“Welcome to the Machida Era”. I can still hear Joe Rogan screaming those famous words after Lyoto Machida blasted Rashad Evans into another dimension to capture the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship back in 2009. Wow. 2009 huh? It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but tonight Father Time had a front row seat at UFC Sao Paulo. In front of a rowdy Brazilian crowd, Lyoto Machida entered the octagon for the first time since 2015.
Machida made his bones in the UFC with his unpredictable, karate-based attacks. He wins by disrupting his opponents timing with his atypical approach and blitzing his prey like a cheetah leaping out of the weeds. The former Light Heavyweight Champion enjoyed a great amount of success in the UFC but has lost three out his last four coming into tonight’s contest. I was very interested in Machida’s return. Speed and timing are usually the key identifiers when a fighter starts entering the twilight of their career. With that being Lyoto’s bread and butter, 7th ranked power puncher Derek Brunson was a formidable test to see if Machida still possessed the instincts to compete with the UFC elite.
The Sao Paulo crowd was fired up as Machida made his way to the Octagon after a two-year layoff. Will ring rust play a factor? Does he still have the speed, the timing? Will he still be the old Machida who would brilliantly break down his opponents before pouncing? All these questions would be answered, as he squared off against a game young lion.
Brunson has a wrestling base, but he is an explosive striker who’s left hand has been responsible for his last six wins via KO/TKO. Looking to climb his way up the rankings, a win against a name like Machida could propel Brunson right into a big fight against a top-five opponent. The last time Brunson fought a big name, UFC legend Anderson Silva, Brunson fought conservative and paid the price losing a close decision to the Spider. Brunson would have to fight his fight and use his explosiveness to find out if Father Time was knocking on the door of the Dragon.
To my surprise, Brunson came out very patient in Round 1. Machida controlled the pace and distance, easily avoiding the few feints Brunson threw this way in the first minute. Machida landed a couple hard straight lefts and eluded Brunson as he continued to lunge forward. It all appeared to be going the Dragon’s way until about the 2:40 mark of the first round, where Brunson picked his spot and capitalized. After Machida hit Brunson with another straight left, Brunson slipped under and caught Machida with his hands down.
Going back through Machida’s career, there has been a flaw in his stance that makes him slow to get his hands up to defend himself more traditionally. Almost like a QB has to keep the ball high in his delivery, Machida’s low hands have been a hole in his defense that slows his recovery speed when attacked. Think Shogun Rua’s knockout win where Machida lost his title at UFC 113.
Brunson capitalized in the same way, connecting with an overhand left hook that rocked Lyoto. Before the 39-year-old former champ could blink, Brunson cracked him flush with a follow-up hook that sent Machida to the canvas. Once he went down, he got iced with a barrage of lefts that kept coming until the referee rescued the Dragon. It was a lightning-fast finish, a turn of events that Lyoto never saw coming. His hands, his speed, his instincts, all let him down. Even if they were only a split second off. That split second was all Brunson needed.
Machida has lost 4 of his last 5 fights, and at 39 it’s safe to assume that all the training in the world will never get us back to the “Machida Era” now matter how loud Joe Rogan yells it. Time is your toughest opponent, and to date undefeated. What Lyoto Machida has lost cannot be regained with diet or training. Father Time shows up uninvited and delivers a warning shot. It’s up to you to whether you want to listen. I hope Lyoto is all ears because I want to remember the dragon that spits flames, not the ice dragon that I saw tonight, who looked frozen stiff on the canvas.