Lyoto Machida is a guy who has achieved a lot considering that he’s always been fighting guys that were a lot bigger than him. In fact, Lyoto began his career as a Heavyweight due to his affiliation with Japanese Pro Wrestling and MMA god, Antonio Inoki. At the time, Heavyweight MMA was the only “true” drawing weight class, the only one that mattered. So Inoki paraded Lyoto Machida around, called him the successor to Inoki’s strong style and even debuted Machida on a MMA/Pro Wrestling hybrid show that featured Josh Barnett on the card as well.
His debut was against journeyman Kengo Watanabe, a guy that would probably be fighting at Light Heavyweight today if he was interested in cutting weight. Lyoto won the decision victory over Watanabe, something which rose the ire of Inoki, delivering his patented “strong style slap” to Lyoto in an attempt to infuse him with the spirit to fight in a more exciting way. You could argue that it worked, as Lyoto’s next three fights were stoppages against solid Light Heavyweight and Middleweights fighting at Heavyweight, because that is what you did in Japan.
It wasn’t until he came to the United States in 2006 and left Antonio Inoki’s sideshow behind that he dropped down to Light Heavyweight, which resulted in him not having to cut much weight, or even consider weight that much. He was very naturally sitting a little above the weight limit, making him a smaller Light Heavyweight. With that being said, that helped him to go on an eight-fight tear through the UFC’s Light Heavyweight division, garnering him his first major championship in the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship with a stoppage over Rashad Evans. That all changed when he ran into Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, with them fighting in a closely-contested first fight, leading into a rematch that saw Shogun methodically pick Lyoto apart before gaining the stoppage.
Things have been a little spotty for Machida after that, as he dropped a highly-contested decision to Quinton Jackson, went on to knock out Randy Couture, got choked out cold by Jon Jones and, well, it’s safe to say that he saw mixed results. The truth was in the pudding for Lyoto Machida; he was a great fighter, but was a bit undersized for the weight class. This prompted the decision to move down to Middleweight, where he made his debut at this weekend against Mark Munoz.
It was a truly impressive performance. Mark Munoz is one of the rising stars in the Middleweight division, a guy that would have seen a title show by now if he didn’t run into Chris Weidman on his way to the top. Now Munoz faced another tough break while having to fight training partner Lyoto Machida, originally scheduled to be Michael Bisping in a fight that Munoz very much could have won.
Instead, Munoz was a part of what could be the beginning of a marvelous run for Lyoto Machida. Machida has finally embraced the American MMA standard of cutting weight, making size no longer an issue for him at Middleweight. This also means that his power, which has sometimes failed him at Light Heavyweight, could be something that other Middleweights will have to be concerned with. The head kick that he landed on Munoz was partially defended, but still did a scary amount of damage, putting Munoz down and out.
It was something that we’d never seen from Lyoto Machida before. He has always been a guy who is capable of scoring a knockout, but never in such a devastating fashion. I mean, this was prime Cro Cop kind of stuff that he was doling out here. Imagine what this could mean for the Middleweight division as a whole now? Especially with Lyoto willing to fight against Anderson Silva if Silva were to regain the Championship?
Lyoto Machida has found his natural weight class. What happens from here is up to him, but I get the impression that big things lie ahead for him.