LAS VEGAS – It's true that defense wins championships, and there may be no better defensive fighter in mixed martial arts than Lyoto Machida.
It was his punching power, however, that helped him to claim the Ultimate Fighting Championship's light heavyweight title with a second-round knockout of previously unbeaten Rashad Evans at UFC 98 on Saturday before 12,606 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
And judging by the way Machida performed, fans had better get used to the Brazilian sitting at the top of the heap. After wins over former UFC champions Rich Franklin, B.J. Penn and Tito Ortiz and Saturday's dominant performance against Evans, it doesn't seem there is anybody out there now who is going to be able to take that belt from him.
"He's definitely there," UFC president Dana White said. "The way he beat Rashad Evans, that was very impressive. He gets better every time he fights. It might be the Machida Era."
Former champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson will get the next shot. Perhaps the one man who might be able to solve the Machida riddle, though, is UFC's middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who has begun to dabble in the 205-pound division. But Machida and Silva are close friends who are each managed by the same man, Ed Soares. And they insist they will not fight each other.
Other than Silva, it is a stretch to conceive of anyone lifting the belt from Machida any time soon.
"My style is difficult," Machida said in the night's biggest understatement. "It's hard to match with Machida Karate."
In his last three fights, he's beaten Ortiz, Thiago Silva and Evans, who came into those bouts with a combined 41-5-2 record.
The increase in his competition level hasn't mattered at all, though, as Machida has systematically taken his opponents apart.
On Saturday, Evans raced out of his corner but didn't attack. He spent much of the first round circling Machida, keeping his powerful fists at his side. As a result, Machida became the stalker and the man moving forward making the fight.
The first round was no barnburner, but Machida was measuring the distance with kicks and the occasional punch and was clearly gaining in confidence. He knocked Evans down with a kick and then a short left with about a minute remaining in the first round, but didn't rush in trying to finish.
That Machida was defensively proficient and exceptionally patient couldn't have been surprising. It's been his modus operandi since his days as young boy in Belem, Brazil, when he learned karate from his father, Yoshizo.
There weren't many, though, who would have predicted Machida's lightning-fast hands and powerful punches would have been the difference in the fight or that his fists would have ended it so dramatically.
He cracked Evans with a left on the chin that badly hurt the champion and sent him staggering back into the cage.
Perhaps two years ago, Machida would have waded in cautiously, unwilling to risk the possibility that Evans was trying to bait him. This time, though, Machida pounced, fully realizing he had the opportunity to end the fight.
Evans proved with his one-punch knockout of Chuck Liddell in September and his TKO of Forrest Griffin in December that he's powerful enough to win any fight with a single shot.
Machida, though, went for the kill as soon as the first opportunity presented itself.
"As soon as I hit him and I felt he felt it, I wanted to try to finish the fight," Machida said.
Machida laughed when he was asked whether it was the best punch he ever landed (it was). Evans' legs were like spaghetti as he reeled backward, and Machida knew the title was at hand.
He didn't waste the chance. He attacked, as former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor once famously said, like "a crazed dog."
He landed a series of shots as they battled along the cage and finished it with a devastating and perfectly placed left. Evans slumped down the cage as referee Mario Yamasaki jumped in to save him and, yes, signal the beginning of the Machida Era.
"He's good," said former welterweight champion Matt Hughes, who won a close decision from Matt Serra in the co-main event. "Real good. … He's kind of the total package."
The UFC acquired Machida in 2006, when it bought the World Fighting Alliance. White said the only reason for the purchase was to acquire the contracts of Machida and Jackson.
Given that both have now held the light heavyweight belt and will meet in a major bout later this year, it was obviously a terrific investment.
But White had to repeatedly defend Machida in his first few UFC bouts from fan and media criticism. White was steadfast in his belief that Machida's tentative nature would change once he got comfortable in the UFC.
If he gets any more comfortable than he was on Saturday, they'll make laws to outlaw him.
Machida said he would go home and try to correct his mistakes. He noted that the real work will begin now that he's the champion.
That's undoubtedly true, but it's hard to imagine Machida being able to be much better than he is now. He's 15-0 with thunder in both hands, the game's best defense and a confounding, unusual style.
"I always said he'd be scary when he got comfortable," White said. "And I think he's comfortable now."
- Lyoto Machida
- Rashad Evans