The Undefeated Part 6: Light Heavyweights

1267591269_Lyoto_Machida _0063.jpg(photo Josh Hedges – Zuffa)’s seven-part series on Mixed Martial Arts’ undefeated fighters is winding down with just two divisions remaining. Our series profiles the top fighters in each of MMA’s major divisions who have yet to suffer defeat. Fighters from each of the major organizations will be considered, including the UFC, WEC, Strikeforce, DREAM, Sengoku, and Shooto. Tournament participants in the upcoming Bellator season will not be included in this series, as a special profile is in the works for the organization’s second season of action.

Our series’ schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, 2/23 – Bantamweights
Wednesday, 2/24 – Featherweights
Thursday, 2/25 – Lightweights
Friday, 2/26 – Welterweights
Monday, 3/1 – Middleweights
Tuesday, 3/2 – Light Heavyweights
Wednesday, 3/3 – Heavyweights

Part six of the series features the Light Heavyweight division – weight limit: 205lbs.

Fighter’s Name: Lyoto Machida
Nickname: The Dragon
Date of Birth: 5/30/1978
Camp: Black House
Fighting Style: Karate, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Record: 16-0-0
Organization: Ultimate Fighting Championship
Last Opponent: Mauricio Rua (UFC 104, 10/24/2009)

Through his first seven fights for the UFC, Lyoto Machida had not lost a single round. Through seven fights, Machida absorbed no significant damage. Through seven fights, Machida wasn’t cut, he wasn’t knocked down, he wasn’t even so much as bruised.

Georges St. Pierre has been knocked out. Anderson Silva has lost a round. Fedor Emelianenko has been cut.

Through seven fights, a legitimate argument could have been made in support of Machida as the greatest Mixed Martial Artist on the planet. As successful as Machida had become, his phantasmic Octagon presence had become both legendary and scrutinized. Polarizing though his style had become, common ground could be reached through the question of whether or not anyone could corral and damage the Machida karate, an offshoot of shotokan, black belt.

The question was answered with an emphatic “yes” by former Pride Middleweight (205lbs.) Grand Prix champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Though Machida “earned” a split decision victory over Rua, Rua proved that Machida was no apparition, but a mere mortal who, when attacked properly, could be bruised, cut, and beaten.

Machida will have the chance to prove that Shogun’s success and not the judge’s decision was a fluke when they re-match in the main event of UFC 112 in Montreal on May 8. Machida will return to the Octagon after undergoing hand surgery for injuries suffered the first time he fought Shogun. Machida will almost certainly bring a new offensive perspective into the rematch. If he does not, it is unlikely that the judges will see the outcome as favorably for Machida.

Fighter’s Name: Ryan Bader
Nickname: The Master
Date of Birth: 6/7/1983
Camp: Arizona Combat Sports
Fighting Style: Wrestling, Boxing
Record: 11-0-0
Organization: Ultimate Fighting Championship
Last Opponent: Keith Jardine (UFC 110, 2/20/2010)

By knocking Keith Jardine out, Ryan Bader is on the cusp of being among the contenders to the UFC Light Heavyweight championship.

The former two-time All-American from Arizona State had relied heavily on his wrestling pedigree following his victory over Vinicius Magalhães in the finale of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Nogueira v. Team Mir. It has been an effective strategy, if not one that has endeared Bader to the fans. Bader was inclined to utilize a similar strategy for the majority of his fight against Jardine, which led to mixed results. It seemed as though the fight was even entering the third round. It was then that Jardine threw one of his signature leg kicks, which Bader caught and used to put Jardine on the canvas. Jardine escaped to his feet quickly, at which point it seemed that he was out of danger. Not so. Bader threw and connected with a flying knee that staggered Jardine and allowed Bader to charge in with punches that led the referee to stop the fight.

Bader’s power has never been questioned; it came through absolutely during his time on TUF. His eagerness to stand and trade with his opponents, however, was very much under scrutiny prior to the Jardine fight. In fact, although it was a flurry of strikes that led Bader to victory over Jardine, the winning onslaught was Bader’s only offensive blitz in the fight. It is a good sign that Bader can perform in that capacity when necessary, but he still has work to do to improve his overall striking game. Though, if Bader can continue to finish opponents in the way he finished Jardine, it won’t be long before questions about his overall striking game become a matter of history.

Fighter’s Name: Stanislav Nedkov
Nickname: Staki
Date of Birth: 9/12/1981
Camp: Bulgarian federation BUSHIDO
Fighting Style: Wrestling
Record: 10-0-0
Organization: Sengoku Raiden Championships
Last Opponent: Kevin Randleman (Sengoku 11, 11/7/2009)

In two matches with Sengoku, Stanislav Nedkov has earned a yellow card and three red cards. If records of such things are kept, Nedkov is likely to be atop an unenviable group, forfeiting 40% and 30% of consecutive fight purses. In the first fight, against Wiuff, Nedkov was inclined to strike his opponent three times in his big boy parts in the first round, a feat rivaling Bobby Green’s “Hoodfighting” debacle against Dan Lauzon at Affliction 2. In the second fight, against Kevin Randleman, Nedkov was stalled to the point of eliciting both a yellow and red card.

To his credit, Nedkov did rally to knock Wiuff out in the third round. In fact, the Bulgarian wrestler has stopped eight of his ten opponents. In all honesty, Nedkov was not the sole bearer of the blame for the spectacularly boring fight against Randleman, who didn’t exactly push the pace when taking Nedkov down. However, it’s difficult to see a bright future ahead for Nedkov’s career considering the difficulty he had in dealing with a far-past-his-prime Randleman. If Nedkov wishes to remain amongst the unbeaten, he’ll either need to improve his conditioning and takedown defense (at the very least), or he’ll need to face competition at or below Randleman’s level for the remainder of his career.

Fighter’s Name: Alexander Gustafsson
Nickname: The Mauler
Date of Birth: 1/15/1987
Camp: Stockholm Shoot
Fighting Style: Boxing, Wrestling
Record: 9-0-0
Organization: Ultimate Fighting Championship
Last Opponent: Jared Hamman (UFC 105, 11/14/2009)

Alexander Gustafsson wasn’t supposed to beat highly touted prospect Jared Hamman when they fought each other in their respective UFC debuts, but beat Hamman Gustafsson did. In so doing, Gustafsson showcased his thunderous right hand, an combat sports implement for victory that he first developed as a professional boxer. Thus far, Gustafsson’s boxing has paved a victorious career path, winning seven times by knockout, along with one submission and one decision victory, in his MMA career. It should be pointed out that Gustafsson has never fought past the second round, as his lone decision victory was awarded after the second round.

By beating Hamman, Gustafsson has added his name to the list of talented prospects making their way up the ladder in one of the major MMA organizations. Gustafsson will look to take the next step, which if successful will surely point him towards the UFC Light Heavyweight championship, when he fights fellow undefeated UFC fighter Phil Davis at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi on April 10.

Fighter’s Name: Muhammad Lawal
Nickname: King Mo
Date of Birth: 1/11/1981
Camp: American Top Team
Fighting Style: Wrestling, Boxing
Record: 6-0-0
Organization: Strikeforce
Last Opponent: Mike Whitehead (Strikeforce: Evolution, 12/19/2009)

In a sport where All-American wrestlers have been called “a dime a dozen,” Muhammed Lawal manages to remain a cut above the rest.

Lawal was a Division II national champion and runner up before joining Oklahoma State’s wrestling team. While at OSU, Lawal won a Big 12 championship and finished third place in the NCAA tournament in 2003. Following his college career, Lawal earned a spot on the US National Wrestling team where he was narrowly beaten out for a sport on the 2008 US Olympic team. Lawal also won a championship for Real Pro Wrestling during the promotion’s first and only season.

Great though Lawal’s credentials may be, they aren’t among the very best in MMA. Though his wrestling abilities provide a strong base for MMA competition, it’s Lawal’s swagger that is most captivating. Entering the arena with a bevy of beautiful women while wearing a robe and crown, Lawal quickly defined his alter-ego, “King Mo.” Add to that Lawal’s impressive boxing ability that has led five knockout victories in six fights, and it’s easy to see why King Mo is considered one of the brightest prospects in MMA.

When it comes to training, Lawal, by his own choosing, is something vagabond. Preferring to broaden his proverbial horizon by travelling from camp to camp, Lawal has trained with the likes of Dan Henderson, Rashad Evans, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to name but a few. Lawal has also created his own affiliations such as Team Thirsty GDP (Get Dat Paper), which include Evans and Daniel Cormier, and has aligned himself with Jason “Mayhem” Miller as part of the Kingdom of Mayhem, in a further conceit to professional wrestling. Lawal is still most commonly considered a fighter under the Team Quest – Temecula banner, though he is currently training with American Top Team.

Lawal is scheduled to fight current Strikeforce Light Heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi for the title on April 17 in Nashville, TN. It will be the first time Lawal, a native of Murfeesboro, TN, will fight in his home state.

Fighter’s Name: Phil Davis
Nickname: Mr. Wonderful
Date of Birth: 9/25/1984
Camp: Team Lloyd Irvin
Fighting Style: Wrestling
Record: 5-0-0
Organization: Ultimate Fighting Championship
Last Opponent: Brian Stann (UFC 109, 2/6/2010)

Phil Davis brings sterling grappling credentials into the UFC. In 2008, as a member of Penn State’s wrestling team, Davis won a national championship at 197lbs. In 2009, Davis won the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship at Super Heavyweight (under 221lbs) in the blue belt, no gi category. Though he primarily trains under Lloyd Irvin, from whom Davis earned his blue belt, Davis has also trained with the American Kickboxing Academy.

Davis compares favorably to Mo Lawal based on their shared wrestling backgrounds and their relative youth in MMA, though Lawal is the more aggressive striker of the two. Lawal has faced superior competition over his career thus far, but Davis holds the best win of the two, having beaten former WEC Light Heavyweight champion Brian Stann in Davis’ UFC debut. Davis isn’t nearly as flashy outside of the ring as is “King Mo,” but he possesses both the talent and the size to be considered among the elite prospects in the stacked UFC Light Heavyweight division.

Davis will next face fellow undefeated UFC fighter Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi on April 10.

Fighter’s Name: Alexandre Ribeiro
Nickname: Xande
Date of Birth: 1/20/1981
Camp: The Arena
Fighting Style: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Record: 2-0-0
Organization: Sengoku Raiden Championships
Last Opponent: Keiichiro Yamamiya (Sengoku 8, 5/2/2009)

Alexandre Ribeiro’s Jiu-Jitsu credentials are beyond reproach. He is a two-time Mundial champion in the Absolute division, a four-time Mundial champion in the Pesado (under 207.5lbs.) division, a two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Champion in the under 99kg vision (along with one third place finish), and an ADCC silver medalist in the Absolute division. When it comes to grappling, Riberio’s résumé puts him head and shoulders above both Strikeforce’s Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and the UFC’s Demian Maia.

Despite his super-human grappling abilities, Ribeiro has earned TKO victories in his first two MMA contests. Don’t be fooled, though; despite right hand with a bit of power behind it, Riberio’s striking is mediocre at best. That isn’t to say that Ribeiro isn’t a talented fighter, but he is a fighter with just two career bouts and he fights as such. It is experience that puts both Jacare and Maia head and shoulders above Ribeiro when it comes to MMA.

Ribeiro is currently under contract with Sengoku, though he told that he has some opportunities in the works that could lead to his US debut. As part of those opportunities, Ribeiro plans to drop to Middleweight for his next MMA fight after competing at or near 205lbs throughout his grappling career. Though he prepares for his MMA fights at The Arena, Ribeiro and his brother Saulo, a fellow ADCC and Mundial champion, own and operate the University of Jiu-Jitsu in San Diego, CA.

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