With the announcement that Lyoto Machida is to face Rashad Evans at UFC 98 for the light-heavyweight title, I think it is time to address some of the mythology surrounding the sport of MMA, and Lyoto Machida in particular.
It is popularly and continually stated in blogs and articles that Machida isn’t a big box-office draw because of the elusive nature of his fighting style, a style rooted in point-scoring Shotokan karate, where he aims not to be hit and responds only in a counter-striking fashion.
The opinion stems from the perspective that the MMA fight fan wants to see grand all-action toe-to-toe brawling, reminiscent of the golden years of boxing but with the added sideshow of going to the ground and grappling.
The reality, I believe, is different.
The attraction of mixed martial arts lies in the almost mystical image of contrast of styles. Take the old Kung-Fu films for example, the usual format was for a Kung Fu school to be overrun and defeated only for one of the beaten practitioners to go off and find an old master who taught him a new style, whereupon he returned and triumphed over seemingly insurmountable odds.
Snake in the Eagle's Shadow; Bruce Lee; The Way of the Dragon; The Shaolin Temple; the temple was the ultimate symbol of mystical martial arts.
Now I appreciate that the UFC hasn’t had many Shaolin monks coming over and kicking ass but in some ways the Brazilian MMA fighters are the spiritual heirs of Shaolin.
The legend of the Gracie family, how the descendants of a Scottish immigrant to Brazil were taught Ju-Jitsu by a Japanese master and then modified it to such devastating effect that it became a world-wide phenomenon.
And Lyoto Machida himself, with his Japanese Karate master father and his study of Sumo wrestling. How exciting, how mystical, how romantic is that?
In Machida’s last fight against rough-house, throat-cutting, Brazilian bad-boy Thiago Silva he said in the build up that Silva had made a mistake and hadn’t met a tough guy like him before.
His words remain etched in my memory, I thought at the time that here is a star in the making. His performance backed it up. Devastating. I’m thrilled that the UFC has given him his title shot.
Of course, it could all go wrong against the big-hitting Rashad Evans, but that’s the beauty, the romance, of mixed martial arts, the contrast in styles.