Lyoto Machida: Enter the Dragon Era

May 28th, 2009

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Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida has often been criticized for his rather cautious style and his lack of aggression when he fights. Unlike fighters who are willing to mix it up right away (see Chris Leben, Wanderlei Silva, Rich Franklin, and Rampage Jackson just to name a few), Machida is a counter-striker, content to read the opponent’s defense first and wait for him to commit mistakes before capitalizing on those errors. Despite his immaculate fight record, he has somewhat been ostracized by some MMA fans who hunger for immediate blood and action. In fact, in response to these criticisms, Machida said, "If you don’t like (the way I fight), sorry. I always try to win."


In his last couple of fights, however, he has nothing to apologize for. He knocked out opponents that were both previously undefeated and regarded as two of the best in the light heavyweight division, Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans respectively. Machida won knockout of the night at UFC 94 and UFC 98 for both fights.


Here’s a short recap on both fights.


Knocking out the undefeated Silva


At UFC 94, Machida made quick work of Silva. Coming into the fight, both fighters had an identical 13-0 record. At the start of the first round, Machida got in a good leg kick on Silva, but afterwards a timeout was called after he inadvertently hit Silva in the groin.  When the fight resumed, the jiu-jitsu blackbelt Machida decided to take down Silva, perhaps aiming to try for a submission. However, the two got up again and shortly thereafter, Machida dropped Silva with a left hand to the chin.   


Silva got up, but a few minutes later he got hit with another punch, this time a right straight, and he dropped to the mat again. Silva got up on his feet and the two clinched against the fence. Machida tripped Silva and with the latter on his back, Machida unleashed a punch that hit Silva on the face, knocking him out with one second remaining in the opening round.


A lot of people believed that the victory was enough to give Machida an immediate title shot for the UFC Light Heavyweight title.  However, Dana White indicated that Machida was in fact not the number one contender for a title shot. Instead, a scheduled fight between former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton Jackson and Keith Jardine would determine Machida's title fate. A win for Jackson would earn him a fight with champion Rashad Evans, but a win for Jardine would mean Machida will be awarded with a title shot. Jackson won the fight via unanimous decision, but torn ligaments in his jaw forced the former champion out of the fight. Instead, Machida challenged Evans for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship at UFC 98.


Picking up the UFC Light Heavyweight title from Evans


Evans had been on a roll prior to the fight with Machida, having decisioned tough Englishman Michael Bisping at UFC 78, knocking out MMA legend Chuck Liddell at UFC 88, and wresting the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship from Forrest Griffin at UFC 92 via TKO. UFC 98 was Evans’ first defense of his title.


In a somewhat uneventful first round, Machida landed some solid kicks, forcing Evans to back off.  In the second, Machida landed a big left to Evans’ face, stunning him. A barrage of punches followed, backing Evans against the fence. A cracking right hand hit Evans in the face, followed by a left hand. Evans dropped to the mat and the referee was forced to call an end to the bout.


A New Era


It was obvious at the outset that Evans was not his confident, cocky self; rather, he was tentative and hesitant. Another thing that contributed to Evans’ woes was Machida’s awkward and unorthodox fighting style, a product of the latter’s Shotokan Karate background. To sum it all up, Evans fought and lost to a skillful fighter and a great champion, a fighter that, in Evans’ own words, he “couldn’t solve”.  It remains to be seen if anyone in the light heavyweight division is capable of solving the Lyoto Machida puzzle.


The UFC’s latest light heavyweight champion is humble and soft spoken; he possesses superb hand speed as well as cat-quick reflexes, and is one of the more cerebral fighters in the game today; he has also found a way to become more crowd-pleasing in terms of his fighting style, as evidenced by his last two exciting wins. Joe Rogan hit the nail on the head when he said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the (Lyoto) Machida era.”


And what a great era it promises to be.

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