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Machida's shot at title long overdue

Story by Anthony Springer Jr

To the die-hard UFC fan, Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida’s (14-0, 6-0 UFC) forthcoming light heavyweight title shot is long overdue.

Panned as a boring fighter by critics who thrive on knockouts, brawls, and blood, the Karate fighter quietly worked his way up the 205 rankings. Machida holds victories over Sokoudjou, David Hoger, and Tito Ortiz. However, the amount of decision victories had many questioning whether the highly talented “Dragon” was ready to be an entertaining fighter on the world’s most prominent MMA stage.

He silenced the critics.

At UFC 94, Machida dominated and dispensed of a then unbeaten Thiago Silva with a two hit combo. As time threatened to expire in the opening round, Machida hit Silva and Silva’s head hit the Octagon mat.

The light heavyweight division was officially on notice: Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida has arrived.

The amount of fan fare heaped on Machida does not seem to bother “Sugar” Rashad Evans (18-0-1, 8-0-1 UFC). Nor is Evans bothered by the fact the he’s the underdog at the betting lines—which makes his first title defense feel a lot like many of his previous fights.

“It pretty much feels sort of the same,” Evans explained on a recent conference call. “You know I’m still the underdog going into this fight. So it feels like business as usual.”

Evans is surprisingly calm about the lack of respect he gets and takes the naysayers in stride.

“I don’t take it personal. Whether [people] believe I can win or don’t believe I can win it, I mean it really doesn’t matter you know because it’s not the first time I’ve been the underdog going into a fight. And I haven’t lost yet. So it really don’t matter.”

Noticeably absent from this light heavyweight clash of the titans is pre-fight trash talk. While both men are (obviously) predicting victory, there is nothing but respect when Evans and Machida discuss the other’s skills and accomplishments. One thing that Machida is promising in victory is a great performance.

“Lyoto says he’s very relaxed right now,” the challenger said via translator Derek Lee. “He’s been training a lot. He trained a lot on top of Rashad’s game plan. He’s got his own game plan adapted to Rashad. And you know he thinks that Rashad is a great fighter and he’s been giving some great performances. He’s going to go out there with a clear mind and just do what he trained to do.”

One thing Machida works hard on is Octagon composure. Even in tight situations, he never appears to be out of his elements. With all eyes on him come Saturday night, even the normally composed “Dragon” admits that the pressure will be something he’ll have to overcome.

“Of course there’s always a little bit of pressure especially in this fight coming out in the main event. But you know one of his main priorities is to put on a great performance and to really satisfy his fans. And he thinks that if he comes out there relaxed and you know just thinks about the fight, then it’s going to be a great fight.”

With the performances these two have put on lately, “great fight” may prove to be an understatement.

UFC 98: Evans vs. Machida kicks off this Saturday at 7 p.m. PST.



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