The third, and in many ways, key player in Saturday night's Tito Ortiz-Dana White drama: unbeaten Brazilian-born Lyoto Machida.
Machida, who years ago was groomed for superstar status in Japan but never quite achieved it, may have his career in the U.S. determined largely based on Saturday's fight.
He'll either be remembered as the guy who sent Ortiz out of the UFC with his tail between his legs, and in the process put himself in line for a light heavyweight title shot, or he'll be the guy whose loss led to one of the company's most embarrassing moments, allowing former light heavyweight champion Ortiz to upstage White, UFC's president.
White almost never talks about whom he wants to see win a fight, but he's publicly stated he wants Machida to beat the hell out of Ortiz. Within the MMA world, where both White and Ortiz are polarizing figures, this may not be the biggest match of the year, but it is the most anticipated.
If Ortiz wins what appears to be his final UFC match, he'll likely walk out of the cage at the MGM Grand Garden Arena with a smile on his face.
And that would be a moment of truth. Would the UFC broadcast cut out of the ring and go to a pre-taped segment, robbing Ortiz of his last interview, for fear of what he will say? Will they cut away after the decision? Or will they treat it like every other match, and afterward erase Ortiz from their history and never let a camera near him when he corners fighters or sits in the stands at shows in the future?
"I know there are problems between Dana White and Tito Ortiz," said Machida through interpreter Derek Lee. "But I have nothing to do with it. That's their problems."
Machida is the antithesis of Ortiz. He quietly wins all his fights, sporting a 12-0 record, usually one-sided, but seven of the wins have come via decision. Ortiz is brash and controversial, tremendous at hyping fights and his track record as a drawing card speaks for itself.
Machida is quiet out of the cage and stoic inside. Some believe that after four wins in UFC competition, the most recent on Dec. 29 over Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, Machida deserves a title shot.
"I'm prepared for a title shot," he said. "Every fight I get more comfortable. But the UFC and the fans will choose when I get a title shot."
From a marketing standpoint there are obvious drawbacks. He's not particularly charismatic, doesn't speak English and he doesn't have an exciting style. But he is different from any top fighter in the sport, and fighting him has become a puzzle that nobody has figured out.
Machida is the betting line favorite over his more famous opponent, because his unique skill set, which blends aspects of point karate and sumo, makes him a difficult match-up for almost anyone.
"Tito is very, very strong, and has a good ground and pound game, but his other skills are not so efficient," he said. "I want to beat him at his strength."
Machida trained a few weeks in San Jose, Calif., at the American Kickboxing Academy, but most of his training has been done near his home in Northern Brazil with his brother and father and a boxing coach, with emphasis on ground training and takedown defense.
His childhood background combined two disciplines that aren't supposed to work in MMA competition. He started point karate at the age of four, learning from his Japanese father, a master at the sport. This has translated well into MMA because his style is to move in, strike and move out of range. He's taken little punishment in fights, but the downside is many of those bouts are dull to spectators.
Machida started sumo at the age of eight. It gave him his excellent base and balance which has allowed him to make his point karate style work. As a teenager, he started Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which keeps him out of trouble when he gets to the ground.
In his past two matches, Machida outgrappled two high-level judo fighters, Kazuhiro Nakamura, a former Japanese national champion, and Sokoudjou, who is also world class in the sport.
Although Machida grew up in Brazil, his early career and fame occurred in Japan. He was recruited to Japan by another half-Brazilian, half-Japanese fighter, famed pro wrestler Antonio Inoki. Machida wasn't dynamic in winning his early MMA fights and while his stamp as Inoki's protege garnered tons of publicity, he didn't have a star's charisma, despite a perfect fight record.
In 2003, Machida stopped both a pre-"Ultimate Fighter" Stephan Bonnar via a cut stoppage, and at one of the big New Year's Eve shows, knocked out Rich Franklin before Franklin became a UFC star. He also beat current UFC lightweight champ B.J. Penn in 2005 in a freak show match. At the time, Machida weighed 220 and Penn bulked up to around 185. Machida did barely enough to win, even with his big size edge.
"At the time, neither of us was very experienced," said Machida, who downplays the result of the match. "I fought but I congratulate B.J. for stepping up and fighting someone so much bigger."
Machida always dreamed of fighting in UFC or Pride, but Pride and Inoki had a behind-the-scenes falling out, so that became politically impossible. Then, in 2006, Inoki and Machida went their separate ways. Machida broke into the American market with the World Fighting Alliance, and when that company went down in 2006 and UFC bought the remnants, like with Quinton Jackson, Machida's contract was picked up in the sale.
- Lyoto Machida