Machida’s “Unsolvability”

Posted: May 1, 2011 in Boxing, Journalism, Karate, Kick-Boxing, MMA
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In yet another example of how bad MMA journalism is, most people writing about Lyoto Machida can’t figure out why he’s relatively “unsolvable” or why Shogun Rua and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson were able to do so. The answer is really quite simple, but when you have people speaking or writing ignorantly on martial arts, you won’t get the answer, and unfortunately, that’s all we have … until now. I’ve suggested the answer across several posts on this blog (and tried to explain this to Chad Dukes a few weeks ago) but now I’m going to break it down for you clearly and unambiguously. (I’m a much better writer than speaker.) As I said, it’s not that hard.

Defining Styles

Choose Wisely

While mixed martial arts fighters try to be well-rounded, very few are. When watching any MMA fighter, it’s obvious to even the casual viewer that each fighter brings a particular specialization to the fight. This isn’t a strange coincidence; there’s a good reason for that. What is a good habit in one style is often a bad habit in another style. As a result, most people have to choose between fighting in a way that favors striking and fighting in a way that favors grappling.

The simplest example I can give you is fighting stance. A right-handed striker leads with his left, while a right-handed grappler leads with his right. In each case, the fighter is doing what he has to do to maximize his technique, and they represent the exact opposite approach. After about one year of formal judo training, I decided to switch to a left-foot forward stance, favoring my life-long background in striking. It made things very difficult, and people who had no business even fighting me were kicking my ass for about a month while I adjusted. Once I adjusted, I still knew that I’d always be holding myself back in judo, but for someone not interested in sport, but rather concerned with self-defense, it made sense for me to do that. I’ll always be a striker because that’s how I was raised, so there’s no sense in sacrificing my strength in the interests of “learning competitive judo correctly.” Instead, I chose to emphasize throws that would apply to a fight in which I was relying on my striking. (For those who know judo, that resulted in my primary throw being harai-makikomi, which should seem very odd to you if you don’t know striking very well.)

Maybe this “choice” will ultimately become a false one. With the proliferation of mixed martial arts schools, maybe students introduced at a very young age will develop the ability to do both equally well. We’ll see in the next generation or two. For now, though, the choice is effectively mandatory.

Eastern Striking: Traditional Karate

This style typically involves a side stance, giving your opponent fewer targets to hit. It also results in slower strikes that come from predictable angles, often with little or no twist to the hip, reducing the power they generate. To reduce predictability, the karate-ka (Japanese term for one who trains or employs in karate) uses more exotic strikes (e.g., the ridge-hand), but these come at the expense of power, speed, and/or vulnerability. In the case of a ridge-hand, for example, I once threw a trailing hand ridge-hand (i.e., from my right hand) at a kickboxer during training and had my ribs cracked (teaching me a valuable lesson early on in my kickboxing training). The ridge-hand is slow, making it easier to dodge, and exposed my ribs for far too long, making them easy to target. If I had landed it, I guarantee it wouldn’t have been a knockout blow.

Aside: The one advantage to the greater array of strikes is that an injury to your striking hand or foot is slightly less likely to keep you from being able to use that striking surface. If, for example, you damage your knuckle, you can switch to using the ridge of your hand with which you’ve trained. At least that’s something.

Western Striking: Kickboxing and Boxing

This style employs a “square” stance, giving your opponent additional targets. However, those additional targets are to the body, which are easier to absorb than a clean shot to the jaw, so against a karate-ka, you’re not giving up quite as much as you gain. Your strikes from your trailing side (i.e., the “power shots”) are closer to the target, making the strikes faster than a karate-ka’s power strikes, but your stance allows you to twist your hips throughout the strike, giving you greater power than that of the karate-ka. It seems like western-style strikers have a clear stylistic advantage over eastern-style strikers, and even a fighter on the decline like Shogun Rua should always be considered a favorite against a karate-ka like Machida.

Grapplers: How Wrestling/Submission Fighting Compares to Each

Enter the grappler, the most common opponent an MMA fighter is likely to face. Why so common? Because anyone capable of competing in boxing is doing so. That’s still where the money is. Grapplers have no such big-money option, so the very best grapplers in the country are MMA, whereas the western-style strikers in MMA are mediocre at best. Grapplers are generally divided into two categories: 1) wrestlers with superior takedown and control, and upper body strength tailored towards ground-and-pound; and 2) submission fighters that let themselves be taken down and then snap a limb or two while fighting from their back. (Granted, these two categories enjoy much more overlap than the broader categories of “striker” and “grappler,” but it’s still meaningful to use these catagories. We’ve seen plenty of submission fighters that are accused correctly of having no wrestling skills, and ground-and-pound wrestlers rarely earn submission victories.)

The square stance of a western-style striker falls right into the grappler’s game, giving the grappler more places to grab, and making the double-leg takedown much more likely. The square stance is also much less stable against a forward bull rush by a grappler. Though it does provide more mobility, allowing the western-style striker to avoid the bull rush, sooner or later that bull rush is going to connect, and the western-style striker will be on his back and out of his comfort zone. The side stance of the eastern-style striker, on the other hand, creates far fewer targets and provides its strongest resistance to a bull rush coming from the front, making the bull rush much less of a concern. Because the striking of a grappler is much less dangerous and, more importantly, his striking defense is much less competent, the karate-ka’s relatively slow and weak strikes are more than enough over 15 minutes to earn a decision or TKO/KO.

Keep in mind that a submission fighter is usually just a wrestler at a lower level of takedown technique. Submission fighters have even less a chance of bringing down Machida, and until they do, they have almost no chance of beating him by submission.


Of course, this is all theory. On any given day, a wrestler can beat a traditional karate-ka, and a traditional karate-ka can beat a (kick)boxer, in part because no one fits squarely into each of these theoretical descriptions of the styles. Nothing I’m saying is designed to characterize any of these styles as “bad,” and if you infer otherwise it’s because you’re not paying attention or are allowing your insecurities to cloud your reading comprehension. I’m sure Randy Couture’s ‘inferior’ striking defense is more than enough to defend from my strikes. This is all relative. Note well that I’m very proud of my black belt in Tae Kwon Do, one of the most maligned martial arts in America. That criticism of TKD smacks of ignorance. Even though I have no need to kick a soldier off of a horse in my culture, it’s still valuable to learn how to throw a flying side kick. Of course, I have to concede that Judo is better than Karate.

My points are that 1) each style has it’s own strengths and weaknesses; 2) the odds are in favor of the person with a stylistic advantage; and 3) at the highest level of competition, the fighters are quite adept at exploiting their opponents’ weaknesses. For those who are offended by my analysis because it disrupts their worldview, the proof is in the data we have. Shogun Rua is way past his prime, as is evidenced by the fact that every fight he’s had in the UFC has been either an embarrassment and/or irrelevant, yet somehow he manages to take the light-heavyweight title from the otherwise unbeatable, unsolvable Lyoto Machida. I also see much more data in our future coming from John Makdessi.

Until you come up with a detailed, logical explanation explaining the last two years of MMA, I’m going with my analysis. (If you’re a typical MMA Journalist, I won’t hold my breath waiting.)

Follow me on Twitter @MMADork
Follow Lyoto Machida on Twitter @lyotomachidafw
Follow Mauricio “Shogun” Rua on Twitter @ShogunRua
Follow Quinton “Rampage” Jackson on Twitter @Rampage4real
Follow Chad Dukes on Twitter @chaddukes
Follow Randy Couture on Twitter @Randy_Couture
John “the Bull” Makdessi on Twitter @BullSquadMMA
Follow the UFC on Twitter @UFC

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