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Irresponsible Speculation Alert: What’s Wrong with Lyoto Machida?

(In a world without fences, Lyoto Machida could just back up and circle out of any situation. PicProps: ESPN.)

As noted in this morning’s Armchair Matchmaker, the last time we saw Lyoto Machida really look like Lyoto Machida was May, 2009, when he delighted GIF creators worldwide by making Rashad Evans go all googly-eyed while winning the light heavyweight title by second-round knockout at UFC 98. Though we joke about it, it’s worth pointing out that at the time Machida’s defeat of Evans capped a run of seven wins in the Octagon all dominant enough to prompt the UFC broadcast team to prematurely ejaculate all over the beginning of “The Machida Era.” Can’t really blame them. Dude did look poised for a nice, long run with the gold. Naturally, cue obligatory disappointment in 3 … 2 … 1 …

Since then (as you know) Machida has looked increasingly mortal in three consecutive appearances – a gift decision over Shogun Rua at UFC 104, the karmically-justified follow-up KO by Rua at UFC 113 and Saturday night’s split decision loss to Rampage Jackson at UFC 123, in a fight admittedly difficult to score because of its general shittiness. After watching Machida seemingly dry up and turn into a brittle, hollow husk of his former self during the last 18 months, is it wrong/unjustified to wonder aloud what the fuck is going on here? Was this guy just overrated from the start? Is he simply on a cold streak? Is something wrong with him? Obviously, it would be reckless and irresponsible for us to speculate … then again, reckless and irresponsible speculation is basically what we do. In light of that, here’s a few ideas (read: wild guesses) about what could be ailing the former light heavyweight champion … 

The jig is up …

This actually happens all the time in sports. A guy debuts and for a little while he’s just ridiculously dominant. Then – because the guys he competes against are also competent professionals – they start to figure him out. There is more tape out there for study, more hypotheses tested and proven right or wrong and just more information in the collective braintrust from which to draw on. At this point, do fighters simply know the blueprint of how to beat Machida? Rampage sure looked like it, using pressure to foil his unorthodox striking style, closing the distance while utilizing the clinch and a few takedowns to grind out the decision. Could it be that Machida’s early success was based on mere tricks and sleight of hand and now other fighters just have him figured out? Maybe. Also …

He’s fighting better guys …

Obviously, it’s impossible to explain away all of Machida’s UFC success – those wins over Evans and Thiago Silva still hold up pretty well – but it’s worth noting that his first four UFC fights came against guys who went on to establish a combined lifetime mark in the Octagon of 3-11. Another of his wins is over Tito Ortiz, and you know what that means. Is it fair to say after that 10 UFC appearances Machida only really has two quality victories in the promotion? Maybe. Maybe not, but once you consider the increasingly difficult competition coupled with a growing understanding of how to beat him, it could (maybe) help explain what we’re seeing now.

He’s physically or mentally hurt …

Machida hasn’t looked physically hampered in either of his back-to-back losses, but the interwebs were rife with conjecture about how he might respond to the first defeat (and first knockout) of his career at the hands of Rua six months ago. Can’t say we thought he appeared any different than normal at UFC 123. Honestly though, it wouldn’t be that surprising to learn Machida was doing some typical MMA fighter bullshit like fighting with a blown out knee/back/shoulder. Could there be something wrong him we just don’t know about? Maybe.

This is just his defensive style coming home to roost …

Clearly, Machida’s fighting style – while effective in early UFC appearances – walks a fine line between being coldly efficient and being a totally unwatchable disaster. At its best, “Machida Karate” or whatever he calls it is unorthodox, difficult to prepare for and frustrating to face. At worst, well, it’s pretty hard to win rounds when the judges just see you circling and backing up the whole time. The choice to pretty much exclusively counterstrike limits your path to victory and much of the crappiness of the UFC 123 main event came because Machida was waiting for Jackson to engage and Rampage refused to fall for it. Bottom line: You fight like Machida, you’re gonna lose some fights on points. Is it time for the guy to adjust and become a bit more of an offensive fighter? Maybe so.

It’s all about the training … 

Interesting to note that while Mike Goldberg assured us that Machida had trained at the Black House Gym in preparation for Rampage, there weren’t a lot of recognizable faces in his corner on Saturday night. Ed Soares was there, as were Machida’s brother and father, but many of his teammates were conspicuous only by their absences. No Anderson Silva, no Nogueira brothers and no Jose Aldo (who was in the building to receive his shiny new UFC title belt). Junior dos Santos later tweeted his disappointment at the judges’ decision, but was not on hand at the time. Should we read anything into that? Hard to say.

But look, given what we know about the Machida family’s love for traditional karate, would it surprise anybody to learn that he’s not exactly augmenting his training to grow and adapt the way a top-flight 21st century athlete should? Is it time to switch things up, take the show on the road? Maybe.

WTF are you talking about, idiot? He totally won that fight …

Fine, if you’re one of the people who scored the first and third rounds for Machida, that’s OK too. Clearly this fight could’ve easily swung Rampage’s way if a couple of judges’ pen strokes had gone in the opposite column. You know you just watched a hard bout to score when both guys emerge from battle thinking they lost.  If Machida would’ve eked out a decision over Jackson on Saturday night, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. On the other hand, win lose or draw would ignoring the chinks that have become obvious in Machida’s armor during his last three fights be to stick our heads in the sand and take no notice of what could be a big, big problem for him moving forward? Maybe so.  

Cagepotato Comments

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Dr. Cagelove- November 23, 2010 at 2:25 pm
Machida really had that fight to lose. He showed in the third round that he can choose to fight and win rounds. The biggest thing about his style is that it doesn't create opportunities independent of the opponent. He needed Rampage to make a mistake. Since Rampage didn't feel like giving the fight away he got to win by default.

One of the judging criteria is aggression. Lyoto could have received an 8 point round in the first for not only running away, but choosing not to be aggressive.

Another thing Rampage did very well is keep Lyoto outside the black octagon line in the ring for most of the fight. Lyoto could only circle and not move backwards.
JWM- November 23, 2010 at 1:54 am
It's the pee.
Dagnut- November 23, 2010 at 1:50 am
Anderson Sliva has 2 fights in him, If I was Machida I'd be dropping to decent strikers there and physically it shouldn't be a problem he's not naturally a big guy. He won't win a belt again at 205, he could definitely win one at 185.
stopdrinkingpee- November 23, 2010 at 12:45 am
Solid work here, CP.
Copier Guy KY- November 22, 2010 at 8:40 pm
Whats wrong with the guy? Nothing. He is just on tape now with a lot more footage. Fighters figured him out.
Ballkick- November 22, 2010 at 7:43 pm
I wish I cared :-/
My best guess: He been channelling the spirit of Kalib Starns.
Nut Puncher 9000- November 22, 2010 at 6:01 pm
Im going to deck the next asshole that says Machida is "Elusive". Standing in the pocket and still not being touched...elusive. Standing barely in kick range and endlessly circling is not elusive. WHEN KALIB STARNES CIRCLED everyone stomped his image to pieces. Watch Kalib's notorious track meet and then watch rounds 1 & 2 of Machida/Rampage. At least Kalib was injured...

Fuck Machida. He is worse to watch than Jake Shields imo.
agentsmith- November 22, 2010 at 5:15 pm
I guess Shogun knocked the piss out of him.

See what I did there?
The Oracle of MMA- November 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm
I believe I may have a plausible explanation.

By now we all know Mr. Machida drinks his own urine. While this is normally a relatively safe practice I propose that it is negatively effecting the brazillian. How can I contradict myself like this and expect anyone to take me seriously? Well here's how.

Mr. Machida has spent a considerable amount of time away from his home and regular source of drinking water and food. drinking his own urine has been safe for him for years but I believe he may have been exposed to environmental toxins that in such small amounts normally don't harm anyone since they expel these toxins in their urine. Lyoto has been putting them right back into his body. Every time he does this the normally minuscule amount increases slightly while he is near the source of the environmental toxin.

Wouldn't something show up on one of his drug tests? No since those tests only look for performance enhancing drugs. The toxin won't be found unless he is tested to specifically search for the toxin.
halfbreed23- November 22, 2010 at 1:54 pm
Back to back losses to Shogun Rua and Rampage Jackson? Really? At least you qualified it with "Irresponsible".
RwilsonR- November 22, 2010 at 1:36 pm
@ omunto - I did notice that, but I just thought it was some sort of breathing technique. Never thought about a hernia...

Although, I would think Soares would be the first to be screaming about a medical excuse to the whole world if Machida did have one.
LOKI- November 22, 2010 at 1:31 pm
The worst thing in the world that could happen to a fighter happened to him right after he won the title...

He went and got himself civilized; started wearing fly-ass suits going on long exhausting media tours, hanging out with the'Glimmer Man'.

He needs to get back to his Samurai roots and go into every fight as if he were already dead.

That and realize that he is as sick on the matt as he is on the feet and can pretty much take the fight there whenever he wants.

omunto- November 22, 2010 at 1:21 pm
Did anyone else notice Machida pushing on the bump above his belly button over and over before the fight. My friends and I were thinking maybe he had a hernia. It looked similar at least.

Not an excuse just something that I was curious if anyone else saw.
danomite- November 22, 2010 at 1:00 pm
Maybe his problem is that he has a douche manager who won't or can't tell him what he's doing wrong. Ed Soares says he has rewatched the fight from every possible angle and just can't fathom how two judges could possibly give rampage those first two rounds even though he landed twice as many strikes as Lyoto in each round. He then tries to justify the judges ignoring Lyoto's lack of aggression simply by saying "that's not his style". As if the judges are not supposed to reward aggression and octagon control in Lyoto's fights just because that's not how he fights. This is the same guy who still says Lyoto won the first shogun fight too, even though Lyoto could barely stand or breathe at the end of the fight from all the damage shogun did to his legs and ribs.
Yazloz18- November 22, 2010 at 12:19 pm
Rampage looked better than his performance against Evans and when Rampage cares he is dominant. I still think Machida will have success in the UFC but he has two losses to a super determined Shogun and a Rampage who actually gave a shit, no shame in either of those
El Guapo- November 22, 2010 at 12:17 pm
Lyoto was as defensive as they come prior to getting KTFO(and I mean knocked the f'k OUT!), so what did you expect would happen after?

It's not that he's overrated, not that he got exposed, not that the end of the world is upon us. It's pretty simple, actually. Let's ask Coach Green waht he thinks about Machida. "HE IS WHO WE THOUGHT HE WAS!"

just some dong- November 22, 2010 at 11:59 am
More leg kicks and clinch offense would have helped Machida in that fight. He caught Page with a good leg kick in the first that staggered him, and I thought for sure that more kicks were coming... but nope. He kept reversing and controlling the clinch, which surprised me, but he didn't really utilize the position to score points or wear Rampage down.

All credit to Jackson - he looked like the guy who walked in and KO'd Liddell. I believe Rampage's fast and rangy punch combos really threw Machida off - Machida was likely banking on being the faster striker. When Jackson slowed down in round 3, Machida started to take control. If this had been a 5 rounder... ?
ubidoob- November 22, 2010 at 11:54 am
Anyone else notice Ed Soares super sexy "HD WrapAround" sunglasses in that picture? He makes retiree sunglasses look hip and youthful. Ed probably sees things in Lyoto none of the rest of us do right now because we're not watching Lyoto drink pee in HD like he can...
SweetAfflictionShirt- November 22, 2010 at 11:43 am
Machida is going to win his next fight and then everyone is going to be screaming about how he is totally back. funny thing, these sports where you only compete a handful of times a year...

However, anybody remember Hideo Nomo of MLB? Unorthadox Japanese pitcher who went from unhittable future of pitching to that weird throwing guy who everybody crushes in like 2 years? There is a reason why fundamentals are fundamentals...
Goog- November 22, 2010 at 11:39 am

Agreed. 100%. You can't do nothing and I did get eager for him to even throw a leg kick with bad intentions, but he just kinda slapped at him a little. I'm fine with even giving him a round to watch Rampage move to get a feel and then act on it in rounds 2 and up. But I saw him defend well when pressed and think it's too bad he didn't give even 10% more in each round. As close as it was, even Rampage thought it likely came down to aggression and not so much strikes landed and that little bit extra could have even pulled it out as a draw. As it was, he gambled and lost this time.

But, hey... as we've seen... he's capable of anything against anyone and I look forward to his fights. And to his benefit, he's not taking 150 punches in the skull per fight like the old school Chuck Liddell and he's gonna be better off when this whole fight game is over for him down the road. He's smart and talented, no doubt. But to stay in the money-making limelight section of the PPV cards, he needs to occasionally go for it and add to the highlight reel.

IsnappedYourarm- November 22, 2010 at 11:30 am
Machida is just average. He is a step above Thiago Silva. THats about it. Remember the Machida era? lol
RwilsonR- November 22, 2010 at 11:26 am
@ Goog - I get your point, and agree with it concerning Machida to some extent. I would never say he sucks. In fact, I think he is still one of the best out there. But not the way he fought on Saturday night. He wasn't a sniper in that fight. He refused to pull the trigger in the first two rounds at all. You simply cannot stay out of range the entire time and not even try to throw a single counter. Not saying you need to brawl, but you do need to fight. You cannot patiently wait for an opening, let 5 minutes roll by and the bell goes off, and then just shrug your shoulders and say that the opening never presented itself. That isn't fighting. That isn't even a points match.
RSparrow- November 22, 2010 at 11:16 am
The answer: The man is overrated.

Remember when Liddell was in the division, and knocking everyone out. THAT was exciting.

I said it once and I'll say it again, these 205'ers aren't exciting. The division is all about decisions, and it shouldn't be like that. We need someone to take over that division and FINISH each and every time.

I'm thinkin' Johnny Bones....
SnallTrippin- November 22, 2010 at 11:09 am
I think Machida won if only because of the third round - which is the only interesting shit really. But still horrible fight and he needs to learn to attack...I really do think he'll learn to do this and be a truly interesting fighter in the coming years...probably
echoxer0- November 22, 2010 at 11:08 am
i cant believe u used that word... u cracker