On Jan. 31, 2009, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) presented one of the most successful events in the promotion's history.
At the time, UFC 94 was the fourth highest buyrate in UFC history with just a shade less than one million paying customers and still remains in the top 10 today. Most of that success can be attributed to the main event, a Welterweight Championship rematch between Georges St. Pierre and former champion B.J. Penn in a fight that would set the stage for the 170-pound division in the years that followed.
But, there was another fight that night that also played as much importance in its own weight class. A 205-pound clash between Lyoto Machida and Thiago Silva was touted as a number one contender's bout with the winner taking on the newly-minted champion Rashad Evans. Both Brazilians stepped inside the Octagon with perfect (13-0) records, each enjoying healthy UFC winning streaks.
Silva, like his namesake would imply, was a vicious Muay Thai practitioner and had literally forced his last opponent to give up due to his unrelenting striking attack. In summation, he was known for knocking his opponents out.
Machida was much more methodical and cerebral inside the cage, known for his elusive style that frustrated and ultimately thwarted his opponents. Despite his successful career, he was not -- unlike his opponent -- known for putting opponents to sleep.
That would change at UFC 94.
Let's dive in:
Silva makes his intentions known immediately by staking claim to the center of the Octagon while Machida, comfortable in the role of the counter striker, obliges.
A high kick from "The Dragon" is blocked, but he charges forward twice with single punches before following up with an inside leg kick. He then leaps forward with the same running knee that took down Tito Ortiz at UFC 84 and adds a kick to Silva's body for good measure.
A hook from Silva misses and the two clinch up after Machida lands one of his own. After a low blow stoppage, "The Dragon" executes a beautiful foot sweep that drops Silva to his back. He quickly gets back to his feet and the physical damage seems minimal, but psychologically, the takedown may have Silva questioning himself.
It doesn't help that seconds later, Machida lands another brutal knee to Silva's ribcage, forcing him to reel back. A short hook right on Silva's chin drops him to the mat where "The Dragon" attempts to punish him with ground and pound. A little bit of "Ali-Inoki" later and Machida drops back down into Silva's guard. Nothing of consequence lands and the two return to their feet.
But, just as quickly, a rapid-fire two punch combination from Machida puts the Sao Carlos native on his back for the third time in as many minutes. "The Dragon" reigns down ground and pound, transitioning to sidemount and then finally to full mount before getting bucked off by Silva.
With less than one minute remaining, Machida once again drops to deliver hammerfists and punches. They return to their feet and clinch up against the cage, each jockeying for position. Silva manages to switch positions on his opponent, forcing Machida against the chain-link.
There, the former champion fights off a takedown attempt from Silva and lands an uppercut before tossing his opponent to the mat. Like a heat-seeking missile, his fist finds its target in Silva's jaw, rendering the Brazilian unconscious. A second punch gives the referee all the reason he needs to stop the bout at 4 minutes and 59 seconds into the opening heat.
With a literal last second knockout, Machida earned himself a crack at Rashad Evans' title. Four months and a little less than two rounds later, "The Dragon" scored a second consecutive knockout and with it, the UFC 205-pound crown.
Since that point, he's gone 2-3 with losses to Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson and Jon Jones. In fact, this Saturday will be the Brazilian's first fight since his failing bid to regain the Light Heavyweight Championship from "Bones" last December.
Can he regain his championship form against "Darth"? Or is the "Machida Era" truly over?