On Saturday night in Los Angeles, I will be an underdog, yet again. This is a position I'm used to, of course, and one that carries no fear for me. In February I was a heavy underdog against former world light heavyweight champion Rampage Jackson, yet dominated him for the rounds to take home the victory. I knew how good I was going to be that night, and knew I'd made vast improvements in training. The underdog label didn't matter to me.
I may be an underdog again this weekend, but people are basing that on the fighter I used to be. I've made a lot of improvements of late, and am more than ready for a test like Lyoto Machida.
The news that – if I win impressively – I could get the next shot at the UFC title is just extra motivation. I was already looking to be aggressive, so it won’t change my plan of attack, but you couldn’t ask for a better stage to showcase yourself. I’d love to fight Jon Jones again. He was my first loss and I could have done so much better than I did. But first I have to beat Machida and Jones has to beat Dan Henderson.
My stand-up has improved massively over the course of the last 12 months, and I'm now able to do much more than just throw concussive right hands. I can set that punch up properly now, by using other shots before it or feints, and this has opened my eyes up to the striking element of the sport, something I have come to pretty late.
Of course, my wrestling ability will always be there, and that is an aspect I'm also working hard to improve, but, as everybody knows, fights start standing and it's crucial to be able to handle yourself with fists and feet. While my striking has never been particularly sloppy or poor, there has been room for improvement and I've gone away and made those improvements. To be honest, I had no choice in the matter. To continue with my career at the top level, and compete with the likes of Rampage Jackson (my last opponent) and Lyoto Machida (my opponent Saturday), you need to evolve and tighten up your stand-up skills.
Lyoto Machida is difficult to read, very unorthodox and comes with a karate style, but, more than anything, he's very well-rounded. He mixes his natural base with muay-thai and also jiu-jitsu, and this makes him dangerous in all areas of the fight. He usually prefers to stand and strike with opponents, but if he isn't feeling it there, he's very skilled at takedowns, trips and various other methods with which to get the fight to the floor. There is no hesitation on Machida's part, either. He knows he's good enough to submit guys on the ground. And, if you look at past fights of his, Lyoto's actually take down some of the best wrestlers in MMA.
With that in mind, I have to be on my toes, and I have to be mentally zoned in for the whole fight. You can't afford to take a moment off against someone like Machida. He lulls people to sleep a little bit, and that's when he pounces. You know you're going to have to endure long spells of very little action against Machida. He likes to have a look and take time out and, during those moments, you need to remain switched on and ready to react. If you don't stay awake, he'll catch you with something.
This is all stuff we've been working on in camp, though, and I've no doubt that, come Saturday night, you'll see me awake and alert for every second of every round. I've prepared myself to push the pace, stay active and work this guy over.
Some fighters are unpredictable because they are technically flawed and there is no method to their madness, but Machida isn't like that. He thinks about every move he makes and is always looking to set you up for something. That is what makes him dangerous, far more than just his unusual style.
My sparring has been excellent for this fight and, although people say it's difficult to replicate what Machida does, I've been lucky enough to work with a couple of guys who mimic him perfectly. In fact, if you'd seen them with head guards on, you'd swear it was Machida in there with me during sparring. That kind of work has been priceless for me, and has readied my body and mind for the type of battle I expect to go down on Saturday night.
Sure, Machida is tricky and unpredictable, and you can only prepare for that to an extent, but from this point on, it's all about me and what I plan to do. We've worked on the habits of Machida for over eight weeks and, on Saturday night, it's just a case of me executing my game plan and doing what I do best. If I'm able to do that, and able to fight the kind of fight I want to fight, I've no doubt I will end the night with my hand raised and another big victory on my record...
Follow me on Twitter @RyanBader.
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