The middleweight division has a new contender. It’s Lyoto Machida.
The former UFC light-heavyweight champion announced his arrival at 185 pounds with an exclamation point, knocking out his friend and former training partner Mark Munoz with a head kick in the main event of UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Munoz.
It was nearly a flawless performance from Machida. According to FightMetric, he landed five strikes and did not get hit a single time.
Perhaps due to their familiarity with each other, the two got off to a slow start. After touching gloves, Machida took the middle while Munoz danced along the outside of the cage, likely searching for an entry point. Prior to the fight, he’d noted that would be the key for channeling his aggressiveness in a safe manner. As he did so, Machida began targeting the lower body with kicks, once thumping Munoz’s body. That served as a perfect setup for what was to come.
Machida (20-4) uncorked a kick, and while Munoz had his hands up, Machida’s shin went around the defense and thudded against Munoz’s head. He went down in a heap. Machida went to finish, cocking back his right hand over his fallen friend, but never threw a punch, instead, waiting for the ref to step in.
The official finish came at 3:20.
The two had trained together up until two days before their fight was announced, when Machida replaced the injured Bisping, but he said it had no affect on his quickness to pull back on a follow-up strike he could have taken within the rules.
“When I fought [Ryan] Bader, almost the same thing happened,” he said. “When I saw Bader on the ground, I stopped my punch. I’m fair play.”
“I had my hand up but it snuck in,” Munoz said. “I found myself on the ground. He got me and it’s a knockout. He executed really well. I was going to his power side and he landed a kick.”
The two friends had made a friendly bet that the winner would buy dinner for the loser, and Munoz (13-4) managed to joke that at least he had that to look forward to.
To no one’s surprise, the professionals handled the entire situation well from the get-go, although both acknowledged it was difficult.
“It’s very hard for me,” Machida said of fighting Munoz. “Mark is a good friend. I don’t think about that. I just do my job there. But now everything’s over. Mark, thank you for coming, for fighting me. Sorry about that, my friend.”
Machida said he would be open to fighting at either 185 or 205, but there’s little question that he’ll stay at middleweight after the resounding debut. UFC president Dana White suggested that he was interested in a match between Machida and the No. 2 ranked Vitor Belfort, a winner of two straight by knockout.
When Machida was asked more specifically who he’d like to face next, he wavered, saying White would decide his next step. Ever the promoter, White took the setup and ran with it.
“He said he wants to fight Vitor Belfort. That’s what he said,” White said.