A ‘Tiger’ raised by ‘Dragons’: How the Machidas propelled Bruno Souza to UFC 268 debut

In late May 2003, Lyoto Machida touched down in Brazil. A trip across the world officially concluded and he was back home.

After a lifetime of karate and martial arts training under his legendary father, Yoshizo, Machida made his professional MMA debut in Japan days prior. It was a unanimous decision win over Kengo Watanabe at New Japan Pro Wrestling: Ultimate Crash.

While the training never stopped, the usual diet could be put aside for a little bit to celebrate victory. Shortly after his arrival in Belem, Para, Machida was in need of some good home cooking.

That’s where Murilo Souza Filho came in. A family friend, Souza Filho whipped up a hearty meal for Machida. It’s a role he’d fill on numerous future occasions, too.

In the midst of the feast, a fresh copy of a VHS tape surfaced. It was the fight. Among the living room viewers was Souza Filho’s son, 7-year-old Bruno Souza, who watched in astonishment and admiration at the replay of his role model outpointing his Japanese opponent.

Souza first met Lyoto and his brother, Chinzo Machida, in 1999 when he was just 4. Enrolled in youth judo classes, Souza grew up with martial arts – and regarding the legendary Brazilian fighters. He was there for Lyoto’s entire journey, from pro debutant to UFC champion to late-stage Bellator notoriety.

“Lyoto started his career, and I was like, ‘You know what? I want to be good,'” Souza recently told MMA Junkie. “The best thing about them was they never held me back. They were like, ‘OK, train, train, go for it, go for it.’ Look where we are now.”

Souza is set to make his UFC debut Saturday night at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden when he’ll meet Melsik Baghdasaryan on the UFC 268 prelims, a moment hat would not have been made possible without the Machidas.

Over the span of his life, Souza saw the pedestal many Brazilians in the MMA circuit put Lyoto on. He reached legend status, especially after he knocked out Rashad Evans to become UFC light heavyweight champion in 2009. To Souza, however, Lyoto and Chinzo Machida were essentially family. They weren’t superhuman. They were normal people just like him, who accomplished extraordinary things – and were willing to help him do the same. That fueled him.

“If someone close to you accomplishes something that’s really hard, it’s more possible for you,” Souza said. “I’m like, ‘OK, I know Lyoto. He did it. Why can’t I do it? We are friends. Why is it not possible?’ That’s what gave me the strength of like, ‘Yeah, I can do it. I can do it. Why not?'”

For those who don’t know Lyoto Machida personally, Souza says they’re missing out. Through good times and bad, Machida was always there for Souza. At times, Souza, nicknamed “The Tiger,” even lived with “The Dragon.”

“People have their idols, and I had a close relationship with my idol,” Souza said. “I can call him any time. I can ask for advice. I can FaceTime with him now that we live far apart. But I can go to his place. Good things or bad things, you’re always together. That’s amazing. … Lyoto is such a great guy to everyone. It’s not just with me. You can sit and ask for advice, and he’ll always open up. He’s very happy to talk. It’s impossible to have someone better than that.”

Over two decades of martial arts training and Machida encouragement will lead to Souza (10-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) making a UFC walk of his own for the first time. It’s the next box checked on his list. At UFC 268, Souza’s fight with Baghdasaryan (6-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) is one step closer to his ultimate goal of becoming a UFC champion, just like his mentor.

“I want to be the greatest of all time,” Souza said. “I don’t know if I’m going to make it, but I’m trying. Why not, you know? We can do it.”

UFC 268 takes place Saturday at Madison Square Garden. The main card streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view after prelims on ESPN News/ESPN+.