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Lyoto Machida's Crushing KO Loss to Derek Brunson Stokes Fears About His Future

Chad Dundas@@chaddundasMMA Lead WriterOctober 29, 2017

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 28:  (L-R) Derek Brunson celebrates after defeating Lyoto Machida of Brazil in their middleweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside the Ibirapuera Gymnasium on October 28, 2017 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

They say sometimes in combat sports, you show up one night and you're just too old.

For Lyoto Machida, the process has perhaps been more gradual than that, but the end result no less sobering.

That was the impression left by Saturday's first-round knockout loss to Derek Brunson in the main event of UFC Fight Night 119 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

It was meant to be a homecoming of sorts for Machida, the first time the 39-year-old former light heavyweight champion had fought in Brazil since a December 2014 victory over CB Dollaway. Instead, Brunson stunned an announced crowd of 10,265 into silence with a thunderous left hook just shy of two minutes, 30 seconds into the event's featured attraction.

The sight of Machida's body crashing prone to the canvas ended another of the UFC's notoriously raucous trips to Brazil on a somber note:

Ben Fowlkes @benfowlkesMMA

And there's that sad ending for Machida we feared we'd see.

Heidi Fang @HeidiFang

My mouth is literally wide open because Brunson just slept Machida. I did expect that result, but it got me staring stunned at the computer.

JustBleedMMA @JustBleedMMA

Me this morning: Nice! Can't wait to see Machida back in the octagon! Me now: #UFCSaoPaulo https://t.co/JLvqHZPxhv

For his part, Brunson sounded nearly as shocked at the result, but he said he started fast because he didn't want to take the chance of handing this fight to the judges in Machida's home country.

"I did not expect a quick finish, but I knew I didn't want to leave it to decision," Brunson said in a release. "I like Brazil, this was a great experience. The fans supported him, I wouldn't expect differently. But they could not enter the Octagon, so it didn't make a difference at the end of the day."

Now begins the process of sorting through the ashes to see what might be left for Machida to do inside the Octagon just a few months away from turning 40 years old.

He came into this fight mired in a 1-3 slump. This bout also marked his return from a controversial 18-month suspension after failing a UFC drug test for an over-the-counter dietary supplement.

Machida said prior to meeting Brunson that the suspension had actually been a positive development for him. He said it allowed him to rest, recharge and change some aspects of his training.

Once the fight began, however, he looked anything but recharged.

Since arriving in the Octagon in 2007, Machida blazed a trail based on his unique karate-based striking style. He prioritized agility, elusiveness and counterpunching over the straight-ahead slugging of many of his peers.

The unorthodox approach powered him to a 15-0 start to his career, which included winning the 205-pound title from Rashad Evans via second-round KO at UFC 98 in May 2009. Fast-forward almost a decade and it's appropriate to say Machida was ahead of his time, now that fighters like Conor McGregor and Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson are employing many of the same techniques.

But all along there were questions about how his style would age.

There were times when he appeared devastating, crafting six KO wins in the UFC—including both the highlight-reel Evans KO and a crane-kick stoppage of Randy Couture at UFC 129 in April 2011.

In other instances, Machida's patient, prowling style receded into listlessness. Five of his first eight fights in the Octagon went to decision. Later he would drop lackluster judges verdicts to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Phil Davis and Chris Weidman.

Machida wards off a kick from Phil Davis in their fight in 2013.
Machida wards off a kick from Phil Davis in their fight in 2013.Felipe Dana/Associated Press

Occasionally, it felt as though his stoic demeanor and careful approach led him to give away rounds, sometimes fights. Given that it was based almost entirely on his athleticism, his ability to avoid his opponent's attacks and then land his own, observers wondered how Machida would hold up as he trudged into his mid-to-late 30s.

Now we know that those concerns were well-placed.

The Brunson knockout was Machida's third straight stoppage loss and came in the wake of a third-round knockout by Yoel Romero in June 2015. Since dropping to middleweight after the Davis loss in 2013, Machida has gone a middling 3-4 and let's just say the performances aren't getting any more competitive.

Against Brunson, Machida came out of his corner looking flat-footed and a step slow. He managed to avoid some of his 33-year-old American opponent's initial strikes, even landing his own left hand or two during the fight's initial exchanges.

Machida lands a left on Brunson in the early going.
Machida lands a left on Brunson in the early going.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

But as the opening round approached its halfway point, Machida attempted to counter a pawing right while the two traded swings near the middle of the cage. Brunson slipped Machida's punch and fired a winging left hook over the top that caught him flush on the jaw.

As Machida stumbled away, Brunson landed another left—this one around the temple—that put Machida down on all fours. The Brazilian still had his wits about him, but as he attempted to scramble to guard, Brunson fired a half-dozen more lefts. The third one found Machida's jaw again.

This time it knocked him cold.

The quiet that filled the Ginasio do Ibirapuera arena was compounded by the fact that in the previous fight, the crowd had witnessed Colby Covington defeat Sao Paolo native Demian Maia via unanimous decision and then take some swipes at Brazilian fans and their country in his post-fight interview.

Make no mistake, though, it wasn't pretty to see Machida lying there like that.

The Brunson loss marks the first time Machida has been defeated by an opponent who is neither a UFC champion nor unilaterally regarded as an elite contender.

Derek Brunson celebrates his win over Machida.
Derek Brunson celebrates his win over Machida.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Brunson came into the contest No. 7 in the UFC's official rankings and was the slight favorite, according to OddsShark, but since coming to the Octagon from Strikeforce in 2012, his career has been a mix of highs and lows.

Count this victory as his best yet.

Brunson is 7-2 since 2014 and has put back-to-back wins after consecutive losses to current interim champ Robert Whittaker and all-time great Anderson Silva.

When it was over, he used his time on the mic to call out another returning former champion.

"Luke Rockhold, what's up, baby?” Brunson said to UFC commentator Daniel Cormier in the cage. "Where you at? Let's run this."

For Machida, however, the loss only heightens concerns about how the aging former champ will fare moving forward.

In the UFC, the point when a fighter should start to consider hanging up their gloves and when they actually do often don't intersect. Here's hoping Machida can take an unorthodox approach to that situation as well.