Lyoto Machida (13-0) has beaten the likes of Tito Ortiz, Stephan Bonnar, Rich Franklin, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, Kazuhiro Nakamura, and B.J. Penn; yet after running off five straight wins in the UFC, Machida hasn’t had a sniff at a title shot. Many blame Machida’s style.
He’s a defensive wizard that uses angles and deft movements like a magician. At times he appears unhittable, making his opponents seem awkward while he picks his spots and scores points without taking damage.
UFC announcer Joe Rogan once remarked, “Machida is the closet thing to Bruce Lee that we have in MMA today.”
It’s a style that’s kept the karate practitioner undefeated throughout his mixed martial arts career, but at the cost of fans who are often hungry for fast action and even faster knockouts.
Eight of Machida’s thirteen victories have come via decision, but Machida hasn’t come close to defeat; a fact that has lead some to believe that he’s been intentionally passed over for a title shot because the UFC wishes to delay the impending “Machida logjam” at the top of the light-heavyweight division.
The thought is that Machida would be very difficult to defeat and could become a dominant champion at light heavywight, but that he wouldn’t be able to draw PPV’s with his evasive style and inability to speak English.
That said, UFC President Dana White appears to recognize the talented Brazilian’s abilities and believes that Machida could one day take his place atop the world’s pound-for-pound rankings.
“Lyoto Machida,” Dana White told Brazilian TV program SporTV. “When this kid gets into his own, when the octagon starts to feel like his house and when he starts letting what he can do come out and really let his talents fly and doesn’t hesitate… that kid… he could end up being the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world.”
Where some fans see a boring fighter, content to score points and win via decisions without engaging his opponents, White sees an extremely talented fighter operating near the top of his game.
“You have to appreciate how talented this guy is. I don’t care who the fighter is; you can’t hit him, you can’t touch him, you can’t do anything,” White said. “Now remember this, this guy took karate when he was growing up. That’s what he did, that’s all he did. He just fought Tito Ortiz. Tito Ortiz couldn’t take him down once. Tito Ortiz is a wrestler. That’s all Tito can do. If Tito can’t take you down he’s screwed. He couldn’t take down a karate guy. And not only did he not take Lyoto Machida down, Lyoto Machida threw him around like he was a little kid. And you ask anybody who’s ever fought Tito Ortiz… Rashad Evans, who just knocked out Chuck Liddell, said he couldn’t believe how strong Tito Ortiz was. Lyoto Machida threw him around like he was nothing. Lyoto Machida is extremely talented. Hard to hit, good takedown defense. Great with kicks, knees, punches and good on the ground.
White believes that Machida will continue to evolve into an exciting fighter once he gets comfortable in the Octagon; mentioning him in the same breath as UFC legends Matt Hughes, Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture.
“I saw it early on in Matt Hughes career,” White said. “I saw it early on in Liddell’s career, Couture. Any of those guys that ended up becoming big stars and real exciting fighters, it took them awhile to feel comfortable in the Octagon. And once you start to feel like that’s your house, you start to let it go more. And I think that’s gonna happen to Lyoto Machida too. And when it does, not only is he gonna be the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, he’ll probably be one of the most exciting fighters you’ll ever watch.”
Machida will get his opportunity to continue evolving into a more mainstream “fan friendly” fighter when he faces fellow undefeated Brazilian UFC top prospect Thiago Silva at UFC 84 on Jan. 31.
It’ll be his choice whether to press the action and go against the style that has made him successful or to continue to refine that style, one that has placed him among the best fighters on the planet. He’ll evolve; one way or the other.