Exclusive Interview: Lyoto Machida

After Lyoto Machida scored the biggest win of his undefeated career by out-pointing Tito Ortiz to a unanimous decision at UFC 84, he immediately became the subject of intense debate in the MMA community. While his fans praise his impenetrable defense and technically perfect counter-attacks, there are others who find his stick-and-move style to be boring — or worse, cowardly. Our resident Brazilian Luiz de Souza called Machida at his home base in Belém, Brazil, to get his take on the criticism, and to find out where he thinks he stands in the UFC’s light-heavyweight title picture.

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CagePotato: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us today. Do you have any idea who your next opponent will be?
There’s been a lot of speculation, but there’s no confirmation of anything yet. But I think it could be Thiago Silva, or even Quinton Jackson.

We’ve heard that multiple fighters have turned down fights with you. Why do you think people are trying to avoid you?
It’s like I said in other interviews, this is a business, and so many times people don’t want to fight, not because they are scared, but because they want to get to the top quicker. Many times, fighters have better opportunities of getting higher-ranked in other fights, which makes them choose their fights sparingly, not accepting all challenges. It’s not a matter of being scared.

Some UFC fans refer to your style as “boring.” How do you respond to that?
The truth is that my style of fighting is very technical, and many times people do not understand what I am trying to show them. But this is my style. I can add to it, try to get better combinations, improve my aggressiveness, but this is my style; it’s each person’s characteristics. There are fighters that try to add to their styles, but it’s very difficult to change completely. I fight for a positive result, and I believe that if I add a few things to my style I can still get these positive results.

I don’t feel that this is the only way fans see me. There are many of them who compliment me, and tell me they enjoy watching me fight, so it’s not only negativity coming from them. But it’s something that depends on each person’s point of view, and how the person is looking at the fight. If the person is only looking at it as a brawl, then it gets harder for the person to understand. But when they look at it with a more technical view, looking at the martial arts in it, maybe they’ll understand it better.

Has the UFC ever asked you to press the action more, or are they content with how your fights have been going?
It is not like that. They always ask you for it. The event’s promoters always want a better show; they are right about what they tell me. They tell me to improve, and that’s a positive thing for me. It’s not really pressure, it’s more like constructive criticism. They want me to turn into a star, they want to build up my name, so they are speaking from their point of view, and I am trying to help make that happen.

In a recent interview, Anderson Silva said he doesn’t want to fight for the light heavyweight title, and you’re the rightful owner of that belt. Do you think you’re worthy of a title shot yet?
Well, my answer to this question might be biased, obviously, but I truly think that I am ready. I am not in a hurry for it yet. I do my job every day, and I know that someday it will be my turn. Receiving a complement of this sort from Anderson Silva makes me very happy and honored because he is a great champion and an example for everyone to follow. He’s a guy with very refined techniques, so this compliment is very important to me.

Have you had any conversations with Dana White or Joe Silva about when you might get your chance to fight for the title?
I never spoke to them directly about this, but it is like I already said, I’m ready for any situation that comes. If they let me fight for the belt, then great. I think it is my turn to go for it, but I am also not worried about it. I know my chance will come in the right time; if my turn hasn’t come up yet it is because it has not been the right time. I’m patiently doing my job until that day comes, and I always try to implement new things to my style of fighting and perfect my technique so that I’m able to get the belt and hold on to it for a long time when my turn comes.

Who would you most like to fight next?
I would like to fight somebody who is ranked above me, like Quinton Jackson, Chuck Liddell, or Forrest Griffin. But like I said, the UFC picks my opponents and I have to do what they say. I can argue a little, but it is better to accept what they have for me. I do what they ask me to do since I am part of the UFC, so I respect their choices.

In your opinion, which light-heavyweight in the UFC would give you the most trouble?
I always fight tough opponents, and they all give you trouble; they all have their strong and their weak points. So anyone in the top ten level is dangerous. I believe that Chuck Liddell would be the fighter that would give me the most trouble.

It was reported that you thought Quinton Jackson won the fight against Forrest, but the UFC would rather have a champion who Chuck Liddell could beat. Is that accurate?
What I said was that in my opinion I thought Quinton Jackson won the fight. In no way was I trying to go against the event, saying that they want Chuck Liddell as the champion. Chuck is a more popular fighter, he sells more, he is an ex-champion, so it is possible that it is his turn at a title shot. A lot of people misinterpreted what I said, saying that what I had said was that the UFC wanted Liddell as the champ. Right now could be his turn at a shot for the belt.

Tell me a little about your training. Where do you train and what’s an average week like for you?
An average week for me goes like this, now that I am at an off-fighting season: On Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays I train the regular karate martial art, wearing my kimono and everything. On those days I also try to train a bit of jiu-jitsu and I lift weights. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays I train MMA style fighting, I work on my ground game. I also do some long distance running so that I can keep myself in shape.

What motivates you as a fighter? How do you stay hungry through all the hard training and all the success you’ve had?
You need to have a goal in life. My father always says that when you have no goals in life you have no more reasons to live, so my goal is what makes me want to go on. Winning is always my goal. Our worst enemy is ourselves, having to wake up, train hard — at times you are tired and you have to go on, winning the fight against yourself. So I feel that this motivates me to keep fighting day by day, not only winning one battle, but trying to be the big champion. My goal is to be the champion, and who knows, if I reach it someday, my new goal will be to maintain the belt for a long time, and I think that this goal is a great motivation to me.

What do you like to do for fun when you’re not training?
When I am not training I like being with my family, with my father, my mother and my wife. We are very close to each other. We always talk about the fights, about my fighting projects, about who my next opponent will be, about the future. I like talking to them, it is very relaxing.

Are you treated like a celebrity in your hometown, Belém do Pará? What are some of the perks of being a UFC star?
I am treated normally here. People treat me very well, and there is no glamour around me. The city I live in is very used to me, they give me great respect, so there is no pressure. I like it better this way because I feel more comfortable. As for being a UFC fighter, it’s a privilege to every fighter. It’s the biggest MMA event in the world, so being able to show my technique and build my career in it is pretty important. I am very proud of it, and I hope to have a contract with them for a long time to come so that I can keep fighting in this event that I like so much.

Thanks so much for your time, Lyoto. Is there anything else you’d like to promote before we sign off?
I would like to thank my sponsors — Bad Boy, Iceman RX and Bony Acai — and everyone from my team. My professors, my dad, my family, Daniel Woirin who is my Muay Thai instructor, Fabricio, Broca my jiu-jitsu instructor, and all the people who give me strength every day. We are a team, no one wins alone, and everyone has their role to fulfill. These people are my support.

This interview was originally conducted in Portuguese.