UFC on FOX 4: Breaking Down Lyoto Machida's Karate Style
Former UFC Light-Heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida proved once again the effectiveness of his karate-based style at UFC on FOX 4, brutally knocking out Ryan Bader in the second round.
Bader was mystified by Machida's striking and grew impatient with the former champ's elusive footwork. The Ultimate Fighter alum eventually threw his game plan out the window and walked straight into a right hand that immediately put him out on his back.
But what makes Machida's karate so special and why are opponents so mesmerized by it?
Let's take a look at a breakdown of "the Dragon's" unique fighting style.
Unlike the usual MMA fighter or kickboxer, Machida doesn't utilize the squared up stance, facing an opponent with the torso completely turned forward.
Instead, Machida uses the traditional karate stance, a major factor in his elusive style.
In MMA, this stance is pretty unique. Machida will stand with his legs spread a little bit wider than shoulder width and his torso facing the side. This, in turn, puts his head further back making it harder for opponents to connect with him.
The torso turned to the side also minimizes the amount his body is exposed, making it very hard for wrestlers to come in for the take down.
Also, his lead hand is extended further than a normal MMA fighters' and his back hand is usually placed near his chin to protect his face.
These key elements to this stance make it extremely difficult for opponents to connect with or take down Machida because he doesn't lean forward or expose his body to openings.
Where Machida truly baffles opponents is with his footwork.
Like all high level fighters, Machida knows that he has to circle away when an opponent comes in to attack.
But unlike other fighters, Machida doesn't shuffle to the side. Instead, his karate stance makes it easier to turn away from opponents using very little effort.
If a foe tries to rush in and attack Machida, he will simply pivot off his front foot and step to the side with his back foot, completely avoiding the attack. Since his attacker is already committed to coming forward, Machida can angle out and fire away at any openings his foe leaves for him.
Often, opponents will get frustrated and try to rush Machida, but that is exactly what he wants you to do. Now he can counter strike.
This footwork is also what makes his next move so deadly.
The "blitz" that Machida uses in conjunction with his elusive footwork really speaks to the core element of karate, which is to attack your opponent quickly while taking the least amount of damage.
Machida does this by countering quickly after he angles away from an opponent's attack.
The "blitz" consists of pushing off of your back leg, like a sprinter, to quickly come forward to land continuous strikes.
In sport karate, this usually consists of a fighter pushing off the back leg to land a backfist with the lead hand, usually followed by a punch or ridge hand strike with the back hand.
Machida, however, comes from a more traditional Shotakan base and instead uses the "blitz" to put more power into his backhand. He will then continue forward with straight punches before angling away.
The Reverse Punch
While Machida has extensive Muay Thai training as well, rarely do you see him throw traditional kickboxing style hook punches.
Most of Machida's punches are straight, but his real power shot is his backhand reverse punch.
Often, he will drop his back hand to around his waist and will turn his hips into his punch as he extends it.
This does two things: it maximizes his power by putting his full body weight behind it and makes it harder for his opponent to see due to the punch coming in straight with little to no telegraphing.
Karate Style Ground-and-Pound?
Believe it or not, Machida has a karate style ground-and-pound that he's used to finish the likes of Thiago Silva and Ryan Bader.
When his opponents go flying to the canvas, he will post up over them like he is about to punch through a board of wood. It's like Machida hovers over them before he puts his full body-weight behind the downward punch.
This board-breaking style of ground-and-pound is usually used by Machida when he finishes an opponent, so rarely will you see it in a back-and-forth ground exchange.
Unlike karate stylists like Stephen Thompson, John Makdessi or Michael Page, rarely will you see Machida use a front leg kick.
Guys like them often use the front leg side kick or hook kick, but Machida's Shotakan style actually has more of an emphasis on using the back leg to kick like in Muay Thai, but it comes at a very different angle.
Instead of trying to whip the leg into an opponents body or leg, Machida will bring the knee forward like a front kick and at the last minute turn his hips and pivot his anchoring foot as the leg extends into his opponent for the rear leg roundhouse kick. This makes the kick very hard to pick up and also makes it extremely fast.
Machida also has a plethora of other unique kicks in his arsenal such as the Karate Kid style jumping front kick he used to knock out Randy Couture as well as the double roundhouse kicks he used against Tito Ortiz.
It's this diverse repertoire that makes him such a hard fighter to train for.
The Samurai Spirit
Probably the most important aspect of Machida's karate is the samurai spirit he has learned from his father ever since he started training as a kid.
While sports like wrestling, boxing and a host of other martial arts definitely teach you invaluable life lessons, there's just something about traditional martial arts that gives it a sense of reverence and honor.
Karate isn't about beating someone up or proving you are the best; it's about upholding yourself to a lifelong code of discipline and respect.
Machida maintains this sense of honor every time he steps into the Octagon, not letting the fame and fortune get to his head.
Even when Father Time starts to take away your flexibility and stamina, one can still continue his journey in the martial arts by practicing katas and working on his spirit—something Machida and his family have been doing for generations.