that both fighters, fighting in front of their Brazilian brethren must be thinking about.
Both fighters are the favorites in their respective bouts, but while Jacare has the higher UFC rank at #3, the newly minted middleweight Machida is right behind him and #4 and taking on the arguable better opponent in Mousasi. While Mousasi hasn't been able to get his momentum going in the UFC, fighting only once in April against unfortunate last second replacement Ilir Latifi, he can't be overlooked as the Iranian has held belts at both DREAM and Strikeforce.
It remains unclear if Jacare and Machida would fight each other for a #1 contender spot, but at this moment that appears to be unnecessary. With Anderson Silva out of the picture for most of 2014 and either current champion Chris Weidman or Vitor Belfort holding the strap come May it'll be the fighter that puts on the best performance on Saturday night who will fight for the title before 2014 is over.
This new bonus structure might not move mountains, but the UFC certainly added an extra element to Saturday's card in Brazil.
If the name of the game is finishing fights, then it's hard for me to think Jacare won't be fighting Weidman in the Fall. Jacare is a scary dude who can now impose his fists on top of his elite Brazilian jiu-jitsu. When we look at Machida though, what can we expect in his second bout at 185? His first ended so emphatically that if he can do something like that again then the title shot is all his.
The shame about Machida is that many probably don't appreciate how good he really is. The guy was almost untouchable at 205 until he ran into Shogun Rua, and then a Jon Jones choke later it was clear he was out of his element. A naturally slender person, Machida probably should have been at 185 all along, but his unwillingness to fight Anderson Silva and probably a heavy reliance on his karate to avoid the damage light heavyweights can inflict kept him up there too long. If 185 Machida is explosive and is more willing to let his fists fly, then we could be talking about a completely different fighter.
In order to make a prediction, I'm going to have to go with what I know. Although I think the upset is a bit more likely with Jacare than with Machida, I think Jacare will be able to finish Francis Carmont via submission and get the title shot.