Elusive. Methodical. Unbeaten.
There are plenty of adjectives available to describe Lyoto Machida’s style inside the Octagon. One not frequently heard, however, was “aggressive.”
That all changed at UFC 94.
“The Dragon” gave fellow Brazilian Thiago Silva a taste of his own medicine when he knocked him out on the main card of “St. Pierre vs. Penn 2″ this past January.
It was an exclamation point on the evolution of his career, which at times was criticized for being a bit too elusive—even boring at times.
That same style was also believed to be the reason Machida was being denied, what many considered, a long overdue title shot. Unfazed, Machida remained loyal to himself and to his craft, and in the process changed the way fans and fighters view the effectiveness of Karate inside the Octagon.
Now Machida has been given one final test: a UFC 98 light heavyweight title fight against undefeated champion “Sugar” Rashad Evans. Like Machida, Evans faced early criticism for his ability to finish—until he knocked out former 205-pound kingpin Chuck Liddell.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Machida a day before he flew out of Brazil for his trip to “Sin City.” He touched on everything from his relationship with Anderson Silva and his respect for Fedor Emelianenko to the upcoming title fight with Rashad Evans and a whole lot more.
Check it out.
Brian Oswald: Your father is Shotokan Karate Master Yoshizo Machida. What was your relationship like with your father growing up?
Lyoto Machida: My father was a very tough guy with me and my brothers. He wanted to teach us a lot of discipline and life philosophy. As I became more interested in martial arts, he started teaching a lot of fighting philosophy and karate philosophy. While he was a tough father, he also knew when to be sweet and show a softer side.
Brian Oswald: You were born the third son. What is your relationship like with your two older brothers, and what do they do for a career?
Lyoto Machida: We had a close relationship and spent a lot of time together growing up talking about everything that went on. One of my brothers teaches karate at our gym and also handles the administrative side of the gym. My other brother is a fighter like me and teaches a class at the gym. So my brothers are always at the gym together training.
Brian Oswald: You began training in karate at the age of three and earned a black belt at the age of 13. You began training in sumo at 12 and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at 15. Can you tell us about those three different art forms and how each one helps you as a mixed martial artist?
Lyoto Machida: Karate is my main martial art; that is what I train in every day. It has always been in my life. Sumo is another Japanese martial art that I got into at an early age. It is something that has helped and added to my overall stance and is a good base. It is not something I necessarily use in all my fights though.
I have been practicing Jiu-Jitsu ever since I started watching the UFC. I knew it was something I had to learn to be a full rounded fighter. I wanted to be prepared for when BJJ guys would come to my karate gym and challenge us to a fight.
Brian Oswald: In your fight with Thiago Silva you appeared to be more aggressive and looked to finish the fight early on. Did you change your style for that fight because MMA fans thought your style was too elusive and unorthodox?
Lyoto Machida: A lot of it has to do with wanting to please my fans; that is something I feel I need to do. It is also me training and growing more mature. Seeing the mistakes that I have made has allowed me to evolve into a different fighter, being more aggressive out there.
Brian Oswald: Your unorthodox southpaw stance is what really frustrates your opponents. Do you consider that your greatest advantage in the cage?
Lyoto Machida: The way I stand and my posture really complicates my opponents; they don’t understand it and don’t know what to do about. The way I stand there in front of them really throws them off. Karate is certainly my greatest advantage; being able to adapt it to MMA makes me stand out.
Brian Oswald: Tito Ortiz said you were very elusive and it was tough to chase you down. He called you a great fighter. What did you learn about yourself as a warrior in your fight with Ortiz?
Lyoto Machida: I grew a lot as a fighter in that fight. First of all, Tito is a big name and people were cheering for Tito. He is one of the most famous fighters out there still, and a lot of my learning involved fighting such a big name in the States. Also, when Tito had me in the triangle I learned a lot about myself, how to calm down, come to my senses, and get out of it.
Brian Oswald: Anderson Silva has said he would never fight for the light heavyweight belt because he feels you are the rightful heir to the crown. How do you feel about Anderson Silva and his statement?
Lyoto Machida: I am great friends with Anderson, and it makes me happy to hear him say that. I think Anderson is the type of fighter that could win the belt at any weight class. It all depends on his weight and how he cuts it. Anderson is so multi–talented he can do well wherever he wants. I am happy that Anderson has his own weight class to fight in; I believe I can win the belt in my weight class, so the situation makes me happy.
Brian Oswald: The two MMA fighters who have been hit the least in the cage are you and Fedor Emelianenko. What are your thoughts on Fedor as a fighter, and what are your thoughts on his primary discipline, Sambo?
Lyoto Machida: Fedor is a well-deserving champion; he is a very determined guy. Fedor has adapted his Sambo to great lengths for MMA. Fedor knows exactly what he wants and is determined to get what he wants. He prepares himself both physically and mentally. He is so well conditioned and such a well-rounded fighter.
Brian Oswald: You recently said that you have developed a game plan around Rashad Evans' style of fighting. What is Rashad’s greatest strength, and what is his greatest weakness?
Lyoto Machida: Rashad is definitely a well-rounded fighter. He has got really fast hands and really good takedowns. I don’t want to get into his weaknesses here; I will leave that for the fans to see May 23. What I can say; the weakness Rashad has is where I will catch him.
Brian Oswald: If Rashad is able to take you to the ground and get in your guard, will you be comfortable fighting off your back and work for submissions?
Lyoto Machida: I have trained for that a lot, so if Rashad happens to end up in my guard...he will become very bothered because I will not stop attacking from that position.
Brian Oswald: If you beat Rashad Evans at your UFC 98 title fight, you will face Quinton “Rampage” Jackson next. What are your thoughts on him as a fighter?
Lyoto Machida: Quinton is definitely a tough fighter, and his strengths are obvious. I am not thinking about Quinton though. I will focus on Rashad and see what happens after the fight.
Brian Oswald: You have an undefeated record in MMA. Is your undefeated record important to you or something you think about?
Lyoto Machida: My perfect record, for sure, it is something that is important to me. It is not something I think about too much though, or else you become stuck on the thought of keeping a perfect record, and that is where the pressure begins.
Brian Oswald: It seems important for a fighter from another country to speak good English to be more marketable. You gave a great speech after your UFC 94 fight. Are you improving your English so you can speak to those fans more?
Lyoto Machida: I have been studying a lot of English, reading a lot. I am learning my English. I am looking forward to fighting in the States; I am going to be speaking English a lot more this time.
Brian Oswald: You have said ever since you saw Royce Gracie fight in the UFC you wanted to do no-rules fighting. What do you think about the current rules in MMA, and would you change any of the current rules?
Lyoto Machida: I like the rules because it adds to the show. If it were not for the rules it would not be such a big spectacle, so the rules make sense for the sport.
Brian Oswald: Thank you Lyoto. We look forward to seeing you use your "body as a sword" at UFC 98.
Lyoto Machida: Thank you for the opportunity, and I look forward to being out there for the fans May 23.