Likewise, much of the UFC’s hour-long “Countdown” special for the event spotlights the more spiritual aspects of this weekend’s main event combatants, depicting them as serious, studious martial artists and masters of their respective crafts.
Jones often meditates, frequently employs visualization techniques and sometimes heads out to empty sports stadiums to throw slow-mo flying knees at invisible opponents, this show tells us. Meanwhile, Machida still trains with his father, a zen’ed-out master who seems like a mash-up of Mr. Miyagi and David Carradine’s character from “Kill Bill.” Once a week, Lyoto and his brothers get together in their gis to do a shotokan karate kata called the “10 Hands,” which he soberly tells the camera helps with their focus and breathing and whatnot.
So yeah, not your ordinary “two men enter, one man leaves,” type of build-up.
Naturally, they also show enough highlights of jumping front kicks to Randy Couture’s jaw and spinning elbows to Mauricio Rua’s nose to make the overall sales pitch clear: If you pony up the dough for UFC 140 on Saturday, you’re going to see something special, a real life kung fu movie between two MMA prodigies with borderline magical skills.
Question is, can the reality of this fight live up to that billing?
That depends on which versions of Jones and Machida show up.
Both guys are clearly capable of doing extraordinary things inside the Octagon. Jones’ reverse leapfrog of Ryan Bader and bone-cracking elbow to Brandon Vera’s face both come to mind, as do Machida’s GIF-friendly knockout of then-champion Rashad Evans and one-punch finish of Thiago Silva. These are two uber-talented dudes and if you want to promote an MMA fight as something out of the “Bloodsport” tournament, this is probably the one.
At the same time however, we’ve also seen both Jones and Machida look somewhat less like action movie heroes and more like, you know, human beings. Especially in recent performances.
In his last title defense against Quinton Jackson, Jones appeared devoid of his usual urgency. It was obvious from the early-going that he had “Rampage” outclassed in every measurable area, but Jones turned their bout into a glorified sparring session before putting Jackson out of his misery with a rear-naked choke in the fourth round. In that fight he looked like a guy behind the wheel of a racecar who was somehow content to putter along at the speed limit, never really putting his foot on the accelerator.
Criticising that kind of overwhelming dominance might seem nitpicky, but the performance just lacked the excitement we’re used to seeing from Jones. Will we get something similar versus Machida? If the Brazilian is content to hover around the outside and try to counter, will Jones take the spinning, leaping risks we’ve seen from him in his more dynamic performances? Or will he play it safe, as he seemed to against Jackson?
It could go either way.
Machida -- who, lest we forget, is just 1-2 since October 2009 and fell into this title shot when Evans couldn’t go -- has been more and more inconsistent as of late. After winning four of his first five fights in the UFC by decision he had begun to earn a reputation as a boring fighter before suddenly stringing together back-to-back KOs over Silva and Evans. Since then, he’s been remarkably hit-and-miss. A lot of people still think he lost both his fights with Rua at UFC 104 and 113 and during his listless split decision defeat to Jackson at UFC 123, he looked satisfied with trying to score points while waiting for time to expire.
Will he have to be more aggressive than normal against Jones, knowing he'll be giving up a ton of reach? Or will he float and juke on the outskirts of the battle, falling back on the techniques that made him the master of the unanimous decision early in his UFC career?
It could go either way.
Certainly, this fight has the potential to be exceptional and how it plays out may well be determined by how Jones responds to Machida’s elusive style.
It might be great; it might be a scene out of "The Matrix." On the other hand, it might end up being more like "Bloodsport III." Remember that one?
Yeah, nobody else does, either.