In my time with the Ohio State Fencing team, I had the honor of working under Vladimir Nazlymov, a 10-time world champion and three-time gold medalist in the sport.
Nazlymov grew up on the wrong side of Russia, and his face and hands are covered in the scars and signs of the street fights that defined his early life. He brought that street fighter's mentality to fencing and dominated the sport for many years.
As his student, I heard him utter "fencing is fighting" countless times.
I have never seen a better parallel to his catchphrase than Lyoto Machida. Some of the things that make Machida awkward, those little quirks, are considered proper technique in fencing.
Machida's stance is one thing that sets him apart from the very start of every fight. He keeps stance wide, heels in line, and the feet forming an "L." This is the classic fencing stance, allowing for quick, explosive, and balanced movements forward or backward.
For lateral movement, Machida is forced to open this stance up, but he quickly closes it again. When he moves, it is with rapid, measured, small steps, always in balance and ready for an explosive action.
It is how Machida uses this footwork that really draws the comparison to fencing. To draw out punches and attacks, he uses a quick, tiny double step with a body fake, as if he is coming forward, but the hands stay at home, relaxed and ready for a strike.
This is the fencing body feint. When the distance is properly maintained, hand fakes do very little to open up a defense, but a body fake draws an reflex-like reaction.
When his oppennets then move in to strike, Machida does what so few fighters do: Instead of moving in to jam wild shots or throwing an imidate counter to beat the other fighter to the punch, he moves back.
Machida allows his adversary to fall short and then strikes at the moment of imbalance.
This again is a classic fencing action, the distance parry-repose. The fencer comes in with a body fake to draw an attack, then quickly leaps back, allowing the attack to fall short. But when the fencer leaps backward, he lands in a position poised to attack.
The feet are close together, knees bent, and weight slightly forward. As soon as the opponent's blade has passed, the fencer expodes into an attack.
The result is a defensive action that is so devastating it has been the bread and butter of fencing for hundreds of years. And Machida has brought the spirit of this action into the Octagon.
I recognized it instantly as he leaped back to avoid Evans's wild overhand punches, landing in that same explosive position, and struck as soon as Evans's balance was compromised.
In fencing, footwork and distance is king, and Machida makes his MMA matches all about footwork. He badly exposed Evans's stand-up footwork, and anyone who even thinks about going after Machida's belt better work on their ability move around the Octagon.
The matchup with Shogun Rua is one that could prove very interesting because, while Rua's run in the UFC has been less than impressive, he has shown the kind of tools necessary for the challenge that Machida presents.
I don't expect to see many fighters attempting to employ Machida's style, but I certainly plan to collect his fights on video as I move forward as a fencing coach to show young fencers they really are in a fight.