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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Kinda long sorry.
Not sure where it is from.


The music is loud enough to bounce your liver. It barrels out of bus-size speakers at the Staples Center, making conversation impossible and rational thought doubtful, which may or may not be the point of the entire enterprise. Along with the music, there's bloodlust in the air. Thousands of young people, almost all under 30, are dancing at their seats and in the aisles, simultaneously flexing and spilling beer, making the October scene feel like a frat party at a third-tier college.



UFC 104, headlined by light heavyweights Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, is like most big MMA events: blurs of flopping bodies and vicious head shots accompanied by a nonstop barrage of tattoos and testosterone that pours from the seats of the arena. The crowd wants someone to get seriously jacked up. This was apparent in a preliminary bout, when heavyweight Ben Rothwell took a beating while on his back with his head propped up on the fence. It was Whac- A-Mole with one difference: Rothwell couldn't hide. Cain Velasquez pummeled Rothwell's head, one shot after another, and the crowd howled when the ref called it. Rothwell did too. Judging by all involved, the fight ended just as it was getting good.



This is America unplugged. This is the future, beyond boxing, beyond home runs, beyond dunks and tackles and far, far beyond the 18-footer for birdie. MMA is popular, profitable and inching ever forward in the sports consciousness, onto SportsCenter and into the mainstream.



MMA still runs on a few good chapters without a connecting narrative. Eventually, the athletes -- not Dana White -- will have to identify the brand.



But MMA remains more spectacle than sport. Big names and big fights change monthly -- BJ Penn before he lost to Frankie Edgar; Anderson Silva before he acted silly and mocked his opponent, the crowd and his sport at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi; UFC-wannabe Strikeforce before its recent CBS show in prime time (2.9 million viewers) degenerated into a brawl. The ephemeral nature of the sport's stars creates something of an identity crisis. In the UFC's glory division, light heavyweight (205 pounds), champ Chuck Liddell was replaced by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, who promptly lost to Forrest Griffin, who promptly lost to Rashad Evans, who promptly lost to Machida. The sport runs on a few good chapters without a connecting narrative. Eventually, despite the overarching and overbearing presence of UFC bossman Dana White, the athletes will have to identify the brand.




And that's why we're here in LA at the Staples Center, naming our internal organs by the level of bass and the weight of the bounce. But as the main event approaches, the music stops, or lowers, or otherwise ceases being an incessant physical entity. The confusion is real -- the thump is something you feel for seconds after it's gone.



Suddenly a good-looking, clean-cut guy with polo-club hair enters to soothing Japanese music better suited to a Buddhist temple. Without the karate gi, chiseled body and cartilage clump for a right ear, you'd have no idea he was here to fight.



Martin SigalWith his Japanese-Brazilian heritage and a background in Karate, Machida is anything but the typical MMA fighter.


Which makes you wonder so many things. What is Lyoto Machida doing in a place like this? And then, could this man be the answer to all MMA questions? Could this 31-year-old with a Brazilian-Japanese heritage, a master technician with an archeologist's ability to unearth an opponent's weakness, be the bridge between the rowdy under-30 fan and that fan's still-skeptical dad? Could The Dragon be the kind of star who uplifts and transcends the sport?



MMA insiders would be insulted by this discussion. Those who follow the sport religiously and the smaller group that covers it for various subterranean outlets will say Machida's reputation doesn't need burnishing. He enters the cage as one of the sport's most respected fighters, disciplined within all disciplines, with a 15-0 record. He's never been knocked down or taken down or even lost a single round in the UFC. Machida is a patient man who frustrates opponents with his insistence on never leaving himself open. He is a master of defense, and yet he can "punch" with his legs the way a fast middleweight uses his hands. He has beaten some of the sport's giants -- Tito Ortiz, Evans, Penn -- and become the undefeated champ of the UFC's most important division. In fact, veteran stars Evans, Rich Franklin, Thiago Silva and Stephan Bonnar had never lost before facing Machida. Yet he deconstructed each of them. Machida has the looks, work ethic and record to overcome the language barrier (he speaks only Portuguese) and leap to the forefront to catch the back end of MMA's first wave of stardom.



So why hasn't he? Why does he remain a connoisseur's fighter, the UFC's resident corduroy elbow patch? Maybe because he is an anomaly in a sport that runs on aggression and bravado. Machida speaks softly. His humility borders on the farcical. His samurai ethic -- to him it's a historically based ethic, not just a trendy word -- demands he leave the Octagon after a win more modestly than he entered it. His stated goal: to bring dignity and respect to the sport in the hope of elevating it above common perceptions. He'd like to set the kind of example that makes fathers want their sons to become MMA fighters.



He is a master of defense, and yet The Dragon can "punch" with his legs the way a fast middleweight boxer uses his hands.



Strange, since his life worked in the opposite direction. Lyoto's father, Yoshizo, a karate master who taught his sons a form of the discipline now known as Machida Karate, considered MMA "criminal fighting" until Lyoto convinced him otherwise. "I changed my father's mind, and anyone who has watched me can see I am a different kind of fighter," Machida says. "That is because I want to bring peace, to be a warrior for peace. I mean 'peace' as a form of respect. I have no problems with the bad boys of the sport, but I am interested in treating people the right way, in bringing dignity to your everyday life."



It is in those words that you find the disconnect. Here is a man who performs with superhuman restraint for a crowd that displays very little. He walks into the Staples Center cage seemingly oblivious to the chaos around him. Machida strips his fighting of emotion, viewing himself and opponents as mere machines. The best circuitry wins. There is nothing passionate or demonstrative about him. As the Rua fight became unexpectedly difficult and kicks repeatedly bruised Machida's midsection, there was no sign of distress, wincing or anxiousness. He was only calm.



The composure and self-possession are not affectations. A few days before the fight, Machida sits in an office at the Black House gym in LA and apologizes for the quality of his answers. There's the language barrier, the training session he just finished, the press conference, all the standing around smiling with his fist clenched for strangers holding cameras. This is unnatural for him. "You don't have to show more than you're asked," Machida says. "The guys who are vain and want to go in there and show they are badasses ... you don't need it."



It's clear from those who have gathered for UFC 104 that a "warrior for peace" is not their first preference. Bonuses are given for "KO of the Night," not "Unanimous Decision of the Night." With two submissions, five knockouts and eight decisions on his record, Machida is a defensive, technical fighter who has struggled to please a bloodthirsty crowd. "The sport is already changing," Machida counters. "Doctors, lawyers, professional people you would never expect are interested. I am a part of that." Still, because he's content to win with points earned rather than blood shed, Machida had to wait until he was 14-0 overall and 6-0 in the UFC to receive a title shot. Flashier current champs Brock Lesnar, Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre had a total of four UFC wins before fighting for belts.



Martin SigalLyoto's son Taiyo brings out the samurai in Team Machida (from left): brother Take, dad Yoshizo, brother Francisco Marques, Taiyo, Lyoto.


The Rua fight is perfect research into the UFC's Machida dilemma. Despite losing the first two rounds of his UFC career, Machida outpoints Shogun with technical brilliance and defensive savvy. He spends much of the five rounds backpedaling, a strategy that grates on customers who pay big money to see big action. Shogun is the aggressor but not the winner, and the difference is difficult for the crowd to bend its mind around. This is a smart fighter succeeding his way -- think Floyd Mayweather Jr. over Oscar De La Hoya, or Bernard Hopkins over just about anybody. The decision is booed, and Machida's reputation as a tactical wizard but a stylistic disappointment lives on.



For followers of more traditional sports, the postfight press conference is remarkable. Shogun had administered punishment to Machida, and The Dragon's face is puffy, his ribs bruised. White stands at the podium, gripping its sides as if it might fly away, and calls the decision a travesty. He derides the judges' scoring and announces a rematch. He tells Rua he should have been more aggressive in the later rounds, which is like Bud Selig interrupting a World Series postgame to tell CC Sabathia how to pitch to Ryan Howard.



Machida is forced to listen to this through his manager and interpreter, Ed Soares. As Soares relays White's words, Machida drinks from a water bottle and stares straight ahead, emotionless.



Machida and Rua will fight once again May 8 at UFC 113 in Montreal, and a lot has changed since that night at the Staples Center. For one, revisionism demands that this be called "The Rematch of the Year" even though the original was widely panned as a letdown. And yet now more than ever, MMA needs Lyoto Machida to deliver a signature performance and become a durable star. There is still a belief that he's the man for the job. "He is proof you can be a gentleman and a warrior," White says. "Our guys have great stories. They're not dead-end guys trying to make it to keep from ending up dead or in jail. Most of them are college-educated with a story to tell and the ability to tell it."



The style dilemma is difficult for Machida to explain, a problem exacerbated by a translator who translates in the third person. Here is his attempt: "I do not want to try to kill my opponent, but I want him to feel as if he could be killed."



The mystery of Machida is, like him, equal parts Brazilian and Japanese. He grew up and still lives with his wife and son in the Amazon basin, near the port city of Belém. Here he's close enough to civilization to be part of it but far enough removed to not claim it. He trains with two of his brothers and his father while serving as the key marketing figure for the family business, the Machida Karate School. All four sons are black belts in the brand of martial arts taught by Yoshizo, the quiet, Yoda-like patriarch who possesses his own aura.



Machida believes in urine therapy, a fancy way of saying he drinks his own pee every morning.



A few days before UFC 104, Yoshizo's eyes dart around the Black House, a private gym in LA that serves an elite group of 16 MMA stars. No outsiders are allowed into the gym, just the fighters and their camps. For Lyoto Machida, a part owner of the gym, his camp is mostly his family; usually his brothers and Dad corner him on fight nights. Which is why Yoshizo is here, acting as Lyoto's biggest advocate and harshest critic, intent on making sure his son represents the family in honorable fashion. Yoshizo moved from Japan to Brazil at 22, married a local woman and raised his sons to be disciplined and respectful. He said they would cease to be his sons if they brought shame to the family, and his obvious pride in their achievements indicates satisfaction with his work.



That doesn't mean he didn't seize teaching moments when they popped up. When Lyoto and older brother Shinzo, at ages 11 and 12, were caught drinking at a wedding, Yoshizo made them sleep outside in the rain as punishment for bringing dishonor. "My father, what he said was what he meant," Lyoto says. "We brought shame, so we were not worthy of the family. We slept outside."



Yoshizo taught his sons a patient, counter- attacking style that includes repeated kicks that mimic the action of bouncing a soccer ball on your knees. He preached the discipline inherent in the art. Only cowards fight the untrained, and a true samurai leaves any challenge with a greater respect for his opponent. Along the way, he is expected also to develop the same level of respect for himself. "I have taught my son to be as efficient as possible, to strike as much as possible but do not get hit in the head," Yoshizo says. "If my son takes too much punishment to the head, I will have him stop fighting. There is no honor in ending up like that."



Yoshizo also passed along another tradition that could make The Dragon a scary opponent: urine therapy. That's a fancy way of saying Lyoto, his father and his brothers drink their first pee every morning. The benefits of the act may be unsupported by science, but its proponents claim the day's first urine replenishes vital elements that the body loses overnight. "The mystique of living in the Amazon is something that is not often seen," Lyoto says. "If I was in a fight with someone like that, I might be scared too. There is something mysterious about me. None of this is for show. It is who I am, where I am from and what my family is like. It is not for me to say I have more spirit than the guys I fight, but that is what I aim for. Opponents see that, and it can have an effect. If it works to my advantage, I am fine with that."



Gary M. Prior/Getty ImagesMachida dominated the unbeaten David Heath but wasn't able to finish him off. That's been the story of his career.


He and Anderson Silva, a fellow Brazilian, are good friends (and occasional paintball combatants), Black House training partners and among the best fighters in MMA. They're part of a fleet of Brazilian stars who grew up watching countryman Royce Gracie win the first two UFC events, back in 1993-94, with Jiu-Jitsu, not the sprawl-and-brawl style favored by Americans. In fact, Sherdog.com's April pound-for-pound top five included a Canadian (St-Pierre), a Russian (Fedor Emelianenko) and three Black House Brazilians (Jose Aldo, Machida and Silva). If Machida beats Shogun again, a matchup with Silva would be an MMA megabout. But the fighters are adamant in saying the bout will never happen. "I will take any fight but Anderson," Machida says. Silva: "We will not fight. Everybody knows we will never fight. There is no discussion."



But White thinks market forces will ultimately win out. "They will fight," White says definitively. "The money will be too big to pass up, and when they fight, it'll be the biggest fight ever."



Machida shakes his head. Fighting Silva would be a concession. It would demand a suspension of the samurai way to please those who don't understand. And if the evolution of the sport turns into a battle for his soul, he seems an unwilling participant. He'll proceed the way he always has, with dignity and composure, as if he's found a higher calling. The sport will have to come to him.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Yes this is the full ESPN article. So maybe ESPN is pulling for Lyoto because he is more marketable? I don't know.
 
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