Welcome to the Machida era
Lyoto Machida defeated Rashad Evans at UFC 98 for the light heavyweight title
Lyoto's father, Yoshizo, taught him the art of "Machida Karate" when he was young
Machida's unparalleled skill may make him the most talented fighter right now
LAS VEGAS -- As Lyoto Machida walked through the corridors of the MGM Grand Garden Arena back to the locker room after knocking out previously undefeated Rashad Evans in the second round of their main-event fight Saturday, tears welled up in his eyes as he looked down at the new UFC light heavyweight championship belt wrapped around his waist.
These were the same tears he felt at times as a child waking up every morning before the sun had risen to face his father and teacher, Yoshizo, as he mastered the art of "Machida Karate."
It was no surprise then that after Machida (15-0) knocked out Evans with a devastating left hook, the newly crowned champ screamed, "Karate's back!" and later added in the post-fight press conference, "It's hard to match up with Machida Karate. It's difficult to understand."
"Machida Karate" is a unique style, based in the principles of Shotokan karate that Yoshizo created when he moved to Belem, Brazil, from Japan. It focuses primarily on foot movement and being able to neutralize your opponent from any angle, a necessity for the 5-foot-6 Yoshizo, who almost always faced taller opponents, such as his son who is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds.
The true beauty of the style is both its efficiency and elusiveness that draw from the essence of martial arts: inflicting damage without taking any. There are no wasted movements or motions by Machida when he is fighting. His punches usually hit their target and he is able to elude his opponent when they attempt to counter with his masterful footwork and innate ability to know when to get out of harm's way. Imagine being blindfolded and hit from your right. As you try to hit back, you get punched from your left and then get kicked upside the head. That's what it's like fighting Machida.
He looks the same going into the fight as he does after winning one. You won't see him hiding a shiner behind dark sunglasses at the post-fight press conference. During his fight against Evans, he was only hit twice and was never in danger. In fact, the UFC recently launched a stats program and discovered that Machida is the least-hit fighter in MMA history, getting hit once every two-and-a-half rounds, according to UFC president Dana White.
It's an unheard-of number in a sport where fighters trade dozens of blows during the course of five-minute rounds. Machida is also the second-most accurate striker behind fellow Brazilian and UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva with a 70-percent hit rate. Other UFC fighters average half that number.
Unfortunately, those hoping for a possible dream matchup between the two Brazilian champions and two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world will have to continue to dream on. Ed Soares, who manages both fighters, said they won't fight each other and that Machida will focus on defending his title for the first time against former champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in September. Machida and Jackson both came to the UFC nearly three years ago when the company bought the World Fighting Alliance specifically to acquire their contracts.
Jackson recently said during a conference call that Machida's style was "boring as hell," which is a criticism that has been leveled against both Machida and Silva. Although it would be hard to label Machida as boring after winning "Knockout of the Night" honors in beating Evans and the previously undefeated Thiago Silva this year.
Part of what makes Machida so difficult to scout and understand as a fighter is that while MMA as a mainstream sport is fairly new (the UFC was founded 15 years ago) and many fighters try to learn different fighting disciplines in a matter of months (many will brag about working with a wrestler or a boxer to hone their skills before a fight), Machida was raised at his father's karate gym. In a sport that has few karate champions, Machida isn't only rare; he's one of a kind.
Watching Machida in the Octagon at times is like watching a new innovation in sports before the rest of the competition has caught up. The look of confusion in his opponents' eyes could best be compared to how the first defensive players must have reacted when they were exposed to the Wishbone or the Spread offense in football. How do you defend something you've never seen before and can't practice against?
After watching the UFC light heavyweight championship change hands four times in the last five title fights, the promotion's, and the sport's, premier division might have finally found a champion who will reign for a long time.
"It's the Lyoto Machida era," said White. "I've never seen anything like him. He might be the most talented fighter on the planet right now."