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Lyoto Machida thankful for unforeseen opportunity at UFC 140

Machida’s unorthodox style could challenge Jon Jones

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mixed Martial Arts fighter Lyoto Machida goes through his moves during an open training session in Toronto on Wednesday Dec. 7, 2011. Machida is preparing for his world light heavyweight title match against Jon Jones in UFC140 in Toronto on Saturday

Dana White fireside chat part 1

Dana White fireside chat part 2

TORONTO — If Lyoto Machida can defy the odds and defeat Jon Jones in the UFC 140 main event Saturday at the Air Canada Centre, the Brazilian would become the most improbable champion of 2011.

No one expected the 32-year old Machida to receive a light heavyweight title shot this year, let alone have a chance to win the 205-pound division’s belt. Not even Machida (17-2 MMA, 9-2 UFC) himself envisioned a scenario where he would challenge the 24-year old Jones (14-1 MMA, 8-1 UFC) before 2012.

“It was a big surprise,” Machida said through a translator.

It usually takes prolonged winning streaks of at least three or four victories for a fighter to get the opportunity of a championship bout in the UFC. Machida has won only once since 2010, knocking out Randy Couture in the second round at UFC 129.

He had lost his two previous fights before that. Although Machida was a former champion and one of the best light heavyweights in the world, UFC President Dana White said earlier this year he was a victory or two away from a fight with Jones.

But timing worked in Machida’s favor. The UFC desperately needed a fight to headline its second Toronto pay-per-view card of the year.

Jones was the promotion’s healthiest star, but anointed No. 1 contender Rashad Evans was out nursing a hand injury. White pitched the idea of fighting Machida, who was in the middle of a layoff since his last fight, to Jones.

Jones accepted.

“I look at it this way: There are certain guys who I’m going to fight no matter what — Lyoto, Rashad, (Dan) Henderson,” Jones explained. “These fights are going to happen eventually, so it doesn’t matter what order they come in.”

The danger, which doesn’t seem to concern Jones, would come if he lost to a fighter like Machida who hadn’t earned the right to fight for the title in a traditional sense. Despite sports books installing Machida as a 4-to-1 underdog, he could have the best chance of any light heavyweight to dethrone Jones.

Machida’s elusive, counter-punching style has confused opponents greatly for the better part of his career. He went unbeaten in his first 16 fights by adding new twists to a traditional karate style.

Machida’s strengths are in a discipline Jones admitted he knew little about.

“Not leading up to this fight,” Jones joked when asked if he trained specifically in karate. “But I took taekwondo when I was a kid for like two weeks.”

Jones said he found several exploitable tendencies in Machida’s game through vigorous film study. Jones understandably didn’t want to share them, but he’s exuded confidence every time he’s talked about Machida.

Machida believes he has some advantages of his own, namely experience and technique.

“I changed a lot,” Machida said. “After losing, at the time you don’t understand why you’re going through this and you think it’s going to be forever. But looking back, you learn a lot from losing and you mature. I think I’ve changed. I’ve added a lot of things to my training.”

Machida had plenty of time to tinker with his approach while waiting for a fight. He asked the UFC for a quick turnaround after beating Couture, but all of the top light heavyweights were tied up with scheduled fights.

Machida nearly faced Evans as a last-minute replacement for Phil Davis at UFC 133 before a well-publicized spat with the UFC led to Tito Ortiz taking the opportunity. White also momentarily announced a fight between Machida and Davis for UFC 140 before finding out Davis was still injured.

Possibilities like those were thrown around for six months before Machida landed the Jones assignment.

“I was training the whole time but with no fight commitment, it was nothing specific,” Machida said.

Machida was beginning to get frustrated and questioned the UFC’s motives in keeping him out to a Brazilian media outlet in early October. He received the Jones offer days later, which turned aggravation into elation.

White never second-guessed leaping Machida up the ranks for the title shot. Machida’s accomplishments throughout his entire career, according to White, make the opportunity warranted.

“Lyoto has been itching to get back in there,” White said. “He wanted this fight really bad and this is a fun one.”

“I love this fight. I think, stylistically, this is an incredible fight. I think both guys have a very flashy and interesting style.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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