Despite all the wars, despite all the exhausting days of training, despite the unfair drug suspension, Lyoto Machida has remained optimistic. Still baby-faced at nearly 40, Machida insists he harbors few doubts.
It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly nine full years since he won the UFC light heavyweight championship. He ran his MMA record to 15-0 on May 23, 2009, when he knocked out Rashad Evans in the second round of their bout at UFC 98 in Las Vegas to win the title.
It seemed appropriate to believe we’d just witnessed the start of The Machida Era.
“Good memories,” he says, softly, of those days.
With a controversial, but successful, defense of his belt against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 104, Machida was 16-0 and en route to becoming one of the sport’s biggest stars.
He’s 6-8 in his 14 fights since, though, and improbable as it may seem, he may need a win on Saturday in Belem, Brazil, over former Alabama linebacker Eryk Anders in order to avoid the ignominy of being cut.
He’s lost three in a row and four of his last five, and hasn’t won since stopping C.B. Dollaway in 62 seconds on Dec. 20, 2014.
Machida, though, is not panicked. He isn’t worried about being cut. All he’s worried about is eliminating the mistakes that have plagued him recently and performing against Anders the way he has throughout camp.
“I don’t believe that I’ll [be cut with a loss], but I don’t think about losing, anyway,” Machida said. “We all have our hard moments as well as our good moments. I know how to handle it. This will pass. Good things are still coming. I believe in myself and I believe in my team. I have to deal with what has happened, but I know how to escape from all of this.”
By all of this, he means the four losses to Derek Brunson, Yoel Romero, Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman in his last five fights, as well as the hysteria they’ve generated.
A fighter develops confidence from success, both on game night and in practice, by repeatedly coming out on top even in adverse situations.
That confidence, that belief that you can overcome all obstacles, is hard to break once it hits a certain point. And that is where Machida is even though he’s an under-.500 fighter in this decade.
“I’ve committed some mistakes technically and they have cost me,” he said. “Those things happened and I have to accept that, but I still believe I have a lot of things to do in this sport. I feel like I’m still young and I’m still able to overcome what has happened and be the fighter everyone thought I once was.”
Anders is undefeated, though not nearly as highly regarded at this point as the men Machida has been facing. Still, he’s hungry and probably sees Machida as a steppingstone toward bigger and better things.
So, in a way, both men are fighting for the same reason. Machida calls Anders a “well-rounded fighter” and a hard hitter, but says, “he has nothing special, no ability you would call special, but he’s a dangerous guy because he hits hard and has a lot of confidence.”
Machida has a lot on his plate dealing with Anders, a still-developing fighter who is physically gifted and supremely confident.
He will also have to do it without a lot of cage time. He fought Romero on June 27, 2015. The only time he’s had in the cage since – come fight night, it will be two years, seven months and seven days – was the 150 seconds he was in against Brunson on Oct. 28.
It’s not a lot of time, but Machida, perhaps predictably, feels it’s simply an obstacle to overcome.
“I don’t believe in ring rust, and unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to showcase my ability as much recently,” he said. “I am sure it won’t affect my performance because I believe in what I have done. In these eight weeks [of training camp], I have done things the right way and put in the work. I believe you will see the result of that on [Saturday].”