Lyoto Machida, for the first time in more than three years, did not walk away from the Octagon with his head down. After suffering three straight violent defeats to top contenders, the former UFC light heavyweight champion finally rebounded by adding another notch in the victory column to his storied career.
“The Dragon” defeated rising middleweight contender Eryk Anders via split decision in the main event at UFC Fight Night 125, convincing two cage-side judges that he’d done enough to be celebrated in victory by those in attendance in his hometown of Belem, Brazil.
But while Machida managed to put a halt to the worst streak of his time as a professional fighter, he didn’t quite convince audiences around the globe that he’s turned the corner (…or even won the fight, for that matter). And now just three months shy of celebrating four decades on this planet, it’s not clear if Machida will ever be able to turn the corner. Athletic ability rarely works that way.
Machida — he of dazzling displays of striking ability against Mark Munoz, Randy Couture, Ryan Bader, Rashad Evans and Thiago Silva — did little to wow anybody in his hometown Saturday night. Characteristically patient in his ways as a counter striker against a hard-hitting Anders, “The Dragon” rarely led the action, often waiting for his opponent to abandon his game-plan and open up. That never really happened. Anders wisely picked his shots, and while he was out-landed to the tune of 62-32 in significant strikes, it was the former Alabama linebacker who connected with the more meaningful strikes.
That’s not to say that Machida didn’t deserve the split nod; he did — sort of. But few would be arguing against Anders earning a similar call after Saturday’s closely contested affair. Neither man looked spectacular, though that was to be expected of Anders going in. Just 10-0 as he walked into the cage against Machida, the former NCAA tackler was just three fights into his UFC career. Justifying the performance a bit further, Anders was also just more than two years removed from his professional debut.
It’s easy to understand why a fighter with such little experience would perform the way Anders did.
The same cannot be said for Machida. The opposite would be more accurate, in fact.
Now 39 years old, Machida is a shell of his former, championship-wielding and contending self. He managed to showcase greater durability against Anders, absorbing big punches and knees to last the entire five-round affair. But he still took those shots, and never really responded with strikes of comparable magnitude. He fought the most intelligent way he could, but it still didn’t result in a noteworthy victory over a green contender.
It’s the sort of win that will inevitably hush the growing concerns of Machida’s extended time in the sport, convincing him that his run as a mixed martial artist still has some life in it despite suffering three consecutive crushing defeats from 2015-17.
At the very least, one can applaud what self-awareness Machida has at this stage in his career. Accolades alone forced many to question a bout between Machida and Anders, but “The Dragon” recognized he was in no position to challenge anybody of greater standing at 185 pounds. And despite the win over Anders, Machida is still aware of what role he serves in the division.
Shortly after his win, the Brazilian legend took the opportunity to call out a fellow accomplished contender: former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping. It’s unclear as of now if Bisping has officially called it career. He previously stated an appearance at the UFC’s upcoming trip to London would serve as his final hoorah inside the Octagon, but he’s since claimed he won’t be fighting on that card whatsoever. It’s possible Bisping would opt for one last fight at a later date in a different location, making a potential matchup with Machida far too logical to pass up.
Neither man has much left to accomplish in the sport, both too far removed from their primes to have a genuine chance at making the climb back up the ladder. The two have somehow avoided one another over a combined 23 years with the UFC, but that run shouldn’t expand much further.