“In the year of the Dragon
Lots of men disappear,
It’s quiet as a cat
It will be back next year”
Lauryn Hill, The Fugees
Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida gives an intriguing peek into the kind of fighter Bruce Lee would have been had the UFC existed in his time. (Yes, beyond big screen pyrotechnics, Bruce Lee had serious street game. The story of what he did to a thug who challenged him on the set of one of his movies is the stuff of urban legend.) Hyperbole? Perhaps, but not one that is without substance. Granted that Shotokan Karate is not Jeet Kune Do (Bruce Lee’s style), one has to admit that both styles are strike-based systems in a field dominated by anything but strike based systems from the martial arts side. Machida’s style relies on speed, accuracy and tactical elusiveness. Ditto the style that brought Bruce Lee fame. Both styles are predicated on a classic mind-over-matter philosophy.
Enter “O Novo Dragao” Lyoto Machida, the Shotokan “wunderkind” who methodically obliterated Rashad Evans in the second round of a UFC 98 match-up to claim the light heavyweight champion of the UFC on May 23, 2009. The way Rashad hit the canvass, with neck and extremities at odd angles stunned everyone, including people who thought he was gonna be knocked out.
The textbook dismantling of a young tough who could have equally knocked Machida’s head off, signified the catalyzation of a style first seen in a 2003 MMA debut in Japan. So inspite of the more dramatic UFC wins, it has been something of a “long and winding road.” Machida debuted in the UFC at UFC 67 against Sam Hogar on February 3, 2007. He did not realize his first knock out until his fifth UFC fight, wich was UFC 94 against compatriot Thiago Silva in January of 2009.
The deafening buzz around Machida sounds premature until one realizes that he is bringing to the UFC something it has never had; a Karateka champion. Far beyond hype, this is something that brings undeniable sizzle to the UFC and launches it into a stratosphere, light years removed from boxing and other less eclectic forms of fighting. The thrill of seeing a lean-and-mean Bruce Lee-like fighter beat the crap out of beefier brawlers is the stuff of UFC lore that will be written in dollars and cents to the nth exponent. Dana White and the Fertitta brothers are creaming their pants right now- and for a good reason. Machida represents something they haven’t had since Chuck Liddel; a poster boy for an organization sorely in need of one. The urine drinking, well ….. that is a story for another day. If Machida lasts past the first defence of his new-fangled title, Dana White and the Fertitta brothers make a lot of money. If not, oh well …. Next!
The upside and downside of a Machida legacy: The upside of what Machida can do to the UFC playbook has been on full display since UFC 79 when Machida triangle choked Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou in December 0f 2007. After that he bested Tito Ortiz at his own game (no mean feat by the way) he then went on to knock out Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans within the short space of just 12 months. In that feat, he held an unforgiving mirror to the lacunae in established UFC styles; the lack of effective counter-striking as a key strategy in a fighter’s arsenal.
The downside to Machida’s possible legacy lies with less gifted fighters who may try to cop his style in ways that make them look like the Ginger Rogers troupe of the octagon. (Talk about an endless source of boo-worthy performances …..) Machida himself has been criticized for this and with good reason. His reliance on other fighters to commit first makes him look like a weasly opportunist as opposed to a ballsy fighter. And if you watch his past fights, you will notice that he appears quite timid in that he does not utilize most counter-striking opportunities after the other fighter strikes out and misses. Machida cannot afford the “weasly opportunist” tag – and neither can his clones. This weasly trend needs to be nipped in the bud and a good place to start would be with Machida’s own trainers.
Maiming from outside the strike zone: A nuveau clinic by Lyoto Machida
Chuck Liddell does it; That is the back-pedalling/counter-striking thing, but Lyoto Machida does it with the method and aplomb of a classically trained artist, just like his father Yoshizo Machida taught him. The tactically conceived foot-movement: left and right, right and left and back and forth diagonally. This is not movement by numbers but motion and counter-motion by necessity because nothing in the Yoshizo manual is wasted or choreographed by rote.
Machida gets away with what he does because lately he has established himself as a premier striker who puts it all together with stunning speed and accuracy. In real terms this equals power by an inordinate exponent for a man who is quite slight compared to his more corn-fed opponents. His strategy appears to be built on four words: hair trigger counter defence. (with the notable exception of when he is not utilising more conter-striking opportunities when his opponents commit and miss.) Machida’s style is proving to be quite devastating in an organization that hasn’t seen the likes of it.
The thing we noticed during Machida’s fight with Evans was that for all his back-pedalling, Machida really projected an extended event horizon created primarily by his left foot, which was always spring-loaded and ready to deliver tenderizing kicks to the head or rib cage. Add to that the tremendously fast and accurate fists of fury and you had the makings of an event horizon that swallowed Evans whole.
In the name of the father: There is meticulous method beyond the Machida reserve that comes to the son straight from a 5′ 6″ father who had to devise a fighting style that brooked no waste. The result? A 65% strike accuracy and 84% takedown defence. (These numbers differ in some reports.) The legendary footwork, among other things, makes Machida’s movement look less like a break-and-run performance. His backward movement seamlessly meshes with lateral and diagonal movements in a way that makes what he is doing less blatant – but there are limits to doing this without raising the ire of fans and detractors.
Tito Ortiz, who says he wants to take the light heavyweight title from the new champion, has already called Machida out on this. Chiding Machida for his penchant for running during fights prior to his most recent UFC victories, Tito wondered if Machida would learn to stand and fight as a champion. Paraphrased fighting words to that effect. (Tom Ngo, 5th Round)
Eyes on the prize: Lyoto Machida makes up for lack of eyes in the back of his head by fully using the ones he has. (More on this later)
UFC 104: Machida is not gonna be fighting Quinton Jackson as Dana White had intimated at the post fight press conference of UFC 98. Instead, compatriot Mauricio Rua is gonna step up to the plate for the first shot at Machida’s title.
Read about why UFC 104 is not gonna be the same without Quinton Jackson, a tested Pride veteran who has historically relished to walk where angels fear to tread. What gives this time? His big hairy balls attitude would have made for a very entertaining fight.
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