Just over 18 months ago, Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida was at the top of the mountain. He had the light heavyweight belt around his waist, was ranked as the number one fighter in his division, and was viewed as a savior for karate in MMA. The Brazilian utilized his “elusive” karate style to climb the ranks, going undefeated for over six years.
With a 14-0 (6-0 UFC) record, Machida finally got his shot at the light heavyweight championship at UFC 98 in May of 2009. He would challenge another undefeated fighter, Rashad Evans, and would win the most important fight of his career in spectacular fashion, knocking Evans out cold in the second round.
The Salvador native was on top of the world. Untouchable, never having lost a round in the UFC, dominating every foe along the way. UFC color-commentator Joe Rogan declared his win over Evans as the beginning of “The Machida Era”.
Then it all came crashing down.
At UFC 104 in October of 2009, Machida would defend the light heavyweight belt for the first time against fellow Brazilian Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. The fight was a close back and forth battle, “Shogun” pushed Machida harder than he had ever been pushed before, winning multiple rounds and exposing holes in Machida’s game in the process. Machida would come out on top via unanimous decision, but the victory wasn’t free of controversy.
Many believed “Shogun” did enough to earn the decision and walk away with the belt that night, even UFC president Dana White said he thought Machida had lost, and granted Rua an immediate rematch.
After the first fight against “Shogun”, Machida’s unbeatable luster faded. Skeptics believed Rua’s style –aggressive and forward moving– would stop the undefeated champion in his tracks in a rematch, they were right. Seven months later, Machida and “Shogun” fought a second time, but in the rematch, Rua did not only expose the holes in Machida’s game, he ripped them wide open. “Shogun” stormed Machida from the outset and knocked him out cold in the first round to take the light heavyweight belt.
The loss was the first of the Brazilian’s career and just like that, “The Machida Era” was over.
He would fight Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in his next bout at UFC 123 in November 2010. Machida and “Rampage” would fight an extremely close and tactical three round battle, but once again, Machida would have difficulties with the aggressive style of his opponent and “Rampage” would win the fight via split decision.
Coming off the defeat to “Shogun”, Machida was looking to earn another opportunity to fight for the title, instead he suffered his second consecutive defeat.
Back-to-back losses are hard on any fighter; Machida came back stronger than ever, though. At UFC 129 in Toronto last April, Machida recorded one of the greatest knockouts in UFC history, landing a jumping front kick to the chin of UFC hall-of-fame inductee Randy “The Natural” Couture. The knockout kick was incredible, something you would only see in a movie, yet Machida pulled it off for the world to see.
The win was the first for Machida since October 2009. After such an unpredictable and incredible win, some of the luster was back.
Following the win over Couture, Machida had limited options for opponents to face. With essentially every top light heavyweight contender either booked for fight, just fought or injured, Machida chose to sit on the sidelines and wait it out for logical opponents to emerge.
Machida was offered a fight against Rashad Evans on three weeks notice at UFC 133 in August, but the short time span to prepare was not enough for an opponent of Evans caliber. Machida received criticism for his decision to pass up the opportunity to fight Evans, he appeared farther than ever from a shot at UFC gold, but his choice to wait paid off in a big way.
Tito Ortiz would accept the fight and Evans would injure his hand in a winning effort, but was unable to challenge current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones for the belt.
A golden opportunity dropped into Machida’s lap.
He received the call to fight Jones at UFC 140 this Saturday night in Toronto, and jumped on the chance to fight for the belt he lost to “Shogun” Rua in May 2010.
It is rare for a fighter to receive a UFC title shot after a 1-1 record after losing the belt, so Machida should consider himself lucky to be in such a fortunate position. The Brazilian has a tremendous opportunity of his hands, and he is going all-out to make the best of it.
In order to be as physically and mentally prepared for Jones as possible, Machida is going the distance in his preparation for the December 10th fight. “The Dragon” has added physical conditioners, physiologists, physiotherapist and a group of high quality training parts to his camp. He claims to never have had a training routine like for this camp anywhere else in the world.
Machida says he has added 20 pounds of muscle to match the strength of Jones, and has also brought in a new coach for boxing and world-class training partners such Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal to sharpen wrestling. Machida is filming his training sessions to break down errors in technique and movement and has put in all the work to for his title opportunity.
With Jon Jones as champion, Machida’s chance at the belt is likely a one and done. The current champion destroys his opponents in such convincing fashion; questions and talks of potential rematches are not even in the cards. With Jones having a line of challengers including Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson waiting in the wings, it is almost certain to be the Brazilians only opportunity while the American holds the belt.
Machida may have lost his luster as an unbeatable, untouchable fighter, but he still has a tremendously unique style and is one of the very best fighters in the world. Styles make fights, and Machida could have the style to beat Jones.
Due to a series of fortunate events, Machida has received the championship opportunity which looked far from his grasps only months ago. Can he make the best of this opportunity against Jones? It appears he is doing everything in his power too.
(Image courtesy of UFC.com)