Sunday, May 24, 2009 | 3 a.m.
In the past two years, the UFC light heavyweight championship belt has switched hands four times and been successfully defended only once, by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson with a win over Dan Henderson in 2007.
Maybe that trend will continue...
But don't blame any in the crowd of 12,606 that watched Lyoto Machida's complete dominance over Rashad Evans at the MGM Grand Garden Arena that think otherwise - that the belt may have finally found a permanent owner.
"The way he beat Rashad Evans tonight," said UFC president Dana White. "I was absolutely blown away by his performance.
"It might be the Machida era right now."
While other UFC weight classes have clearly established champions — lightweight B.J. Penn, welterweight Georges St. Pierre, middleweight Anderson Silva — the light heavyweight division has been up for grabs with the immense amount of talent among the top 205-pounders.
Machida could barely wipe the sweat off his brow before fans were asking who would get the next shot to dethrone the champ. White confirmed it would indeed be former champion, Jackson, who originally was supposed to fight Evans but couldn’t due to injury.
But even with the likes of Jackson, Forrest Griffin, and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua waiting in line to get a shot at him, one has to like the undefeated Machida's chances at becoming possibly one of the most successful title defenders ever.
"He's good obviously, real good," said UFC legend Matt Hughes, who defended his welterweight title seven times over the course of his career. "The thing he's got going for him is he's very different. If I were going to fight him I would bring in two or three karate guys. His head's back but his legs are forward. He's kind of the total package."
The 15-0 Machida's style is completely unique, stemming from a base of "Machida Karate", a martial arts technique that was passed on to him by his father, Yoshizo Machida. Machida has a rare ability to avoid damage with his elusive defense, while still being able to inflict a great deal of it.
Earlier this year the UFC launched a stats program that ranks fighters based on a variety of statistical categories. Machida is ranked second overall, behind only Anderson Silva, and leads in one major category — strikes taken.
"We just started doing all these different stats on the fights and Lyoto Machida is the least hit fighter in MMA history," White said. "He only gets hit once every two and a half rounds, something like that. This guy is very hard to touch."
Machida even has a word for the time frame in which a fighter is vulnerable to taking damage from an opponent. He calls it "kyo." So as some of the crowd booed during lulls in the bout Saturday night, Machida wasn't stalling. He was focused on finding that one moment when Evans left himself open.
When he saw it, he certainly didn't waste the opportunity.
"It's not that I saw he was making mistakes or that he was vulnerable," said Machida, who stunned Evans with a left hand in the second round before rushing in and eventually finishing the job with another huge left.
"In my karate, it's a time called the "kyo", which basically means when your opponent has no defense. I always make sure when I attack it's at the right kyo. I timed his properly."
However, perhaps Machida’s toughest opponent and the No. 1 statistical fighter will never meet each other, as Machida and Silva are close friends and both managed by Ed Soares.
When asked if the two would ever agree to fight one another, Soares replied, "Maybe, for $100 million."
In other words: No.
That leaves the opportunity for Machida to defend his title much like Silva has, currently at five times over the last four years.
"Now that I have become a champion, the real work begins," Machida said. "My goal has always been to be a better fighter every time I step out in the Octagon. Now with the title, there's even more responsibility."
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].