UFC veteran Lyoto Machida.
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Although there are so few in MMA, it’s just about a foregone conclusion that a win over Lyoto Machida puts Luke Rockhold at the front of the lot for a UFC Middleweight title bout with Chris Weidman.

With sold striking technique and consistent grappling, there isn’t a grey area for Luke Rockhold. His fighting arsenal is complete, and his physical fitness has never come to be questioned. His only loss since 2007 came against Vitor Belfort at the center of a 2011 campaign during which the Brazilian appeared unbeatable. There is not even a quibble to be had about the American; Rockhold appears to be a finished project as of now.

Lyoto Machida’s background in Karate and BJJ make him nothing less than a polar opposite to Rockhold. He’s not great, in the conventional sense, but does have the firepower to utterly annihilate anyone foolish enough to follow his footsteps in the octagon. He’s spunky, unpredictable, and it’s improbable that even one of the five men to defeat Machida came in with even the slightest grasp of what to expect from a fighter as phlegmatically impervious as himself.

One thing is for sure: Rockhold will need to act in the moment to defeat Machida. He’ll need to actively working, landing punches and kicks, and never allowing Machida to steer the fight. Few can off-put “The Dragon” in the slightest way, so Rockhold’s best bet might just be the focus on himself. That is, something he can control in this fight.

The result will depend on if Machida’s unconventional striking or Rockhold’s by-the-book MMA will see him through the contest. UFC Middleweight champion Chris Weidman managed to control Machida for a good portion of the fight, even if he didn’t — couldn’t — shut-down Machida’s striking. Instead, Weidman looked to land the first punch, score the first takedown, and make Machida respond. That is the proven method to beating an offensive machine like “The Dragon.”

Like a champion, Rockhold will need to execute. Like a champion, he’ll need to stomp out any hint of resurrection an early finish over CB Dolloway gave Machida. Otherwise, this ‘ought to be a bumpy road for Luke Rockhold.

On the other hand, Lyoto Machida needs to deal some damage early. and demand respect from his opponent. This cliche is frequently overused, but it does apply here as Machida needs to make Rockhold respect his unusual combative tenor. A few kicks and counters could do the trick early, but Machida’s stuffing of takedown attempts and the elusiveness of his footwork would coercively instill one important fact: He has more elements to his fighting style than Rockhold. Where the American stops, he starts. Where Rockhold starts, he stops. When Luke Rockhold has shown all he has, Machida pulls another trick from up his sleeve.

If he is able to do that, Machida takes a second-straight win following his defeat to Weidman.

And, to answer the question posed in the title: Yes, a win over Luke Rockhold springboards Lyoto Machida to the front of the race to box Chris Weidman. Lively action and reasonably competitive 49-45, 49-46, and 48-47 scorecards left that option viable from the time July 5th, 2014 hit nightfall. A rematch could offer plenty of suspense if it were to play out similarly to last year.

A win for Lyoto Machida isn’t just about a title fight. Vitor Belfort may defeat Chris Weidman and the champion may be first in line for a rematch. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza is ahead of Machida in the UFC’s official Middleweight rankings at the #1 seed. He may get a title shot ahead of the popular former UFC Light Heavyweight champion.

A win is a potent reminder that more lies ahead for “The Dragon,” that the 36-year-old is still an elite fighter in his 20th octagon appearance.

If this isn’t worth fighting for, not much is for a fighter in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Catch Machida-Rockhold and the rest of the UFC on FOX 15 main card on Saturday at 8 PM EST/ 5 PM PST on FOX networks.

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