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Lyoto Machida has been in Madison Square Garden before – but not as a competitor.
He cornered his brother, Chinzo Machida, at the hallowed venue for Bellator 180 when the California-based promotion held its inaugural event in New York City after the ban on mixed martial arts had been lifted. “The Dragon” will have both his brother and father in his corner for his headlining fight against Chael Sonnen when Bellator returns to New York on June 14.
“It means a lot to me, man,” Machida said. “I’ve never fought in Madison Square Garden, or even in New York. We saw it in the movies…and now we’ll be there as part of the game, part of this big platform that is Bellator.”
Machida is respectfully cautious against Sonnen, as he considers his opponent to be a well-rounded mixed martial artist. During Tuesday’s press conference, Sonnen alluded to Machida’s past wins against high-caliber wrestlers like Dan Henderson and Randy Couture. While Sonnen holds those fighters in high regard, Machida sees the West Linn, Ore., native as a different animal.
“I’ve seen a lot of fights from Chael since he was in the UFC. They have pretty much the same game plan, but different ways [of implementing it]. Henderson likes to punch more; Couture has a different mindset in the fight, he likes to put you on the cage. Chael likes to shoot and likes to wrestle on the cage and mix up everything. So he’s a tough opponent and a well-rounded fighter. He improved a lot in the ground game, but I’ll be there and be ready.
“And I know that he can’t touch me. “
Machida made his promotional debut in December at Bellator 213, where he won a unanimous decision against former champion Rafael Carvalho. Machida is a former UFC light heavyweight champion himself but has been competing primarily at 185 pounds in recent years. He says the weight change should not make a difference against Sonnen. Whether there is trash talk or respect leading up to his fight with Sonnen, Machida says he will try to remain neutral.
“I cannot get full of myself,” he said. “My job is to go to the gym, train and June 14, I gotta get this victory.”