Things were going just swimmingly for Rich Franklin.
The former math teacher out of Oak Hills High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, was undefeated in his burgeoning mixed martial arts (MMA) career, racking up a perfect 14-0 record with one no contest, including a flawless 3-0 for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
In fact, "Ace" had finished all 14 of his wins by way of submission or knockout and had only left the first round on two occasions. With a well-rounded balance of wrestling, striking and jiu-jitsu, the 29-year-old fighter out of Team Extreme was widely-regarded as one of the sport's brightest prospects, on the fast track to a division title.
Lyoto Machida, it seems, did not get the memo.
The unheralded Brazilian was just two fights into his professional career and was, understandably, a sizable underdog against his more experienced opponent. Aside from slicing and dicing a young Stephan Bonnar -- two years before "The American Psycho" was to make history against Forrest Griffin on The Ultimate Fighter -- there wasn't much to go on when it came to a scouting report.
"The Dragon" was a mystery.
His relationship with famed Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki, however, awarded him prime real estate on the Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2003 event on Dec. 31 at the Kobe Wing Stadium in Kobe, Japan. The event -- notorious for its star power -- also featured bouts involving international icons Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett, among others.
Inclusion in this year-end festival was kind of a big deal.
Machida did not disappoint. Getting introduced by "Veteran Voice of the Octagon," Bruce Buffer, in what can only be described as combat sports foreshadowing, the Shotokan karate master entered the ring (no cage in Japan) at a svelte 214 pounds.
The same as Franklin.
"Ace" barreled out of the gate with a measured aggression in round one, but found his Brazilian counterpart unusually difficult to track down. As he would prove throughout his career, you can't hit what you can't catch. Undaunted, Franklin charged in with reckless abandon and tied him up in the corner of the ring.
That's where "The Dragon" floored him with a standing takedown.
Machida let him up with a minute left in the round, only to plant Franklin on his ass with a wicked straight left. "Ace" crashed to the canvas, befuddled, but held on to make it out of the round in one piece. Unfortunately, he would not be able to say the same in the second stanza.
Franklin was never out of the fight and found some margin of success on the feet; however, every action had a rapid reaction, and the future 185-pound kingpin was unprepared for the sort of precision Machida possessed in his counterstrikes. A flurry of Brazilian bombs sealed the deal at the 1:03 mark of round two.
"Ace" was undefeated no more.
Following his impressive performance, Machida would go on to win his next five fights, including a three-round laugher against a bloated B.J. Penn under the K-1 "Hero's" banner in Japan. The UFC brass had seen enough of the elusive striker and signed him to its roster in early 2007.
After a torrid 8-0 run inside the Octagon, which included a light heavyweight title win over Rashad Evans at UFC 98, "The Dragon" fell on hard times, coughing up his crown to Mauricio Rua and limping to a 3-4 record over his next seven fights. It was clearly time for a change.
Like Franklin before him, Machida is hoping to find he's better suited at 185 pounds. Or, if nothing else, at least a lot bigger than some of his opponents. That includes longtime division stalwart Mark Munoz, who greets his former training partner in his new home this Saturday (Oct. 26, 2013) in the main event of UFC Fight Night 30 on FOX Sports 2 in Manchester, England.
Switching weight classes is often a risky proposition; uncharted waters if you will. Lyoto could mark the beginning of the Machida era, unless the weight cut has an adverse effect, in which case it will more likely be remembered as the Machida error.
We'll find out in two days.
For a historical look at the "Filipino Wrecking Machine" ahead of this weekend's festivities across the pond, click here.