MMA: Lyoto Mahida
October, 24, 2013
By Brett Okamoto
When it comes to former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, the elephant in the room also happens to be the best thing about him: his style.
On one hand, that ultra-conservative, point-based style is what carried him to UFC royalty in 2009. Machida has won 83 percent of his professional bouts because of it.
On the other, however, that same style is to blame for half of the total losses in his career.
Machida (19-4), who makes his middleweight debut against Mark Munoz this weekend at UFC Fight Night 30, believes he has really only lost twice -- to Mauricio Rua in 2010 and Jon Jones in 2011.
The other two, decision losses to Quinton Jackson and Phil Davis, Machida will very matter-of-factly tell you he won.
"To be honest, I just think I lost twice in my career," Machida told ESPN.com. "I didn’t lose to Quinton Jackson and I didn’t lose to Phil Davis."
Here's where the elephant in the room comes in. Anyone who watched those fights against Jackson and Davis will tell you that, at the very least, Machida had his opportunity to win but absolutely refused to pull the trigger.
As UFC president Dana White summed it up last week in Houston, "[Machida] is too conservative. You go out against these guys and that elusive, run-away style is never going to win."
So, what is Machida's reaction to that? The idea that this style, which he has utilized his entire life and won him a UFC title, is actually the reason he lost both those fights? Somewhat surprisingly, he agrees.
"Yeah, for sure," said Machida, when asked if he thought a lack of aggression cost him.
"I have to listen to my fans and to the critics. The fans, the media, everybody talks about it. I have to improve. I have to be more aggressive. I will try, for sure. On Saturday, we will see."
About midway through his UFC career, which began when he signed with the promotion in 2007, Machida's offensive output plummeted.
In his first seven fights in the Octagon, culminating in a 205-pound title fight in 2009, Machida produced a 7-0 record and landed 313 strikes in 83 total minutes. In the eight fights since, he has gone 4-4 and landed 180 strikes in 95 minutes.
His strikes landed per minute have dropped from 3.76 in those first seven fights to 1.88 in the eight most recent. You can blame that, to an extent, on facing better competition -- but Machida actually blames it on repetition.
There's a lot of video out there to break down Machida's style at this point. He says there is a chance opponents have picked up his tendencies.
"Maybe everybody studied my game," Machida said. "Maybe I was predictable after I won the belt. I've stayed less aggressive and the guys I'm fighting have studied and improved their game more than me."
Well, one way for Machida to be unpredictable in this new weight class is to be aggressive. It appeared he wanted to be more active in his most recent fight against Davis, but old habits die hard and he landed only 27 total strikes in 15 minutes.
Towering expectations still rest on Machida's shoulders. He's still the No. 5-ranked light heavyweight, according to ESPN.com. He's approximately a 3.5-1 favorite over Munoz (13-3), despite never having fought at 185 pounds before.
He is still, undoubtedly, a world-class martial artist -- but we can’t ignore, forever, the fact Machida is batting just .500 in the Octagon since winning the belt. He says his style has finally altered. We’ll see Saturday if he's telling the truth.
"I trained like that for this camp," Machida said. "I have tried to be more aggressive. I have tried to throw a lot punches and kicks -- move forward. Let’s see."