Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
Long before Jon Jones became king of the light heavyweight mountain, Lyoto Machida would rule the 205-pound roost with a perfect 14-0 record and elusive (but deadly) style, one that ushered in the short-lived 'Machida Era.'
By the time he stepped foot inside the Octagon as Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight number one contender, enigmatic karateka Lyoto Machida already boasted wins over three former UFC champions, including Rich Franklin, B.J. Penn and Tito Ortiz.
And he knocked out Stephan Bonnar just for shits and giggles.
Little was known about the Brazilian's true potential following his ZUFFA debut in early 2007 and despite a cool-sounding nickname like "The Dragon," he failed to light a fire under the asses of mixed martial arts (MMA) fans, thanks to three consecutive unanimous decision wins over mediocre competition.
In short, he was boring.
Most of his fights were heavy on footwork and light on action. Opponents found it difficult to engage the fleet-footed urine drinker and outside of a submission win over power-punching Cameroonian Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, there was little reason to expect anything different when he went head-to-head with another undefeated Brazilian in Thiago Silva.
Machida was a -260 favorite heading into their UFC 94 co-main event.
If a knockout was coming, most expected it to be from Silva, who was also 13-0, but ended 12 of his 13 wins by way of violent finish -- nine in the first round. But, as is often the case in combat sports, what's predicted can often be the exact opposite of what transpires.
Silva was knocked clean out with just one second left in the first round at the same event that featured a 21-year-old Jon Jones making his mark against "The American Psycho" in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Now, the only thing that stood between Machida and the 205-pound strap was Rashad Evans. The former Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 2 champion had abandoned his post at heavyweight to test his might in the 205-pound class.
"Suga" knocked out Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin en route to the division's summit, thanks to a volatile combination of speed and power. Despite those credentials, the champion still entered his main event title fight against Machida, held at UFC 98 on May 23, 2009 in "Sin City," as a +150 underdog.
Referee Mario Yamasaki gets the action underway and there will be no touch of gloves as Evans bobs and weaves before getting on his merry-go-round and circling left. Machida creeps in with a wide stance, hands held high. Neither fighter appears to be in any kind of hurry to close the distance.
A full minute goes by with no action and the boo birds begin to take flight.
Evans telegraphs a low kick that sails wide. Another minute expires and that's the only offense to speak of. "This is a battle of patience," explains UFC color commentator Joe Rogan. Before broadcast partner and play-by-play man Mike Goldberg can expound, Machida uncorks a left high kick that sends Evans in reverse and right into the fence.
"Suga" retaliates with his version of the E. Honda hundred-hand slap.
Seconds tick away as the champion paws at the lead hand of Machida, who cracks him with a body kick. Evans fires back with one of his own and just misses being swept by the challenger. Another kick from "The Dragon" and they briefly tie up but then push off and reset.
With 60 seconds left to fight in the opening frame, Machida opens up and floors him with a left to the kisser. Evans tries to scramble but the Brazilian is in beserker mode, unloading with ground and pound and looking to finish. The champion finds his feet and returns himself to the upright position, but is on rubber legs.
Machida chases him around the cage with kicks before time expires and Evans will live to see another round.
At the start of the second stanza, the crowd erupts into an impromptu chant of 'MACHIDA! MACHIDA!' The new king of Las Vegas thanks them with a hard kick to the body followed by a deceptively quick body lock that drives Evans into the cage.
"The Dragon" pushes off and Evans nearly connects with an uppercut.
They meet in the center and Machida unleashes a furious combo, but is forced to retreat when the champion proves he can give as good as he gets. The challenger resets and they exchange body kicks. The clock moves at a snails pace as Rogan explains the history of karate.
Then, disaster strikes.
Evans tries to close the distance and Machida takes his legs from him with a left to the chin. "Suga" gets back to his feet on mere instinct and falls backwards into the cage with the challenger in pursuit. "The Dragon" ends the fight with a violent flurry that stiffens his prey, stripping him of the belt in the process.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Machida era," exclaims Rogan.
While it would prove to be more error than era, with a 3-3 record following the highlight of his career, the Brazilian can once again try to reclaim the throne by defeating fellow top contender Dan Henderson, who will make his own case for a 205-pound title shot in the co-main event of UFC 157 this Saturday night (Feb. 23, 2013) in Anaheim, California.
Will it be the dawn of a new "Era?"