At least, that's what two high profile MMA figures with intimate knowledge of the situation are saying this week.
With his status as Jones’ nemesis once again on hold, Rashad Evans told FightHype.com that “if anyone can give [Jones] trouble, I would think it would be Machida.” Himself excluded, we assume. Likewise Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who trains with both Silva and Machida at team Black House, told Tatame.com that “there’s no one better than Lyoto to fight him.”
“[Jones is] always trying to bring something new, like Anderson does ...,” Nogueira said, “[but] I believe Anderson is more creative than him.”
Silva is the man the 24-year-old light heavyweight champion admits to modeling himself after during his formative years in MMA and, frankly, he’s also the guy many fans really want to see Jones fight at this point. But with that bout still just a pipe dream -- and with Evans’ latest injury making the list of available 205-pound contenders very short indeed -- Machida’s status as Silva’s training partner clearly has some proffering him as the next best thing.
At least the next best thing we’ve got at the moment. The next best thing whose hand isn’t busted or who isn’t already booked to fight Mauricio Rua at UFC 139.
It's strangely fitting that it’s Jones -- not Machida -- who is being cast as the stand-in for Silva here. During his first few appearances in the Octagon, back before Jon Jones became Jon Jones and before a superfight with Silva was even a twinkle in a fantasy matchmaker’s eye, he talked openly about idolizing the UFC middleweight champion.
In those early days when Jones contends he was teaching himself to fight by watching YouTube videos in his apartment in Endicott, N.Y., he must’ve watched a lot of Silva footage. Indeed, sometimes Jones seems like a bigger, younger version of "The Spider," but perhaps more because they both appear to be a generation or two ahead of their competition than anything else.
Still, conventional wisdom tells us that since Machida sees Silva every day in practice, he’ll be uniquely suited to handle Jones. Promotionally speaking, this kind of thinking is handy when trying to make the case that Machida is a legitimate threat to defeat Jones. Otherwise, it’d be tempting to simply dismiss him as a challenger chosen out of necessity; a guy who is 1-2 during his last three appearances and whose only win since October, 2009 came over a retiring Randy Couture.
In practice however, I can’t help but wonder how much these Silva-Jones-Machida comparisons will actually apply. As much as he’s tried to be, Jones isn’t Silva. In fact, you could argue that because of his wrestling prowess and devastating ground-and-pound, he's is a dramatically different kind of puzzle.
Given that Machida’s game is typically to dink and dunk around the outside while looking for an opening to land a counter, I’m not sure how that makes him a difficult stylistic matchup for an opponent with a listed 10.5-inch reach advantage, either.
Could Machida win? Absolutely. The one constant in the light heavyweight division during the last four years has been that no one can have more than a cup of coffee with the title.
If Machida serves up Jones’ first real loss at UFC 140, we shouldn’t be too surprised. We also shouldn’t say it has anything to do with Anderson Silva.