Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida has a long way to go if he ever wants to compete for a title again, but ruining Vitor Belfort's farewell fight is a good start to that end. Machida defeated Belfort via second-round knockout to kick off the main card of UFC 224 from Rio de Janeiro.
The fight definitely got off to an inauspicious start. With Machida in his trademark karate stance and Belfort hesitant to engage, it was largely a staring contest with the occasional strike glancing its target or hitting air.
It wasn't a fun round to score, but Sherdog saw the round for The Dragon:
In the second round, it looked like we were headed for more of the same until Machida unloaded a front kick that looked like it came from 2009 to end the fight in the blink of an eye.
The UFC showed the aftermath:
The internet was unsurprisingly impressed by Machida's highlight reel KO. Mike Bohn of MMAjunkie put it up there with The Dragon's best finishes. High praise:
Machida didn't miss out on the opportunity to call out who he'd like to see next in the Octagon. He had a special message for Michael "The Count" Bisping in his postfight interview:
Of course, this fight was marketed as Belfort's swan song throughout lead up to the bout and The Phenom delivered in that regard. He left his gloves in the Octagon to signify his walking away from the sport:
The win continues an unlikely winning streak for Machida as he put together back-to-back wins for the first time since beating Mark Munoz and Gegard Mousasi in 2013 and 2014.
The next goal for The Dragon is to fight with Donald Cerrone-esque regularity.
"My focus is to add another win to my record, and to go up the rankings," Machida said going into the bout, per Matt Erickson and Christian Stein of MMAjunkie. "I want to do four fights this year. Considering the breaks I plan to take, and how much time I'll have, I think it would be a good number of bouts. My goal is to earn my way to another (title shot)."
Earning his way to another title shot is awfully ambitious. He's already lost to most of the contenders in the division, and he is not far removed from a 1-4 stretch between 2014 and 2017.
While Machida still has dreams of being a contender once again, it would appear this is the end of the line for Belfort. The Phenom has talked about this being his last fight in the UFC throughout the lead-up but still doesn't want to use the term "retirement."
"Retiring is a guy who stays home and doesn't do anything and that's not Vitor Belfort," he said, per E. Spencer Kyteof UFC.com. "Vitor Belfort is a dreamer. Vitor Belfort is a doer. I'm in constant movement. There are so many things to do and so many things to accomplish in this sport. We need MMA in the Olympics. We need new rules. We need a lot of things to grow the sport and make it more mainstream. We've got so many things to do."
If this is truly the last time we see the legend fight in the Octagon, it will be the end to one of the most unique and memorable careers in the organization's history. The man has literally grown up in the Octagon fighting his first fight at UFC 12 in 1997 21 years ago.
In that time Belfort was one of the most fearsome finishers in the organization, going into his farewell fight tied with Anderson Silva for the most finishes with 14.
When you consider that 13 of those 14 finishes came in the first round, there has been no one who was as fierce a starter as Belfort in the history of the sport.
Hopefully, he'll be remembered more for being the rising star blitzing Tank Abbott in 1997 than he will be for the final incarnation we saw in the cage against an aging Machida.