It's been a few days since Lyoto Machida's clinical devastation of Rashad Evans, and since then, there's been a lot more interesting things to talk about as the UFC moves forward.
A New Era
This was not just any ordinary title win. Winning the belt in the UFC's glamour division has never been ordinary, but this win seems just a little more significant. Joe Rogan referred to a "new era" multiple times during the UFC broadcast, and it's easy to see why.
Machida's unique style has mystified every single one of his opponents, and he seems to be getting better in every fight, which is crazy, considering that he had beaten the likes of Stephan Bonnar, Rich Franklin, and BJ Penn before even joining the UFC. Considering the unique problems Machida presents, a very long title reign seems very possible. Especially since Anderson Silva is a good friend of Machida, and says that they would never fight each other.
The mainstream pundits seem to agree with Yahoo!, Sports illustrated, and ESPN all running stories predicting a new era in the light heavyweight division. But I'll go even further and say that this may be not just a new era for the division, but for MMA in general.
When the UFC began, it was a battle of Martial Arts styles, in which Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu prevailed. But since then, wrestling and muay thai boxing have also emerged as the other two components of mixed martial arts.
BJJ, muay thai, and wrestling have become the base disciplines of almost every single professional mixed martial artist. People were beginning to believe that MMA had become nearly perfected, with the best fighters simply being those who best dealt with the rock, paper, scissors battle of BJJ, muay thai, and wrestling.
If Machida enjoys further success, he will single-handedly destroy that notion.
The NEW era, if Machida remains successful, can be described in the following way:
You need to be proficient in BJJ to avoid submissions, and be skilled in wrestling to avoid being taken down, but that is only the beginning. Throw out the rulebook that says muay thai striking is the only way to strike. Other martial arts, perfected over hundreds of years, still have something valuable to contribute to MMA, and it is simply arrogant to think otherwise.
The most obvious thing Lyoto Machida has brought to the table is his karate. Lyoto's karate incorporates distancing and timing that gives fits to other fighters who largely have been mass-produced in the system of BJJ, muay thai, and wrestling.
But while Machida has also added BJJ, muay thai, and wrestling to his arsenal, consider this: Lyoto didn't learn his wrestling in the American college system, but instead learned sumo wrestling in Japan. But if you question whether or not Lyoto's sumo wrestling can compete with the widely accepted American standard, you should remember that Lyoto has successfully thwarted takedown attempts by BJ Penn, Tito Ortiz, Thiago Silva, and Rashad Evans. He's been nearly impossible to take down, and has spent almost no time on his back.
Fedor Emelianenko showed that perhaps sambo is valuable as well, but a perceived striking inefficiency in Fedor's technique (if not his nearly-flawless results) has been enough to make people put a question mark beside sambo in a way that cannot be said for karate if Machida continues in this fashion.
So Machida presents a whole new concept of mixed martial arts, in essence, putting the "art" back in MMA. To me, Machida is a refreshing move away from the trend of fight factories mass-producing MMA clones. So we've seen that sumo and karate aren't so dead, but is it possible that other martial arts can return? Could we perhaps see more kung fu, or wing chun techniques in the near future?
While I have been getting very excited over the past few years about Machida, there have been concerns about his marketability.
Two years ago, I might have agreed. But since then, Machida has looked more and more comfortable in the Octagon, and his fights have been increasingly exciting. The way the crowd cheered for Lyoto's title shot after he KO'd Thiago Silva was a good sign. During the Rashad fight, it became clear that Lyoto has become widely accepted, as people chanted "MA CHI DA" during the second round, and gave him a standing ovation for the finish.
A great part of that acceptance has been helped by the fact that Lyoto has also shown much-improved English speaking skills. While this may seem superficial and maybe even racist, it's a fact that speaking the language helps fans relate to the fighters. But while he may not be considered charismatic, he has a huge upside.
And unlike his compatriot Anderson Silva, Lyoto has a lot more crossover appeal. Besides being Brazillian, he's half-Japanese, which should do wonders for the UFC trying to make inroads into a very difficult Japanese market.
But even within North America, his karate skills might just pull some appeal from some different areas. As Joe Rogan said, Machida is a martial artist cut from the same cloth as Bruce Lee. Perhaps Machida will be just the kind of fighter to bring back those interested in the traditional martial arts like karate. Or more significantly, those people who liked old martial arts movies. Machida might just strike a chord with people who grew up watching Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.
But aside from these observations, one other interesting thing came out of UFC 98.
As Bruce Buffer introduced Machida, it may have gone unnoticed that he was introduced as "a Machida Karate fighter." This was no accident. During the UFC Countdown show, it seemed to me like Yoshizo Machida (Lyoto's father) was presenting his karate as a separate discipline that he invented. After the fight, Lyoto said, "Karate is back! Machida Karate!" When he said that, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps Lyoto Machida has greater ambitions than just becoming one of the greatest fighters in UFC history.
Before the UFC went mainstream, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was relatively unknown. Now, the Gracie family is making millions on BJJ schools all over North America. Other fighters have tried to brand their arts as well, but none with the success of the Gracies. Pat Miletich's Miletich Fighting Systems enjoyed its moments of popularity, but that has since faded. Once there was a time when Matt Hughes was announced as "an MFS Elite fighter," but at UFC 98 he was "a mixed martial artist." While Miletich fighting systems was more successful than Thug-Jitsu, or Smashface-Jitsu, or Cowboy Karate, it was still limited due to its perceived lack of uniqueness, and general lack of refinement in any specific area of striking, wrestling, or submissions.
While it is far too early to predict the rise to prominence of Machida Karate, Lyoto's success, and uniqueness at least leaves open a lot of possibility. Especially if Machida Karate schools incorporate the other skills necessary to compete in MMA. I am glad to see Machida enjoying his new-found fame, and see no problems with him making the most of it. Yet in my own personal view, believe that if anything, Machida has shown that it is creativity, not adherence to any one style, that is the interesting part of MMA.
But who knows, maybe we'll see other Machida Karate fighters lift UFC gold sometime in the near future.
In any case, I'm more excited about MMA than I have been in a long time. And I don't think I'm alone.