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Chinzo Machida: MMA Hobbyist

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A conversation with what turns out to be an unlikely fighter ...

Photo by Esther Lin

Bellator 180 is one of the better circus cards combat sports fans will ever come across. It’s a phenomenally odd mix of everything you could get in an mixed martial arts (MMA) card. The Bellator.com “Prelims” undercard has no-name prospects and locals. The Spike TV card is curiously headlined by probably the most relevant — yet potentially dull and boring bout on the entire card — the Light Heavyweight title fight between Ryan Bader and Phil Davis. Finally, the pay-per-view (PPV) portion of the event has two more title fights, including a top-15ish fighter in Michael Chandler going up against essentially unknown prospect getting an enormous step up in competition in Brent Primus, and Welterweight champ Douglas Lima putting his belt on the line against a very respectable contender in Lorenz Larkin. There’s also Fedor Emelianenko facing off against his first legitimate opponent in six years, scary heavyweight Matt Mitrione. And, of course, there’s the pièce de résistance, Wanderlei Silva fighting Chael Sonnen.

Again, this is 2017.

However, one of the most fascinating matches is the one between 40-year-old Chinzo Machida and the literally half-his-age James Gallagher, a 20-year old undefeated grappling specialist.

In particular, I got to have a conversation with Chinzo at Bellator’s Media day over at Viacom’s headquarters in midtown Manhattan. The first thing I asked him was why he’s spent so much time between most of his fights? In fairness, he’s on a fairly solid two-fights-per-year schedule as of late, but Saturday will mark the first time in his career that started in 2005 (!) that he will have fought twice in the same calendar year.

As it turns out, he just had other things he wanted to do. For a professional fighter to say this is, quite frankly, it’s almost crazy.

A common saying in fighting is you’re either all the way in, or all the way out. It’s been used to describe both fighting styles as well as a fighter’s career. People generally don’t casually participate, much less succeed in MMA unless it’s their full-time commitment. Dana White loves to say “if you’re thinking about not fighting, then you probably shouldn’t be fighting.” On the other hand, there’s Chinzo Machida.

What could make a man who fights professionally just put that on the back burner, to be dabbled in occasionally? Karate. His karate school, karate competitions and early on in his career, helping his brother show that Machida Karate could defeat MMA fighters.

A hell of a take on the Gracie story, right? As a kid watching the early Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) events, most young men with a visceral reaction went “I want to learn that and be the best at that”. Lyoto, with Chinzo’s help, did the opposite. He wanted to do what the Gracie clan had done, but for karate.

But getting back to Chinzo, his focus has mostly been on teaching. And oddly enough, not the point-karate that the Machida brothers often get painted with. Analysts have been using these comps, mostly on the more famous Lyoto, for years. But with Chinzo, the focus was on fighting techniques that were better suited to real world self defense. Speaking derisively of point-competition tournaments, Chinzo specifically noted some of the little bits about how that wasn’t what karate used to be.

“You use an elbow now and its Muay Thai,” the elder Machida told me. “Knees, hooks, uppercuts. All effective, but not what people think of karate.” This is the man who owns possibly the best flying knee knockout in the history of the sport.

But, with Bellator giving him a big platform in which to show off his wares, he’s been more than happy to focus more on MMA. While he seems to be approaching the thought of a future title fight with what seems to be an “it will be nice if I get it” attitude, I would also say it’s a realistic stance, as he seems to know that his nascent career is probably not long, given his age. He is hopeful that a spectacular performance on Spike might catapult him into title contention, and given the odd state of Bellator’s 145-pound division, that is a distinct possibility.

Pretty great success for a man who views MMA as more of a hobby, especially when his profession is teaching karate.

Bellator 180 Press Conference