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Editorial: The Mystery of Machida

The mysterious mixed martial arts career of Lyoto Machida has perplexed MMA authorities.

Events of this week, though, may soon bring a better understanding of “The Dragon.”

The 30-year-old Brazilian has six fights in the UFC, yet his case seems to have been investigated by mere patrol men of the sport. Fighters like Thiago Silva, Tito Ortiz and Remeau Thierry Sokoudjou have entered the Octagon well-equipped, only to have Machida riddle them with his style.

They were left clueless; we were left curious.

Now, a hard-hitting detective in the form of light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans has been called in to take a crack. Evans will defend his belt and his 13-0-1 mark against Machida in May at UFC 98. The fight was confirmed this week when first-choice and oft-used Quinton Jackson was too banged up to accept the offer.

That means the intense, nose-to-nose gab-fest between Evans and Jackson last Saturday was just an entertaining teaser.

Instead of seeing a clash of characters, Machida gets his rightful opportunity at gold — along with a big chance to convert a skeptical audience.

The UFC saw this coming, but seemed content to put it off.

Elusive is the perfect word to describe both Machida’s style and, until this point, his chance to fight for a championship in a weight class that’s chock full of electrifying knockout artists.

Machida’s backpedaling ways haven’t exactly brought the crowd to its feet since he arrived in the company two years ago. Eight of his 14 career wins (with no losses) have come via decision, including four of six in the UFC.

Despite plenty of substance, Machida appeared to be a victim of his own style in one of the promotion’s premier divisions.

Big men make the loudest buzz in this business, after all. As an illustration, look at heavyweight Shane Carwin — another unbeaten who has rapidly entered the title picture with blazing fists and 11 straight first-round wins. Granted, the UFC’s heavyweight division is rebuilding with raw talent, but Carwin’s combination of size and style has negated questions about his overall skills.

Questions about Machida, on the other hand, haven’t been about his skills. They have been about his ability to carry a card as an attraction.

Doubt may have subsided after Machida’s vicious first-round knockout of Silva in January. The performance showed he has a bit of flash and left no bones about his readiness for a championship shot.

Still, “The Dragon” remained second in line to Jackson, even if he had shut down big names and made them look foolish in the process.

Actually, the process was the problem. That brings us back to the word elusive, which largely has a negative connotation. According to the dictionary on my computer, elusive is: difficult to find or catch; difficult to understand, define or identify; not easily called to mind or memory.

Not good, unless you’re a criminal.

“The Dragon” picks his spots beautifully, always appears in control and emerges victorious. But for many people, elusive equals boring. In a three-round fight, Machida runs more than Usain Bolt did during the Beijing Olympics.

However, Machida makes no excuses for the methods that treat him so well.

Funny, then, how UFC 98 was dubbed “Identity Crisis.” To the contrary, Machida seems to know exactly who he is.

His identity might not win fans, but I believe it builds intrigue.

Machida creates a sense of wonder that makes up for what he lacks in the lightning-rod department. Fans want to see if someone can solve his puzzle, and that sells tickets (and pay-per views) as well as the prospect of Carwin bludgeoning another behemoth.

Machida’s road to this title shot was long. He hit every red light on the way. Then, it took one injury to heavyweight Frank Mir (which knocked him out of his fight against Brock Lesnar, leaving UFC 98 without a main event) and two injuries to Jackson (he has an elbow problem and needs jaw surgery) before UFC honchos parked Machida in the championship fight.

The mystery man will finally put his unique brand of MMA on display in a UFC main event that has major spoils on the line.

With both contestants undefeated in 14 fights, Evans might even be the underdog. He has one draw on his record, and it came against Ortiz, a man that Machida easily picked apart.

But “Sugar” Rashad’s wrestling base and evolving standup give him the stuff to beat all challengers. Like any good investigator, he’ll probe for a way to defeat the elusive Machida.

Even if Evans doesn’t make the arrest, per se, I guarantee the clash will be captivating.