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With a 1-3 record in his last four appearances, former Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder Lyoto Machida needs a win -- and preferably one that is decisive in nature.
Machida will take on countryman Vitor Belfort in a three-round middleweight feature at UFC 224 on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro. Belfort has announced previously that he plans to retire following the fight, win, lose or draw. Both men remained in the top 15 in the latest UFC rankings at 185 pounds, Belfort at No. 9 and Machida at No. 12.
Before Machida steps into the cage with “The Phenom,” here are five moments that have come to define him during his stellar career:
Machida faced Rich Franklin on New Year’s Eve in 2003 and knocked out the future UFC middleweight champion at a regional event in Kobe, Japan. It might not have mattered all that much at the time, but the win undoubtedly spurred Machida’s confidence in what was his third pro appearance. Franklin entered their encounter 14-0 with one no-contest.
Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou was a world-class judoka with massive punching power who had streaked across the Pride Fighting Championships sky in 2007 with back-to-back knockouts of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona. Some saw him as a threat to Machida at UFC 79, but the Brazilian had other plans. Superb lateral movement and precise counterstriking were the weapons of choice for “The Dragon,” who later engaged Sokoudjou on the ground and worked his way to a fight-ending triangle choke 4:20 into the second round.
Signs of Aggression
Machida has long been criticized for his conservative approach, and there were real questions about his power and ability to hang with more offensive-minded fighters as he moved toward his clash with Thiago Silva at UFC 94. There were no such questions about Silva, who was 13-0 with 12 finishes at the time of their confrontation. Silva brought out a different side of “The Dragon,” and before the first round was up, Machida had silenced his critics and his counterpart lay motionless on the canvas.
The UFC 98 main event was not your everyday clash of undefeated fighters. At stake was the UFC light heavyweight championship held by Rashad Evans. Machida’s astonishing command of range forced Evans to stray from his game plan. While “The Ultimate Fighter 2” winner had a good grasp of distance and timing, it was not enough to unlock the mystery that was Machida. In the second round, “The Dragon” unleashed a flurry of punches for a clean knockout and captured the undisputed light heavyweight title.
Real-Life Karate Kid
When Machida faced former two-division champion Randy Couture at UFC 129, a record crowd witnessed a rarity. A little more than a minute into the second round, “The Dragon” connected with a jumping front kick, ala Daniel LaRusso, and sent a legend crashing into retirement. More than 55,000 fans were on hand at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, as Machida brought “The Karate Kid” franchise to life.
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