He's four years and 10 fights into his UFC career, yet Lyoto Machida remains a mystery to most UFC fans.
Wins over probable future Hall of Famers Rashad Evans, Tito Ortiz and BJ Penn have made people take notice, but still no one knows who he is.
Ask a casual fan, and they'll probably be able to give you some tidbits:
"He's that Karate guy that made Rashad Evans look like nothing."
"He's the guy who drinks his own urine."
"Didn't they name an era after him?"
While these bits of trivia are interesting, they're still just trivia. Nothing more.
Yes, Machida is an elusive, urine-drinking Karate master, but to reduce him to that is to ignore everything else about one of the most unique fighters in the sport.
Reintroducing Lyoto Machida
Even if you listen to MMA experts talk about Machida, much of the talk revolves around his elusive style.
Ever since he suffered a decisive defeat to Mauricio Rua (and a controversial defeat to Quinton Jackson), people have come to the conclusion that Machida's style has been found out.
Some chinks have been exposed in his armor—of that there's no doubt.
However, to say that his style has been solved is to answer a false question.
Yes, it's fair to say that Machida has a unique style, but he also has one of the best overall skill sets in the light heavyweight division.
Categorizing Machida's takedowns as simply judo, wrestling or karate is another slippery subject.
Machida is more than capable of hitting double-legs, upper-body-clinches and trips, but so much of what he does in the takedown department isn't just wrestling.
One of Machida's best takedowns involves a foot sweep following a lefthanded cross—he's pulled it off on numerous occasions.
Another one of Machida's takedowns involves purposely missing a punch, and throwing back the same arm to score a trip.
One of his more difficult takedowns to recognize is a trip where Machida crashes into his opponent's thigh. He was able to trip Jackson with it at the end of the second round, and almost pulled it off against both Thiago Silva and Mauricio Rua.
Don't be too quick to discredit Machida's sumo background.
Machida's opponents have tried to take him down with minimal success.
According to Fightmetric, Machida has one of the best takedown-defense success rates in UFC history, behind only Georges St-Pierre and Andrei Arlovski.
Underrated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Machida's BJJ may be one of the best parts of his game.
Better at grappling than most BJJ black belts, Machida owns a grappling win over Rafael Lovato Jr. and has never been out-grappled in MMA competition.
While Machida has just two submission wins to his name, he often sweeps, passes guard and gains dominant positions. Jackson and Sokoudjou had nothing to offer against Machida's top-game except for survival.
Nakamura, Heath and Hoger were all out-grappled in the UFC.
Machida has been put in submission peril just once in his career, against Tito Ortiz, and when that happened, he executed a difficult escape.
Style vs. Technique
The entire idea of neutralizing a style is a bit ridiculous, and it's the exact kind of thing that got Rashad Evans knocked out.
You can't fight against "elusiveness."
In order to defeat Machida, you need to stop his flying knees, double kicks, left crosses and everything else he can do.
Randy Couture can do some of those things.
Machida can be bullied a bit. He can be held against the fence, he can beaten in dirty-boxing exchanges. The fact that Machida is comfortable in the clinch occasionally leaves him open to trips.
However, if Couture is going to beat Machida, he's going to need to beat the man, not just the elusiveness.
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