Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida has been somewhat of a polarizing figure in the fight game ever since he entered the octagon at UFC 67 with a unanimous decision victory over Sam Hoger. His unorthodox karate style combined with a defensive approach and counterstriking methods have been the center of countless debates between MMA fans, journalists, and even other UFC fighters. What can’t be debated however, is the success Machida has had in the UFC. With wins over Sokoudjou, Tito Ortiz, and most recently Thiago Silva, “The Dragon” knows that it’s only a matter of time before fight fans will begin to show appreciation for the unique striking style that he brings to every fight.
“When Royce [Gracie] started to beat his opponents on the ground, the American fans were not used to the ground fighting and also criticized his style, but soon his efficient results changed peoples’ mind,” said Machida in an interview with Sherdog.com. “I’m not pretentious to compare myself to the legendary Royce, but I truly think something similar is happening with my standup style. Now I feel people are starting to understand and respect.”
Machida will have his biggest opportunity to date to show the world that his style can, and will continue to be the most effective way to approach a fight, when he fights for the light heavyweight title against the current champion, Rashad Evans, on May 23rd at UFC 98. The biggest fight of his career will also come with the most pressure he has faced inside the octagon, or at least one would think…
“I’m very happy because I’ve always dreamed about this moment,” said Machida. “Actually, I’ve already faced the worst pressure. In the fight against Ortiz, for example, I was in the middle of [Ortiz’s] personal war against Dana White and the boss threw all the responsibility on my shoulders.”
Machida realizes that strategy will play an integral part in his fight against Evans. He will need to keep the fight standing up and will have to avoid the champ’s takedowns if wants to have a shot of taking the title. If Machida can lure Evans into his “web” so-to-speak, by having him chase “The Dragon” around the cage looking to engage in a stand up war, the challenger knows his chances of walking away that night as the new light heavyweight champion will be pretty good.
“He is an excellent wrestler,” said Machida. “Tito Ortiz tried to take him down, but he couldn’t. I’m not going to lose energy trying. He is also a good striker – very cold and strategic. That became clear during his last fight when Forrest [Griffin] was beating him up and he suddenly turned the fight in his favor. Certainly, he is studying a way to not get into my game, but my father, brother and I, we are also studying a way to bring him into my game. All I can say is that the fans can expect a great fight.”
Should Lyoto Machida wake up on May 24th with yet still an undefeated record, he may begin to look towards bigger challenges in the UFC, literally.
“I don’t think about a fight at the heavyweight division, but I think about a challenge, maybe against the heavyweight champion,” Machida told Tatame.com. “My focus, for sure, is on my division now, later is later.”
What exactly does Machida have in mind?
“Maybe a fight against Brock Lesnar,” Machida was quoted as saying in an interview with Tatame.com. “He’s a huge guy and has showed himself to be very aggressive and strong. Who knows if one day we can fight. I respect him as a fighter, he’s very strong, but I’m professional and I’d like to test myself.”
Whatever the future holds for Lyoto Machida, he will be sure to stay within himself and stick to his always-detailed game plan, whoever the opponent may be. But for now, his opponent is light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, and all his focus will need to be put on the biggest fight in his mixed martial arts career. And judging by his past, you can rest assured it will be.