Posted by Dave Walsh on July 29th, 2008
I was watching the fantastic Margarito vs. Cotto fight on Saturday, and all of the talk surrounding Margarito was that nobody wants to fight him. He has an aura around him as a legit tough contender that can damage a money-making reputation. This brought up one name in my head, one fighter in MMA that fits that profile: Lyoto Machida. Lyoto is a fighter that has, in just a short amount of time, made quite a name for himself. Right now, the name is one that high level competition are flat out looking to avoid right now. Lyoto has always had an aura around him, always been met with a certain degree of hype, only to then confuse both fighters and fans.
I remember New Japan Pro Wrestling and Inoki hyping up the debut of the mysterious LYOTO. For those that (luckily) aren’t in the know when it comes to the sordid history of New Japan Pro Wrestling, Antonio Inoki was able to take a company that was incredibly influential to the world of MMA in Japan to a company obsessed with trying to compete with modern MMA, as pro wrestling had been exposed as inferior to MMA. In Inoki’s mind, pro wrestling was just as strong — or stronger — than Mixed Martial Arts. I could write for days on this subject, but instead, I will focus on where LYOTO fits into the picture. Lyoto was Inoki’s hand picked successor to his throne of Japanese fighting star. He was under Inoki’s control, trained where Inoki wanted him to train and only fought on Inoki-approved events.
A New Japan Pro Wrestling card would be LYOTO’s professional Mixed Martial Arts debut. The confusion of placing sanctioned Mixed Martial Arts bouts on a pro wrestling card, in a night featuring pro wrestlers vs. pro fighters in both pro wrestling and MMA bouts was immense. If anything, this fits right into Dave Meltzer’s world view of pro wrestling and MMA being the “same.” LYOTO made his debut against the less-than-game Kengo Watanabe, who had a decent record against pro wrestlers like Dos Caras Jr. and Tomohiko Hashimoto, but mixed against actual competition. LYOTO came in to tons of hype and fanfare, months of mysterious Inoki-led hype of LYOTO being the best fighter in the world and then dragged out a decision against Kengo. While a win is a win, especially in a pro fighter’s debut, LYOTO was met with a hard slap to the face by Inoki, as well as two straight punches on live Japanese television for lacking “fighting spirit.” This was not what Inoki was looking for. Lyoto was not the fighter that he was supposed to be.
This slap and public barrage of insults proved to be a bittersweet and telling beginning to Lyoto Machida’s career. One could say it motivated the careful and cerebral Machida in his next 3 fights, where he cut Stephan Bonnar under the eye bad enough to stop the bout in Inoki’s first Jungle Fight event, then a rather brutal TKO of the now former UFC Middleweight Champion, Rich Franklin, and finally a guillotine choke of Michael McDonald in a K-1 show (Inoki and NJPW, at the time, had a good working relationship with K-1). Out of Lyoto’s next 9 wins, 7 have been via decision, with huge wins over and undersized BJ Penn, Kazuhiro Nakamura and Tito Ortiz.
It wasn’t until 2006 when Lyoto broke free of Inoki (Inoki’s Management Company went under, Inoki was somewhat bankrupt), signed with the WFA, which was later bought out by Zuffa, landing Lyoto Machida in the UFC. Lyoto has yet to lose in his career, and looks unstoppable due to his defensive counter-striking style, careful approach and amazing ability. While one would think being as talented as he is, this would lead to nothing but good. Our own Tom has placed Machida in the #1 spot in the 205lbs Rankings, but for Lyoto it is lonely at the top.
Before Rampage and Griffin faced off, both men made it clear that they were not interested in fighting Lyoto Machida. Griffin was originally slated to face Machida at UFC70, but came down with a case of staph infection, so he pulled out of the fight. If Machida/Griffin had happened as planned, who knows what the Light Heavyweight landscape in the UFC would look like right now. Griffin even stated before the Rampage fight; “I want nothing to do with that guy. Not at all. He’s a tough fighter and I’d like to fight a lot of other guys first.” Dave Meltzer, in a recent issue of the Wrestling Observer has even stated that the UFC is having a hard time finding suitable opponents for Lyoto Machida, as the higher-level fighters will not accept a match against him due to his unorthodox style.
What it comes down to is, most of the fighters in the 205lbs division seem to have a fear of fighting Machida. It isn’t a fear of fighting a beast like Fedor, or even the fear boxer Antonio Margarito receives, being ducked by names like Mayweather and De La Hoya, but instead one of simply losing to a fighter they do not understand. Although, much like Antonio Margarito, Lyoto Machida will see his day in the sun, when he finally gets his shot at some more high level competition. Until then, we have to deal with Lyoto Machida vs. a good, but not great Thiago Silva in October. I think one thing that is certain, as long as Lyoto Machida keeps fighting the way that he does, he will make Inoki want to slap himself for eventually letting Machida out of his grasp, much like he did with Brock Lesnar.