Lyoto Machida has quickly become a big star in the UFC over the past year to the point that he is now legitimately considered one of the top P4P fighters in the sport.
However, that was not always the case as he once filled a much less-recognized role in the UFC.
Fighters are often described in many different ways based on what role they fill in their respective organizations.
If you've followed the sport for even a short time, you've heard all the major terms before: champions, contenders, gatekeepers, journeymen, and tomato cans.
Everyone wants to be a champion, but the reality is that only a few elite fighters can ever have that honor. The rest of the fighters find themselves in the many other less-loved, but no less important, positions in the sport.
However, while we all know about the contenders like Thiago Alves, gatekeepers like Chris Lytle, and champions like Anderson Silva, there is one role that is hardly ever recognized, and that is the role of the assassin.
The falling out between the UFC and Tito Ortiz was well-documented. Dana White was not about to re-sign Tito, and ultimately, since Tito was going to leave, he wanted to make sure that Tito was as worthless as possible once he left the UFC.
White couldn't just freeze-out Tito's contract indefinitely, or it would have been a breach of contract. But if he was going to give Tito a highly watched fight, the opponent had to meet many specific criteria...
The Makeup of an Assassin
1. The assassin has got to be good.
You don't want to let your enemy walk out of your organization on a win, so the opponent needs to be one that has a high probability of winning. Lyoto Machida had beaten some of the best fighters in the world already, and, leading up to the fight, was considered a pretty big favorite over Ortiz.
2. The assassin should make the enemy look bad.
No fighter has ever made his opponents look as bad as Lyoto Machida. Rich Franklin, Sokodjou, Thiago Silva, and Rashad Evans all found out this the hard way. When you lose to Lyoto, you don't just lose, you look like you don't even know what you're doing.
3. The assassin must be unknown/expendable.
If your enemy somehow manages to defeat your assassin, you want this victory to mean as little as possible. Machida had a big reputation amongst the hardcore MMA fans, but within the mainstream, he was almost completely unknown.
Had Machida lost, it would have been a big blow to Machida, but only a small loss to the UFC, and only a small victory for Ortiz.
For UFC 84, Machida was the perfect assassin. Yet somehow, due to many complicated factors, Machida has morphed from assassin to contender, to star, and then champion.
Other assassins might not be so lucky.
On Sept. 16, the marketable and exciting Roger Huerta finishes his last contracted fight with the UFC.
His opponent is Gray Maynard.
If you haven't heard of Huerta, you can find him on the May 2007 cover of Sport's Illustrated. If you haven't heard of Gray Maynard, you're not alone.
Maynard lacks the natural looks and charisma of other stars and contenders in the UFC. But what he lacks in charisma, he makes up for in talent.
Maynard's wrestling style hasn't garnered him many fans, but he's amassed an impressive 7-0-1 record in the UFC.
Maynard has recently been showcasing his improved striking ability, which may change his public perception, but he hasn't moved too far yet.
While MMA experts have speculated that Maynard is the most deserving of a title shot in the UFC, the title shot went instead to the more marketable Diego Sanchez.
Maynard may earn a title shot in the future.
However, should Maynard lose to an exiting Roger Huerta, it will be a massive loss for him. If he loses, the UFC won't be able to market Maynard if Huerta signs with another organization.
He'll be marginalized, and within a loss of leaving the UFC.
Luckily for Maynard, he'll be heavily favored against Huerta. Yet, let's take a moment to honor the fighter for where he is right now.
He's a UFC assassin, and that says a lot.
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