|Lyoto Machida (right) delivers a kick to Tito Ortiz at UFC 84. Machida stands as the toughest opponent yet for UFC light-heavyweight champion Rashad Evans. (UFC photo)
It doesn't happen often, but at UFC 98 the champion is going into a fight as the underdog.
Although he is undefeated in mixed martial arts and holds the UFC light-heavyweight title, some critics still feel Rashad Evans isn't the top fighter in his weight class. That despite the fact he handed Chuck Liddell the most vicious knockout loss of his career.
Tonight, not only does Evans face his toughest opponent yet in Lyoto Machida, he has the opportunity to shut up the naysayers.
That will, however, be easier said than done.
Though both are elusive, thinking fighters, one could argue that Machida wrote the book on the style and Evans is merely borrowing pages.
Machida has a tendency to make even talented fighters seem like they don't belong in the octagon with him. This was never more evident than his devastating first-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Thiago Silva at UFC 94.
Though Evans may be a smart fighter, he can lay back too much at times while being patient. If he doesn't make Machida respect his striking early on, he'll be in for a long night.
Evans may also find himself confused by Machida's techniques. 'The Dragon' is known to feint kicks and execute unexpected leg sweeps. To top it all off, Machida likely won't stay in the pocket long enough for Evans to land the type of haymaker that dropped Liddell.
Speed could be the deciding factor tonight and Machida has it in spades.
In terms of common opponents, Evans and Machida have three on their fight record -- Stephan Bonnar, Sam Hoger and Tito Ortiz -- and 'The Dragon' has performed better in each case.
Evans took Bonnar to a majority decision, while Machida stopped him in just over four minutes with a nasty cut. Evans earned a split decision over Hoger, while Machida's was unanimous. And finally, Evans only earned a draw against Ortiz due to the 'Huntington Beach Bad Boy' losing a point for grabbing the fence. Machida made Ortiz look foolish on his way to a unanimous decision victory.
The odds seem to be stacked against Evans, but, with the exception of his draw against Ortiz, he has yet to disappoint in these situations. If Evans wins in impressive fashion, the detractors will have no choice but to stand up and take notice.