After handily doing away with Ryan Bader at UFC on FOX 4, Lyoto Machida proclaimed that "The Dragon is back," during his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan.
Claiming to "be back" has become something of a cliche for athletes who show any sign of rebounding to former glory, but in Machida's case it might just be a statement that holds more truth than it seems.
Though the Dragon never really went away—it was more like he was hibernating—Machida had been struggling through a rough patch in his career prior to dispatching Bader last Saturday night. The Brazilian entered the fight having dropped three of his last four, including a second-round submission loss to light heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones.
But the so-called return of the Dragon is apt beyond simple results and outcomes—it signifies the renewal of the style that formerly ushered in the very short-lived "Machida era."
During his rise to the top of the sport, Machida was often criticized for fighting defensively and coasting to decision wins instead of going for finishes. Though few questioned his ability, the criticism mounted to the point that Machida was almost unanimously regarded as boring.
Perhaps it was in response to the criticism, or perhaps it was the natural evolution of things, but Machida started to get more violent. He finished Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans in quick succession to become the UFC light heavyweight champion before losing his title to the ultra-aggressive Mauricio Rua, a loss that brought the Machida era to an end.
After that defeat, Machida dropped a lackluster contest to Quinton Jackson before earning a title shot by pulverizing Randy Couture. At that point, he was on the precipice of proclaiming the Machida era open for business once more, but current champ Jon Jones had other ideas.
What must be remembered is that even during the Dragon's so-called absence, Machida remained a title player and an effective fighter. His losses were for the most part competitive, and he was taking on nothing but top competition.
Even so, he lacked a certain something that had been ever-present before his career downturn. And last night signified a return of that something.
The best word I can scrounge up to define what had been missing, but what was present at UFC on FOX 4, is patience. Machida has never been impatient or aggressive, but he had that look last night of being relaxed while simultaneously on the verge of exploding.
So if the Dragon is anything like a coiled Cobra sitting still, ready to lash out without warning, then the Dragon is most certainly back.
Against Bader, there was a certain methodical purpose in every movement Machida made. He was like a cat eying a mouse. The second Bader closed the distance, Machida pounced and the fight was over.
It was that which we have not seen from the former champion since he knocked out Rashad Evans in May of 2009, the last time the Dragon approached an opponent as if he were a snack to be torched and eaten.
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