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I love Lyoto Machida. In a sea of sameness, the karate-inspired fighter stands out, an Octagon intellectual in a sport of meatheads and jocks. How did he pull off the impossible, relying on traditional martial arts to win fights in the cage? I broke it down in The MMA Encyclopedia:
Karate, in short, wasn’t supposed to work. Not in 2009. The failure of traditional karate stylists in the early days of the UFC was seen by many in the martial arts community as the end of the art as a relevant fighting system. The karate club might still be a good place to drop the kids off after school, let them burn off some energy and improve their fitness in an environment that emphasized focus, discipline, and self-control. For most practitioners, those have always been the real benefits of the martial arts anyway, and a good karate dojo still holds to those values. But traditional karate was thought to be incapable of turning out fighters that could compete in the full-contact free-for-all of modern mixed martial arts.
Enter "The Dragon." Machida was by no means the first prominent mixed martial artist to hold rank in a traditional karate discipline, but he was the first to look like a karate fighter in the cage, to move like one. Leaping in and out of striking range with his head back in an uncommonly upright posture, throwing kicks from unpredictable angles, and disguising foot sweeps behind straight punches, Machida is a Sonny Chiba movie brought to life.
Machida seemed like an unsolveable puzzle—at least until Mauricio Rua broke him down with constant pressure and skilled striking at UFC 104. Somehow, beyond any attempt at reasonable explanation, Machida won a decision almost everyone was sure he had lost.
Never fear, though. The universe righted itself in a rematch that saw Rua walk away champion.
Result: Machida defeated Rua via unanimous decision (48–47, 48–47, 48–47)