Looking to start second 'era,' Lyoto Machida says he's loosening up and having fun
JUL 03, 2014 12:33a ET
LAS VEGAS -- When Lyoto Machida reached the apex, he was something of a mystery. Outside the cage, he was a stoic foreigner who spoke almost no English. Inside it, he brought a distinctive, mystifying style. He was exotic, a combination that made us both baffled and smitten.
Five years later, he's no longer quite the human puzzle he was once made out to be. He's been defeated. He's had moments of vulnerability. He's been humanized.
In a sport with rapid turnover at the elite level, he's also become something of an elder statesmen, which makes him a sentimental favorite as he chases down a second title in an attempt to become only the third man after B.J. Penn and Randy Couture to hold UFC belts in two weight classes.
At 36 years old, he's had something of a career resurgence since moving down to middleweight. He starched former training partner Mark Munoz with a head kick, and then outpointed the multi-talented European Gegard Mousasi, putting him on UFC middleweight champ Chris Weidman's doorstep. The two will square off in the main event of Saturday's UFC 175.
Weidman is a different kind of beast though. Undefeated and fearless, his reign portends a new era, maybe even something like the one Machida was supposed to have before it got short so prematurely, so surprisingly.
Offered the opportunity for a kind of do-over, Machida is doing it a little bit differently this time around. The mysterious stranger now conducts interviews in English. His serious demeanor is more easily broken up by smiles. In a way, only his unique style remains from those first impressions he made.
"I'm 36 years old, I'm loosening up and having fun," he said on Wednesday after a workout. "I'm enjoying what I'm doing. It's another title run. I've been there before and I'm enjoying it."
So much so that he couldn't help but make a bold prediction. Swept up in World Cup fever, Machida envisions a big weekend for Brazil.
"I think Brazil is going to beat Colombia on Friday, and I'm going to beat Weidman on Saturday," he said. "Two wins for Brazil."
Can you even imagine him saying that a few years ago?
Vision has always been one of his strengths, and perhaps he is a man who can see the future for what it is. At his age, most of his career is behind him. What's ahead is filled with doubt. Maybe he goes into the octagon on Saturday and mops the floor with Weidman. Or maybe it goes more like the night he lost the title.
The anticipation of the result can drive even a sane man crazy, but Machida chooses to live in the present, deftly avoiding mentions of his past glory and only pawing at the future when asked.
People are going to ask about it, of course. This is the kind of fight that can easily become a career crossroads. If you win, life is an open road. And if you lose, well, then what exactly? How many more title shots is a fighter going to earn after this age? Even the clean living Machida has an expiration date.
"Maybe until 40 years old," he said. "It's a great number. Forty is a great number, no? Who knows? Depends on my body. Depends on Dana White. Depends on many things."
The suddenly playful Machida expanded further, with a well-timed possibility that has heretofore been thought improbable. While he's been asked about 205 and 185, he threw out the possibility of moving as low as 170 pounds.
"Who knows?" he said with a smile. "We'd have to see."
Plenty would have to happen before that, of course. If he wins, he'll chart his own future. He believes Weidman wants to put him on the ground, and that his own speed may be a difference-maker. It's not anything different from what he's used to. Guys wanting to cancel out his troublesome striking style. Him fighting big fights. Some things change, some things stay the same
"Come on, I'm 36 years old, I'm a veteran guy. I've gotten used to this," he said. "I have a lot of fights in my career. For sure it's a big event, a big challenge for me, but I'm very calm, very prepared for this fight."