The last couple years have really spelled a changing of the guard in the world of professional MMA. In the UFC alone, there’s a vacant welterweight title and a handful of champions with a year or less on the throne. Cain Velasquez has been back on top of the heavyweights for just over a year and Renan Barao is only weeks into his undisputed bantamweight title reign, but Anthony Pettis and Chris Weidman have not even held their titles for 12 months yet. The one thing that all of the current UFC champions have in common is they are all, with the exception of Velasquez, under 30 years old. In fact, most of them, as of today, are 27.

Does this signal a changing of the guard in the deepest roster in professional MMA?

It’s a possibility, and a big test of that question comes Saturday night at UFC Fight Night 36 when former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida faces former Strikeforce and Dream light heavyweight champ Gegard Mousasi in a bout that will shape the No. 1 contender space in the UFC middleweight division.

Machida, 35, enjoyed an amazing 16-0 career run which ended during his second UFC title defense against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Rua knocked out the fellow Brazilian in the first round. In his last eight fights, Machida has won four and lost four. To be fair, two of those losses were due to horrible judging, as most people felt that he beat both Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Phil Davis, but they were losses, nonetheless. For his last fight, Machida made the much-anticipated drop to middleweight and came out with a bang when he knocked out Mark Munoz with a head kick in the first round. Now in a position to be next in line for the middleweight belt, he faces a very game Mousasi, as the Iranian-born Armenian Dutchman looks toward his first real test in the UFC.

Mousasi, 28, has had a long fighting career. Whereas Machida comes from a karate background, Mousasi comes from a boxing background. Both men have been competing in MMA since 2003, but Mousasi has 39 pro fights under his belt, compared to Machida’s 24. In addition to his MMA experience, the younger fighter has also competed in professional boxing and kickboxing bouts. A win over Machida may not put Mousasi into the No. 1 contender position, since his only UFC fight was against a very short-notice Ilir Latifi, but it will definitely throw him into the conversation.

Machida needs this win. Another loss will put him under the .500 mark in the time since his first loss to Rua, but the whole idea behind the drop to middleweight was to get back into a title hunt at a weight that seems more suitable for his frame. Mousasi is coming in with nothing to lose. A win will get him major attention, but a loss will only put him at 1-1 in the UFC.

UFC Fight Night 36 takes place at Arena Jaragua in Jaragua do Sul, Santa Catarina, Brazil on Saturday night, as Machida looks to string together two wins with a victory on his home turf over Mousasi, who’s on a seven-fight unbeaten streak. Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Machida – 10, Mousasi – 10

Mousasi has been one of the most dominant strikers not in the UFC. He had a 12-1 amateur boxing record with nine knockouts, and in his MMA career, the Dutchman has had 18 knockouts in 34 wins. His style is to press his opponent toward the cage, always trying to control the pace on the feet. He’s not very explosive, in the sense that he comes out throwing haymakers, but he’s very calculating in picking his opponents apart. One drawback against Machida might be the fact that his movement is straight in and straight back. He’s not very elusive, choosing instead to remain in his opponent’s face.

Machida’s style is an entirely different story. The Japanese-Brazilian has a high-level karate background that is obvious in his style of fighting. His footwork is mostly lateral, making it difficult for opponents to connect. Machida is elusive, right up until his opponents make a grab at him, which is when he attacks with fierce venom. He holds eight knockouts in 20 wins, but unlike most “knockout artists,” he rarely wins by TKO. Most of his wins are pure, eyes-in-the-back-of-head knockouts. Mousasi is in for a whole new level of striking opponent.

It might be a little generous from a style point-of-view to give Mousasi a score of 10 in this category against Machida, because Machida’s counterattacks are what knock out guys like Mousasi. However, Mousasi is a seasoned striker who could take the points over Machida should this one go to a decision.

Submission Grappling: Machida – 10, Mousasi – 10

Machida has a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, whereas Mousasi has a black belt in judo, so it might be easy for the BJJ purist to assume that Machida is the better grappler. On the flip side, Mousasi has 11 submissions in his pro MMA career, and Machida has two, so the MMA purist could easily assume that Mousasi is the better grappler.

To the first point, BJJ is an offspring of traditional Japanese judo, plain and simple, so those belts may mean a lot on a much smaller level, but in the Octagon, they are pretty equal. As for the submission victory comparison, again, it doesn’t mean much. Machida prefers to use his striking style and effective takedown defense to keep it standing, where he is most successful. Mousasi will take the fight wherever it goes, primarily because he isn’t as effective with the takedown defense.

At the end of the day, both of these men are superior submission grapplers in an MMA setting, and should this one hit the mat, it may turn into a stalemate situation that gets stood up.

Wrestling: Machida – 10, Mousasi – 9

Wrestling could really make or break the outcome of this fight. Mousasi is right around 50 percent with his takedown defense, and although his takedowns are good, they’re nothing to write home about. He’s a traditional striker with no formal wrestling training outside of judo, and while he can submit guys, his clinch work and top position are mediocre.

Then, comes “The Dragon.” For a guy with no formal wrestling background, Machida’s got some of the best MMA-centric wrestling in the UFC. Statistically, his takedown defense is a shockingly successful 79 percent, which is near the top in the sport. His clinch work is vicious with his nasty angles and short, yet powerful strikes, and he almost never ends up on the bottom.

Machida’s wrestling is at a level that Mousasi will probably never achieve. On Saturday night, the Dutchman better keep his distance from the Brazilian.

X-factor

The x-factor in this fight is clearly experience. Machida has fought the best of the best. Although Mousasi has had more fights, the top talent he has faced is not quite at the same level as the guys Machida has faced. In a lot of ways, Mousasi fights like Shogun, but with a lot less aggressiveness. Machida clearly holds the upper hand in this contest. His elusiveness will provide troubles for Mousasi, but Mousasi has nothing to offer Machida that the Brazilian hasn’t already seen.

Total: Machida – 30, Mousasi – 29

Verdict: Mousasi instantly gained quite a bit of hype after his UFC debut, but a win over a short-notice Latifi is nothing to write home about. Machida is at a completely different level, and Mousasi is in for the toughest fight of his life. The only chance the Dutchman has of winning this fight is by outpointing Machida or getting some kind of freakish knockdown that leads to a TKO. Jon Jones was able to submit Machida, but Mousasi will most likely not get to that point. Machida will probably use his elusiveness and takedown defense to pick Mousasi apart with counterattacks and unexpected bursts of offense. Machida will take the victory via unanimous decision.

About The Author

Dan Kuhl
Interview Coordinator

Dan Kuhl is the Interview Coordinator and a Staff Writer for The MMA Corner. He has been following mixed martial arts since the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993, and holds a brown belt in a mixed martial arts system, consisting of both traditional and modern arts, and currently trains at one of the country's premier MMA gyms. Dan also has previous training in Taekwondo, Judo, and Hapkido. He has an M.B.A. in Finance and Investment Management, and a B.S. in Horticulture. In addition to covering MMA, Dan also writes on Sustainable Landscaping for Examiner.com.