A more aggressive era of Machida possibly in the offing
By Jason Kelly www.twitter.com/jaykaymma
When Joe Rogan announced the era of Lyoto Machida after a devastating knockout victory over Rashad Evans to win the light heavyweight title at UFC 98, nearly every MMA fan on the planet was sold.
“The Dragon” was undefeated in his professional MMA career up to that point and his performance against Evans made it seem like fans were witnessing the beginning of a title reign for years to come.
Machida brutalized his opponents with outstanding karate and effective grappling en route to a 16-0 record. Seemingly invincible in the Octagon, Machida rarely was put in a precarious situation in the cage in his first seven UFC fights. He also picked up two knockout of the night bonuses on the way to becoming champion. Those incredible performances, coupled with his all-star teammates at Blackhouse, convinced even his peers that his era was upon them.
Not so fast.
Machida’s first title defense was against Maurico “Shogun” Rua, and though Machida was awarded a unanimous decision victory and retained the belt, the win was questionable and controversial. “Shogun” displayed traits that MMA fans recognized from his days in Pride FC. He was aggressive with Machida and dominated the champ for the better part of 25 minutes, but the judges did not see it that way, which kept Machida’s undefeated record intact. Luckily for fans and Rua alike, UFC president Dana White agreed “Shogun” was robbed in that fight, therefore White had the two Brazilians battle again in an instant rematch.
The rematch much differently played out than their first meeting. Rua had no intentions of letting this opportunity go to the judges’ scorecards. After being taken down twice by Machida early in the first round, “Shogun” managed to get back to his feet and land a powerful overhand right on the temple of his opponenet, sending “The Dragon” to the canvas. Rua mounted Machida while continuing to rain down strikes until the champ was unconscious. This made way for a new light heavyweight champion and ended an era almost before it began.
The biggest question was whether or not that was one bad outing by Machida, or if it was all a fluke to begin with.
The answer could not be found until Machida fought again. Fans wanted to know if the former champ could bounce back from a devastating loss (considering he had never even lost, let alone get knocked out).
Six months removed from holding the light heavyweight title, Machida was back in the Octagon to face another former champion, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, to gauge the legitimacy of “The Machida Era.” Jackson took it to the Blackhouse fighter for the first two rounds and it appeared as if Machida had lost his luster. The third round showed glimpses of Machida’s previous greatness as he dominated Jackson from bell to bell in that frame, but it was not enough to capture the victory. Once “Rampage” secured a split-decision win, the once unstoppable Machida might have been on the verge of being released from his UFC contract.
White was displeased with Machida’s safe play and lack of engaging in the Octagon. The UFC president also thought Machida lost in his first battle with Rua. Therefore, in White’s eyes, Machida had lost three consecutive fights. That is enough to get most UFC fighters served with walking papers, but Machida was granted one more opportunity to prove himself to the boss and fans.
The challenge came in the form of UFC Hall of Famer Randy “The Natural” Couture, at UFC 129. The fight also marked the final fight of Couture’s career, which put fans on the fence. For every fan saying Machida would get the knockout, there was another counter-arguing that “The Natural” would grind out a decision victory. But, to Machida, this was about his job and livelihood, more so than a victory.
(photo courtesy of Tracy Lee/Yahoo! Sports)
Couture, a man known for implementing and executing a perfect game plan, along with superb wrestling, was not able to even threaten Machida with a takedown. “The Dragon” showed remnants of his old self, but with more aggression. The Pan American Karate champion avoided Couture’s strikes and nullified his grappling efforts. Machida looked fantastic in the first round, and for a guy who was being criticized for aggression, what happened next was risky and daunting to even attempt. During Round 2, Machida unleashed a “Daniel-san” crane-kick to the jaw of Couture that put “The Natural” to sleep and knocked one of his teeth out. The highlight will be on UFC reels for years to come but, more importantly, it proved Machida may yet get back his era.
Couture is always a game fighter, so beating him was a big win for Machida. Now he has the task of taking on the younger, larger fighters in the division. By no means will this victory warrant a title shot for Machida, but he will be facing the fighters that are mixing it up at the top of the weight class. He could face the winner of the Rua-Forrest Griffin match or the loser of Phil Davis vs. Evans. The competition is definitely there for Machida, and if he is consistently performing the way he did against Couture and all his fallen adversaries prior to losing two consecutive fights, then anything is possible.
Rogan did not declare that “The Machida Era” is back at UFC 129, but he did shockingly say “oh….my…god,” in disbelief when Machida sent Couture’s tooth and mind into another dimension. Though, if Machida continues to fire on all cylinders and defeats another one or two key opponents, we may hear Bruce Buffer announce “The challenger, Lyoto Machida.”