Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweight number one contender, Lyoto Machida, stands just one win away from becoming a hall of fame mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter.
As well as one loss from becoming ... well, nothing.
That's the cold, hard reality in today's fight game, which has not only grown exponentially, but also flooded the market with countless names and faces.
It's easy to get lost in the crowd.
That means yesterday's champion is today's gatekeeper, unless of course, this old dog has some new tricks come Saturday night (July 5, 2014), when Machida challenges Chris Weidman for the 185-pound strap inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Who is Lyoto Machida, exactly?
To the purist, he's everything that is right about martial arts. You know, walk softly/big stick kinda thing. He's respectful toward his opponents, carries himself like a gentleman outside the cage, and performs admirably when called upon by the powers that be.
Is there a more disciplined fighter? The man drinks his own urine for Pete's sake.
But how history will remember the unassuming Brazilian depends largely on his "Sin City" exploits. Once touted as the future of combat sports -- to the point where he was awarded his own "era" -- the karate-chopping "Dragon" was snuffed out after just one title defense.
In less than two years, Machida had gone from 16-0 to just 1-3, with devastating losses to both Mauricio Rua and Jon Jones. "Shogun" stripped him of the title in 2010, and "Bones" made sure he wouldn't get It back in 2011. The 205-pound division, it would seem, was no longer the shooting gallery in was back in 2009.
Still, there was something about him...
An appalling decision loss to Phil Davis in late 2013 finally, mercifully, sent Machida to a more comfortable home of 185 pounds, where he would make his middleweight debut against the plodding but physically imposing Mark Munoz. It took about three minutes to put the Filipino into outer space.
Not bad for one month's notice.
The spectacular head kick knockout had the fan base buzzing again, as a slim and trim "Dragon" was able to whip his tail at nearly twice the speed. Not long after, the promotion would task Gegard Mousasi with debugging Machida 2.0 in enemy territory.
"The Dreamcatcher," an accomplished veteran with pistons for hands, meandered about the cage for 25 minutes in Brazil, bewildered at his own inability to land a punch. Machida's speed and fabled elusiveness -- more myth than maxim -- was being documented as fact across five continuous rounds.
A title shot wasn't probable, it was inevitable.
Of course, he had a little help from Vitor Belfort, who tripped over his own test tube en route to a championship showdown in Las Vegas. With "The Phenom" out of the picture and Weidman taking an extended break to have his legs sewn back together, the stars aligned for the man who would be king.
But Machida is not wearing the crown just yet.
Opposing him is Weidman, a skilled collegiate wrestler and a frightening representation of what the next generation of MMA will produce. Not content to just dump and hump his way to the scorecards, the "All American" is re-writing the book on hand-to-hand combat, with his unparalleled confidence and fuck you-approach to striking.
And he's already toppled the Blackhouse capodecina.
But the higher the risk, the higher the reward. If Machida is to become a two-division champion on Saturday night, he's going to do it by overcoming the best the sport has to offer. That's the sort of triumph that will define a career, while setting a direct course for the promotion's Valhalla.
If not, it's back into general population to finish out a career that was good, but could have been great.