In late 2007, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight division was in chaos.
Longtime champion Chuck Liddell, not long after being unseated by Quinton Jackson, had come up on the wrong end of a split-decision loss to Keith Jardine. On the other side of the bracket, Tito Ortiz failed to get past Rashad Evans, while Forrest Griffin shocked the mixed martial arts (MMA) world by choking out Mauricio Rua.
Everything we thought we knew about the kings of 205 pounds was wrong.
Or at the very least, changing.
It was the dawn of a new era in combat sports, thanks to the ZUFFA buyout of PRIDE FC, which helped set the stage for a bevy of marquee signings, including the red-hot Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, who six years ago, was Brazil's most wanted man.
The Cameroonian killer was fresh off back-to-back knockout wins over International superstars Ricardo Arona and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who at the time, were ranked in the top 10 of their division. Sokoudjou needed less than three minutes to jaw-jack them both.
Riding the strength of those two performances, the accomplished judo practitioner had the fight world buzzing when it was announced that he would be making his Octagon debut at UFC 79, scheduled for Dec. 29, 2007 inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Not surprisingly, he would be facing a Brazilian.
His name was Lyoto Machida.
Not much was known about "The Dragon," other than he was "that guy who smashed Rich Franklin in Japan." Unfortunately, any buzz Machida had coming off his destruction of "Ace" had dissipated in the face of three straight unanimous decision wins following his ZUFFA debut against Sam Hoger at UFC 67.
That's because the smash-mouth world of UFC had no patience for an elusive fighter like Machida, who was able to successfully integrate his karate style into MMA. At the time, it made him the least-hit fighter in the sport, something Sokoudjou was tasked with changing on the "Nemesis" main card.
But you know what they say about the best laid plans.
In 11 wins, Machida had just one victory by way of submission, so despite his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, not many fans were anticipating a ground war. Those who did, expected it to be initiated by Sokoudjou, who was adept at using judo as his "Plan B."
Sounded good on paper.
After growing tired of chasing his foe around the Octagon, Sokoudjou got overly-aggressive and found himself on his ass by way of sneaky counterpunch. Providing him little time to recover, "The Dragon" attacked with submissions from side control and eventually brought an end to the contest by way of arm-triangle choke.
"The African Assassin" would split his next two fights and then set sail for greener pastures, but was forced to settle for a mediocre record of 9-9.
The Brazilian, meanwhile, won his next two fights, prior to obliterating Rashad Evans to claim the 205-pound strap. While it would not become "The Machida Era," as UFC color commentator Joe Rogan suggested, it did lead to an eventual drop to middleweight.
That spelled bad news for Mark Munoz.
Now, just like he was in early 2009, Machida is perhaps one fight away from challenging for a division title. Standing in his way is Strikeforce import and fellow ex-champion Gegard Mousasi, who joins him in the UFC Fight Night 36 main event this Saturday night (Feb. 15, 2014) in Brazil.
And the "Armenian Assassin" knows a thing or two about disposing of Cameroonians.