LAS VEGAS – Add Lyoto Machida to the mix for best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.
The Brazilian southpaw dethroned Rashad Evans at UFC 98 on Saturday night, finishing the light-heavyweight champion quickly and brutally in the second round to maintain his unbeaten record before 12,606 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Evans, crushed in his first title defence, was coming off impressive knockouts of Forrest Griffin and Chuck (The Iceman) Liddell. But he was unable to solve the riddle that is Machida, a black belt in karate and jiu-jitsu who is as elusive as a gust of wind.
Back home, former 205-pound champion Quinton (Rampage) Jackson is probably rummaging through his things looking for his thinking cap. He has to face Machida next and may regret a recent assessment of the Brazilian.
“If I had to fight him I couldn’t really watch his tapes. . . . He’s boring as hell,” Jackson (30-7) told reporters on a conference call prior to UFC 96 in March. “I guess his style works for him the way he runs and have people come on to him. I think he’s good. He’s undefeated. But he’s boring.”
Machida (15-0) was anything but boring Saturday. He was patient, and then he was lethal.
Evans and Machida, both counter-punchers, were wary in the first round with little happening until Machida launched a kick two minutes in. The lightning-fast Brazilian put Evans (18-1-1) down with a body kick followed by a left late in the round, pouncing on him. Evans survived and got to his feet
The two had a good exchange midway through the second round. Then came the clinical, brutal finale that was all Machida, who has yet to lose a round and improved to 7-0 in the UFC.
Machida, 30, hurt Evans with a straight left and pounced, slugging away at the dazed champion. Evans somehow survived but the Brazilian caught him again and again. Machida connected flush with a left to the chin and Evans toppled at the fence at three minutes 57 seconds of the second round.
“I was blown away by his performance tonight, absolutely blown away,” UFC president Dana White said of Machida.
White won’t be the only one.
Machida befuddled Evans, a talented fighter with a who’s who of coaches behind him, including many of the those who have helped Montreal’s Georges St. Pierre rule the 170-ranks.
“Very fast and explosive,” Evans said of Machida after regaining his senses in the cage.
Saturday’s performance must have sent chills through the 205-pounds ranks. While some of Machida’s earlier UFC opponents were ordinary fighters, he has defeated B.J. Penn and Rich Franklin outside of the organization.
Once decried for not finishing his opponents, he has now destroyed two unbeaten fighters – Thiago Silva and Evans – in a row.
“I’m so glad that he’s not in my weight class,” said middleweight Chael Sonnnen, who defeated Dan Miller earlier in the evening before watching the Machida win from his dressing room with a couple of light-heavyweights
“I just asked them if you were to fight Machida, how are you going to train for him? Who are you going to get to mimic him? Who are you going to get to give you that look? And they all just sat there and looked around the room and said ‘I don’t have anybody. Of all the people I know, I don’t have anybody that can give me that look.’
“So you’ve got to go out, you’ve got to train the best you can. You’ve got to watch videos, come up with a game plan that you never get to practise and then you’ve got one shot at the guy in front of millions. So it’s just a horrible spot to be in.”
Machida’s unique style is based on the hybrid karate style created by his father Yoshizo, who came to Brazil from Japan when he was 22 to test his karate skills.
Just five foot six, Machida Sr. adapted his own form of karate to combat bigger men. Plus it was based on times gone by, when opponents wielded a sword. One touch could be fatal. Lyoto Machida uses foot movement to avoid contact, ghosting in and out while looking for openings for his precise striking.
“The essence of martial arts is to inflict damage without receiving any,” explains Yoshizo Machida. “And that’s what we’ve trained and that’s what he does in the ring.”
In a sport filled with lead pipes, Lyoto Machida is a scalpel. Or the big brother you cannot touch in a scrap.
According to stats compiled by Fightmetrics, the six-foot-one Machida is the least hit fighter in mixed martial arts.
He is also the second most accurate striker for fighters with a 65 per cent hit rate going into UFC 98. The average is 35. The only one above him was middleweight champion Anderson Silva, considered by many to be the best pound-for-pound fighter.
“I knew it was going to be scary when he started to feel comfortable (in the UFC),” said White. “Tonight’s performance was unbelievable.”
Machida joins Silva, St. Pierre and heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, who fights outside the UFC, as the cream of the MMA crop.
The 205-pound weight class has been the UFC’s rock star division in recent years. After Jackson toppled Liddell at UFC 71 in May 2007, the title moved on to Griffin and then Evans.
Machida is like the NFL quarterback whose father was a high school coach.
He has never had another job, other than working in his father’s karate academy. He started training karate at the age of three and has always wanted to be a fighter.
“Every since I was 14 or 15 years old, I’d look through the (fight) magazines and I’d say one day I will be in these magazines,” he said.
It was then that he started getting up at 5:30 a.m. to train with his father. And learn jiu-jtsu.
Yoshizo Machida said he saw the talent in his son at 12.
“Every time that I would teach a group of kids something, Lyoto – two or three times doing it – would get it and there were kids that would take a month. So I knew that he had a natural gift on being able to learn things quickly and adapting them,” his father said through an interpreter.
Since then Lyoto has criss-crossed the world to learn new techniques – Japan for wrestling and Thailand for Muay Thai. He has even studied – and competed in – sumo.
In the cage, Machida has good takedown defence – he stuffed every attempt by Tito Ortiz at UFC 84 – and likes to trip opponents to get them on the ground. Once there, he is adept at breaking guard and getting the mount position.
Against Evans, however, he relied on his ability to elude blows and then deliver them.
It was a family win. The Machida camp includes three brothers as well as his father. Two of his brothers also have black belts in karate while the third has a brown belt.
Lyoto, married with a 10-month-old son back in Belem, Brazil, let his emotions loose after wining the title from Evans. He has worked his life for the title.
“Now I want to keep this belt for a long time.”
Who can argue?
“The way he beat Rashad Evans tonight was very impressive and he gets better every time he fights,” White said. “Yeah, it might be the Machida era.”