Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight contenders Lyoto Machida and Derek Brunson will clash this Saturday (Oct. 28, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 119 inside Ginasio do Ibirapuera in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

It’s been more than two years since Machida last stepped into the cage. Some of that came after a knockout loss to Yoel Romero, but most of his layoff was the result of an odd United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) suspension. Now nearly 40 years old, Machida has to prove himself an elite fighter once more. Brunson’s recent career is one of ups-and-downs. Over-aggression cost him opposite the current interim champion, Robert Whittaker, while a more measured approach saw him lose a very debatable decision to Anderson Silva. A mix of the two worked out last time, and this bout with Machida will test his strategy further.

Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each athlete:

Lyoto Machida
Record: 22-7
Key Wins: Rashad Evans (UFC 98), Gegard Mousasi (UFC Fight Night 36), C.B. Dollaway (UFC Fight Night 58), Ryan Bader (UFC on FOX 4)
Key Losses: Chris Weidman (UFC 175), Luke Rockhold (UFC on FOX 15), Yoel Romero (UFC Fight Night 70), Jon Jones (UFC 140)
Keys to Victory: Machida is the UFC’s first Karate master to step into the cage. A Southpaw with a strong counter left and heavy kicks, Machida is a well-rounded and crafty veteran.

In this bout, Machida’s ideal result is that Brunson comes out wild. If that’s the case, few are better at avoiding exchanges, and a wild Brunson leaves himself in terrible position while trying to land.

Few are better at capitalizing than Machida.

If Brunson comes out with a more measured approach, Machida needs to convince him to abandon it. Brunson’s instinct is aggression, and it only takes a few hard kicks to convince him to rely on what’s gotten him this far. In fact, Machida might not even need those kicks. Many fighters feel obligated to throw as time slips by and the fans began to boo, and that pressure alone could convince Brunson to throw caution to the wind.

In the worst case scenario that Brunson sticks to the script, Machida has to hold the volume advantage. He must still be selective with his punches — Machida does not want to exchange with the heavier hitter — but “The Dragon” should let loose with his kicks.

VS.

Derek Brunson
Record: 16-5
Key Wins: Uriah Hall (UFC Fight Night 94), Lorenz Larkin (UFC 177), Dan Kelly (UFC Fight Night 110), Ed Herman (UFC 185)
Key Losses: Robert Whittaker (UFC Fight Night 101), Anderson Silva (UFC 208), Yoel Romero (UFC Fight Night 35), Ronaldo Souza (Strikeforce: “Rousey vs Kaufman”)
Keys to Victory: Brunson is a physical specimen with a massive left hand and powerful wrestling. He found his power a couple years ago and chased the knockout full bore, as it’s only recently Brunson has settled down and focused on simply landing first.

Brunson already has something of a gameplan for this fight. It wasn’t all that long ago that he faced off with Anderson Silva, a teammate of Machida and fellow Southpaw counter puncher. In that bout, Brunson remained active with kicks, threw in combinations when within range, and chased takedowns whenever possible.

Sounds like a great strategy opposite Machida, too.

A big key for Brunson here is to cut off the cage. If he can trap Machida along the fence, his chances of scoring a takedown skyrocket. That’s historically a difficult thing to do, but Brunson is an imposing fighter who knows how to low kick. If he really focuses on keeping Machida pinned, he should be able to replicate some of Chris Weidman’s wrestling success.

Bottom Line: Only the victor will reenter the Middleweight title mix.

For Machida, it’s hard to call this a crossroads fight exactly. After all, he has lost to three of the division’s top five in his last four contests, so one last title run is unlikely. At the same time, Machida never visibly looked worse, it just seemed like his opponents were both 1). amazing fighters and 2). followed a strong gameplan.

If those are the only issues, Machida can return to the Top 10. Sadly, if Machida did begin to fall off athletically two years ago, it’s highly unlikely that getting older is the solution.

As for Brunson, the stakes are high as well. If he loses here, it doesn’t matter that he probably should have seen his hand raised opposite “The Spider.” He still officially has lost three of four, and that will knock him down the rankings significantly. Alternatively, a win over Machida does still count for something, and it sets Brunson up for a high-profile match up against someone like Luke Rockhold or Chris Weidman.

TONIGHT at UFC Fight Night 119, Lyoto Machida and Derek Brunson will battle in the main event. Which fighter will have his hand raised?