Saturday, May 23 2009 will go down as the day in MMA history that Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida officially arrived.
Initially panned by fans as a “boring” fighter because of his elusive style and ability to avoid damage, the Karate fighter walked out to the MGM Grand Garden Arena for UFC 98’s main event a newly crowned fan favorite.
And he would leave a newly crowned champion.
For MMA purists, Machida did what they knew he’d do for a long time—win the light heavyweight title. After Machida knocked out former champion “Sugar” Rashad Evans, he pronounced, “Karate is back!” to the capacity crowd who roared with approval.
Perhaps that’s where the journey begins. Machida is a testament to the power of family repeatedly dubbing his style, “Machida Karate.” The mention immediately calls to mind MMA’s beloved first family—the Gracie’s—and MMA’s first big star—Royce Gracie.
“He says that the biggest support I have is my father and my brothers,” Machida said through his manager and translator Ed Soares. “They’re the ones that enable me to show what I show inside the Octagon. Similar to the Gracie family, the family is the core of everything we do. The only thing different is that we’re showing it through Karate, and the Gracie family did it with jiu-jitsu.”
While fans were slow to warm to Machida, one man who never doubted his skills is the one that counted most: UFC President Dana White.
“I’ve been saying it,” White said in praise of Machida’s skills. “I think he got over that hump. He finished Sokoudjou, he finished Silva and he finished Rashad Evans, a guy that has never been knocked out—even when he was fighting at heavyweight.
“I was blown away.”
With surefire stardom on the horizon, Machida was still the same humble fighter that entered the UFC in 2007.
“My style is difficult,” the new champion said, assessing himself. “It’s hard to match with Machida Karate.”
“Hard” is the modest Machida talking, “impossible” to match Machida Karate is more appropriate. In 15 MMA fights, Machida has defeated some of the sport’s biggest and toughest names including Tito Ortiz, Thiago Silva, B.J. Penn, Rich Franklin, and now, Rashad Evans.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson will be the next man to take a shot at Machida. But it seems that the former light heavyweight champion is already being counted out, with several in the media proclaiming the sunrise of “The Machida Era.”
The night’s other winner was Dana White, who bought the World Fighting Alliance specifically to acquire the services of Jackson and Machida. With a following already solidified from his days in Japan, Jackson was headed for stardom in the states. Machida arrived in the UFC with little to no fanfare making his acquisition a proverbial gamble to those unfamiliar with the Brazilian.
Turns out that White was right.
After going to decision in five of his first six Octagon outings, “The Dragon” finished his last two opponents—Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans—with brutal knockouts. Each victory earning the coveted “Knockout of the Night” honor.
There’s an undeniable killer instinct in Machida, but his in-Octagon patience makes him twice as dangerous. After a lengthy feeling out process in the night’s main event, Evans moved in and out when the opportunity presented itself, taking out Evans with a flurry of shots.
Machida emerged without a scratch.
“I’ve been training with a new physical trainer and I’ve been working on being a lot more aggressive,” Machida said before adding, “but as soon as I hit him and I felt that he felt it, I knew in my heart was the time to go in and finish the fight and that’s what I did.”
Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida has several new labels—champion, undefeated, and best light heavyweight in the world among others.
The one thing he won’t be referred to as is “boring.”
Welcome to “The Machida Era.”