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Lyoto Machida dealing with mixed emotions before middleweight debut

Munoz welcomes Machida to new weight class at UFC Fight Night 30 in England

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Fans take photos of Lyoto Machida during the UFC Fan Fest at Mandalay Bay Friday, July 5, 2013.

UFC Fight Night 30 card

  • Middleweight bout: Lyoto Machida vs. Mark Munoz
  • Lightweight bout: Ross Pearson vs. Melvin Guillard
  • Light heavyweight bout: Jimi Manuwa vs. Ryan Jimmo
  • Lightweight bout: Norman Parke vs. Jon Tuck
  • Middleweight bout: Alessio Sakara vs. Nicholas Musoke
  • Flyweight bout: Phil Harris vs. John Lineker
  • Lightweight bout: Al Iaquinta vs. Piotr Hallmann
  • Middleweight bout: Luke Barnatt vs. Andrew Craig
  • Women's bantamweight bout: Rosi Sexton vs. Jessica Andrade
  • Featherweight bout: Andy Ogle vs. Cole Miller
  • Featherweight bout: Jimy Hettes vs. Robert Whiteford
  • Middleweight bout: Brad Scott vs. Michael Kuiper
  • Entire card aired on Fox Sports 2 beginning at 9 a.m. local time

A part of Lyoto Machida still wishes the phone never rang.

The former light heavyweight champion can still imagine a fantasy world where he’s at home in Los Angeles training with Mark Munoz in preparation for his middleweight debut, not across a real ocean in Manchester, England, getting ready to fight him.

“I was hesitant to accept this fight,” Machida said over the phone from London Wednesday afternoon. “When you train with some guy and hang out with the guy, it’s very hard to face him but I didn’t want to disappoint the UFC like back in the days.”

Machida had rebuffed the UFC on a couple short-notice fight offers in the past, most recently last year when he was offered a rematch with Jon Jones in the fallout of the canceled UFC 151 card. With a bout against Tim Kennedy already scheduled for next week’s UFC Fight For The Troops 3, the Brazilian karate master was tempted to pass on Munoz when the offer arrived last month.

But Machida knew the UFC didn’t have many options after Munoz’s original opponent, Michael Bisping, had to bow out with a detached retina. Machida ambivalently accepted the bout scheduled a week at earlier at Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 30.

“The hardest thing is to fight with my friends, like Munoz,” Machida said without a translator, showing off his markedly improved English since moving to America last year. “It is so hard. Everything else is OK. My weight is OK. I’m not a big guy. I’ve cut a lot of the weight and am just waiting for the fight.”

Machida had traveled to Munoz’s Lake Forest, Calif., gym to train with him days before the UFC called to schedule their meeting. Experience is one of the only things getting Machida through facing someone he considers a "a great man."

Machida previously fought Kazuhiro Nakamura at UFC 76 seven years ago, winning by unanimous decision, after the two had trained together in Japan. He was even once forced to compete with his older brother, Chinzo Machida, in a karate tournament.

He knew he could treat the matchup as a business requirement, and hoped Munoz would adopt the same mindset. Machida was in luck.

The two embraced when they ran into each other in the hotel lobby earlier this week.

“We’re professionals,” Munoz said through UFC.com, “We’re going to be professional about it.”

Machida can’t deny a few positives. He started training with Munoz, a former All-American and national champion wrestler at Oklahoma State, to hone his wrestling skills.

Munoz could have undoubtedly learned just as much about unorthodox striking techniques from Machida, but the two never focused on that during their practice sessions.

“We always helped each other, but maybe I have the upper-hand in this situation,” Machida said. “We didn’t train a lot of stand-up.”

Machida is also well aware of the UFC middleweight rankings, where Munoz sits at No. 5 with Kennedy outside of the top 10. It’s a much more significant opportunity for Machida to get closer to his ultimate goal of a middleweight championship bout.

That could create another loyalty issue for Machida as longtime teammate Anderson Silva is fighting Chris Weidman in a rematch for the belt at UFC 168. Machida won’t give much insight into what he’d do if Silva regained his championship belt.

But he’s already put friendship aside once at his new weight class.

“I want the 185 belt for sure,” Machida said. “Now is the moment for me, the right moment.”

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

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