Machida-Silva a worthy UFC 94 understudy

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

In the semifinal underneath one of the most hyped matches in mixed martial arts history, Thiago Silva’s job on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas is solving MMA’s version of the Rubik’s Cube.

His opponent, Lyoto Machida, has a 13-0 record and a light heavyweight title shot at Rashad Evans close enough to taste. Machida has a style no opponent has figured out, an attack most opponents would rather not deal with, and, quite frankly, a large percentage of the audience doesn’t want to see.

Several high-profile fighters have turned down matches with Machida, who owns wins over the likes of Stephan Bonnar, Rich Franklin, B.J. Penn, Tito Ortiz and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou.

And the reasons for the rejections are unique.

Usually the hardest guys to match up are feared knockout artists, or awesome wrestlers. In Machida's case, it’s not the fear of getting hurt or being stymied by overwhelming wrestling. It’s the feeling of needing months to prepare for his style, or simply believing it’s hard to look good, win or lose, in a fight with him.

But Machida, the son of a Shotokan karate master, sees his style, which combines his backgrounds in point karate, sumo wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, as the essence of martial arts, the ability to defeat an opponent without taking much punishment.

"What I’m not going to do is fall for his games," said Silva, through interpreter and manager Alex Davis. "I’m not going to get caught in his psychological games."

Silva, also 13-0, would put himself near the top of the list of contenders with a win. Earlier in the week, UFC president Dana White indicated that if Machida wins, he’s getting a title shot, but if Silva wins, he’s probably one more win away from an opportunity.

"It’s nice he said that, but right now I’m focused on Silva," said Machida, through interpreter and manager Ed Soares.

Silva, who just turned 26, left Brazil about six months ago to train in South Florida with the American Top Team, and isn’t looking back, saying he loves the opportunity to live in the U.S. and has no plans to return to his home country in the future.

Originally from the Chute Boxe Academy in Curatiba, Brazil, Silva debuted in UFC in 2007, but really made his name in his third fight in the promotion, when he faced Houston Alexander at UFC 78 in Newark, N.J. Alexander had two straight quick and exciting knockouts and if it had been up to fans to choose, he’d have been UFC’s next superstar. But Silva took him down quickly and knocked him out on the ground in such one-sided fashion that people were forced to pay attention.

The Machida-Silva fight was originally scheduled for the fall, but Silva suffered a compressed vertebrae in his back that was turning into a bulging disc. But he said after two months of resting, and three hard months or training, the injury is no longer an issue.

Silva said he’s going to stay standing for Saturday's match, take the center of the ring, and not fall for any traps.

"Hopefully he comes in aggressive," said the 30-year-old Machida, who said he feels Silva is stronger on the ground, so he will keep it standing. "As a counter fighter, I like fighting against aggressive fighters."

"I’m not going to worry about if the fans boo the fight," Silva said.

"Because they’ll be booing him, not me."

Machida has trained since childhood in various martial arts. He was a black belt in Shotokan karate at the age of 12, and later was championship level in both karate and sumo. His stand-up style of moving in, punching and then quickly moving out, has baffled every opponent.

He's also often booed by fans who see his style as running away. Machida has never taken significant punishment in a fight. His balance, from the years of sumo, is such that he’s proven to be almost impossible to take down. While this has yet to be a factor in UFC competition, the book on him from those who have trained with him as part of the Black House team in Brazil, which includes UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva and the Nogueira brothers, is that if he is taken down, he will immediately pop right back up.

In his most recent and highest-profile fight on May 24, he won three straight rounds from Tito Ortiz, with the bell possibly saving Ortiz at the end of the first round. It was a big match because it was Ortiz’s final bout of his contract and promoted as his UFC farewell due to his public feud with White.

Ortiz never hit Machida once, spent the match chasing him and being countered. When Ortiz finally got close enough with him to lockup, it was Machida who threw Ortiz to the ground and started teeing off. Only once, in the third round, when Ortiz caught Machida in a tight triangle, did Ortiz offer any viable offense. But Machida admitted he was close to passing out against Ortiz's maneuver.

Unlike many who train in camps with tons of MMA stars, Machida still largely remains with his roots. He did some training with the Black House team for this fight, but most of his training was in his childhood home town of Belem, Brazil, under his father, and with an older brother, also a karate champion. He added a new physical conditioning coach, and said he has added significantly to his strength and stamina since the Ortiz fight.