The son never had a chance.
There would be no soccer fields or jiu-jitsu mats for Lyoto Machida, at
least not at that point, especially not if his father had a say in the matter. And as the head of the family, Yoshizo Machida did have the last word, so when his son was three, he began training in the family business – not as a banker, a farmer, a storekeeper, or a craftsman, but as a martial artist.
Studying Shotokan Karate under his father, a renowned Master who had left Japan for a new life in Salvador, Brazil, young Lyoto was a quick study in the art of combat, but what he was being taught went far beyond blocks, kicks, and katas.
“My father always taught me to be an honest man with integrity,” said the younger Machida, now 26, through his manager / translator Ed Soares. “He also showed me the path of being a true fighter through Oriental Philosophy.”
And as he grew older, Machida would find time for the usual pursuits of youth, but he never strayed far away from a gym or dojo, whether it was to study and compete in karate, sumo wrestling, or the art usually associated with Brazil, Jiu-Jitsu. There was no doubt – young Machida was going to be a fighter.
“Fighting has been in my blood since I was born,” he admits, and at 15, when he first walked into the gym to start training in Jiu-Jitsu with Master Alexei Cruz, he began putting all the pieces of the mixed martial arts puzzle together, and he was accepted well by his fellow students.
“I was always treated very well everywhere I went to train,” said Machida. “My family was known to be fighters so that made it much easier for me.”
Preparing to fight professionally would be anything but easy though, with long hours in the gym and participation in various tournaments in different disciplines fitting around his studies, where he graduated with a degree in Physical Education.
His true graduation day wouldn’t come until May 2, 2003, though, when the 24-year old Machida would make his professional MMA debut with a decision over Kengo Watanabe at a NJPW show in Tokyo headlined by fights featuring Josh Barnett and Kazuyuki Fujita. Four months later, Machida would take 4:21 to stop a young American fighter who was on the verge of becoming a star in the States, Stephan Bonnar, and suddenly, fight industry insiders started to take notice of the son of the karate master.
Fight fans soon jumped on the bandwagon that New Years Eve in Japan, when unbeaten rising star Rich Franklin – fresh off impressive first round wins over Evan Tanner and Edwin Dewees – stepped into battle with Machida and left with his first loss via a second round TKO.
Now things were going to get interesting.
Machida began fighting for the K-1 organization in 2004, and added two more wins to his ledger as he submitted Michael McDonald and decisioned Sam Greco. 2005 saw another high-profile name fall to defeat at Machida’s hands as BJ Penn rose up in weight to fight the then-heavyweight and lost a three round decision.
Since then, Machida stopped Dimitri Wanderley back home in Brazil, and outpointed Vernon White in his US MMA debut for the now-defunct WFA in 2006, and with the demise of that organization, he will now fight in the States on a more consistent basis as a member of the UFC’s light heavyweight roster. And though he doesn’t come to the Octagon with the
fanfare of fellow newcomers Mirko Cro Cop and Quinton Jackson, die-hard fans are eager to see what he will do in the UFC when he makes his debut this Saturday against Sam Hoger.
“These expectations are good because I expect to show all the American fans what I can do inside the Octagon,” said Machida. “I really enjoy fighting in America and hope to have a lot more fans here after February 3rd.”
Machida appeared to be tentative and was less than explosive in his decision win over UFC veteran White last July, but with his US nerves out of the way, don’t expect a repeat when he comes to the Mandalay Bay Events Center this weekend.
“There is always pressure when I’m going to fight,” he admits, “but I never want to let down the fans, my friends, and my trainers. This is what motivates me to train so hard.”
He’ll need every ounce of motivation he can get, especially in a division where there are no gimmes and every night can be hell when you’re facing the likes of Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Quinton Jackson, Rashad Evans, Keith Jardine, Babalu Sobral, and Forrest Griffin. Machida is well aware of the mountain he’ll have to climb to get to the top.
“I know this weight class is stacked with a lot of talented fighters that have a lot of experience,” he said. “I believe I have what it takes to compete with the best of them, and I hope to be the champ, but for now I’m going to take one fight at a time, and when the UFC feels that it’s time, I will be ready.”
That’s the best course of action any fighter can take, and a mature approach for a young man of 26. But then again, when you’ve been studying martial arts since you were three years old and have the legacy of a karate master to live up to, maturity comes with the territory.
“My father is very proud of my accomplishments,” said Machida, “and he is very happy that I am able to spread the family name throughout the world.”
Yeah, the son never had a chance; but then again, he’s not complaining either.
“I love what I do,” he said.
By Thomas Gerbasi