Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fighting notes by redster

Belem boy Lyoto Machida knocked out the swaggering Ultimate Fighter winner and UFC lightheavyweight champion "Sugar" Rashad Evans in round two of UFC 98. Take a bow. To those who have followed your career, it was not a question of if but when you'd spill sugar on the octagon canvas and wipe it off the floor. As usual, it was about martial arts - Defend, attack, bait, attack, trap, win. And it was, as ESPN writer Brian Knapp wrote, "power, patience and precision."

Welcome back to real martial arts. Finally they gave Lyoto Machida a chance and he showed everyone what the title "the best" means. Ha. Now people know what Machida means when he says "My body is a sword; my mind is a blade."

No more plodding sleeper matches and hug-a-bugs from the likes of Tito Ortiz, Ace Franklin and Ken Shamrock.

No more wild, roll the dice, look-ma-I've-no-brains-flailing, punching and hoping power connects with something at some point and never-mind-if-my-mug-looks-like-someone-stuck-it-into-a-blender-so-long-as-I-kinda-hit-something.

As example UFC had Wanderlei "the Axe Murderer" Silva (who usually looks like he's been axed like Trotsky but repeatedly all over his face) or the improved version in Chuck Liddell, who also packs megaton power but who's also been proven to be skilled in eating lots of megaton power and going to sleep afterwards. Same is true with Rampage Jackson (for two fights Silva force fed his face with knees - till the third fight when Silva ate Jackson's fist). Too few with strategy - and the ones who did have some, like Hoyce Gracie, were also a bore.

Ironic that so many UFC fans called (or, once called) Machida as an incredibly boring fighter. Ah, but they know not the difference between biceps and brains; between intelligence and muscle. What they saw on UFC 98 was classic Machida, coming to the octagon with a strategy in his mind, mentally prepared and with a focus like none other.

There's a lot of aggression in UFC but if that's largely the only thing on display, it can be almost childish (and usually it's been like that). That's why I sometimes watch it if there's no boxing, just to pass the time. But then I came across Lyoto Machida in his fights in Japan with K-1 and Inoki's events. Ah, I said to myself. Looks like someone finally worth following. And I was wight right.

He disposed of touch Rich Franklin by TKO and toyed around with the touted BJ Penn. And when he entered UFC, he showed everyone the difference between mental toughness -- cerebrality and discipline -- versus boring pitbull aggression.

It was a pleasure to watch Machida's win against Kazuhiro Nakamura and I really waited for his UFC 79 match-up with Pride star Rameau Thierry Sokodjou, who had a huge following (due, again, to Soko's power). I remember having laughing fits while reading the twittering of so-called fight enthusiasts regarding the next victims of Soko even before his fight with Machida had started. They kinda clammed up after Machida disposed of Soko - dropping the burly dreddlocked Cameroonian fighter with the usual accurate karate hits (yes, same if not greater power, but also with brains) and then submitting the "African Assassin" easily with an arm triangle choke.

And then it was Tito Ortiz, who kept whining about Machida "running" away from him throughout the fight - which was typical silliness from the Huntington Beach Bad Boy. Being elusive is not 'running away', especially if the fighter actually drops his opponent, like Machida did when he shot a fast knee to the ribs of boring Ortiz. A good martial arts fighter is the one who wins with the least effort and who inflicts the most damage to his opponent and avoiding harm to himself. The mind is the fighter's blade.

Next on line for Machida was another bad boy, the Brazilian Thiago Silva, who faced Machida also as an undefeated fighter. Machida knocked out the swaggering, ultra-confident annoying Silva in the second round - one punch, like a bus falling almost vertically on Thiago Silva's chin.

Machida's never lost a round in UFC and even with his fight with Evans he did not sustain any damage. Yes, certainly he'll lose a round at some point, because his style and his dad's teachings will now go under the microscope of the best trainers and fighters in the sport. Which is great as this only means Machida has already revolutionized MMA and made it more intelligent and watchable. Machida's only foe now is himself - if he can keep improving and if he can maintain his ability to absorb the qualities of the other great arts - he is also a sumo expert - and keep his mind sharp.

Fight tenets should always be similar to what Karate teaches its students: Least damage. Accuracy. Power. Stamina. Patience. Cerebrality. Mental toughness.

You'd think people 'in the know' would actually know. But nope. Here's a single example of the blinkers people have - people who don't understand what Machida's been bringing to the sport - spirituality, discipline and art. The drivel's from Josh Gross of Sports Illustrated, who, in his piece last May 20, displayed to so many the kind of thinking that's kept UFC predictable till Machida:

Gross predicted Rashad Evans would win via "split decision" over Machida in what he said would be "the best 'boring' fight ever".

The title of Gross's piece was "Five reasons Evans will stay champ" and hilariously it was the same five factors that Machida used to send Evans to wipe off his hip-hop, razmataz dreamland (whoever's been following Machida would have gone straight to the fridge with a smile to get a beer on behalf of one dimensional analysts like Gross)

Here's what Gross wrote, for instance:

Evans will win because of superiod Speed: "Almost any way you wish to measure it, Evans is the faster fighter."


Gross: "[P]ay special attention to the number of punches Evans gets off in comparison to Machida."

Burp! Yes, did Gross pay special attention too?

Evans will win because of superiod Footwork: "Evans and his camp will capitalize on their movement (and speed), and where I think he can surprise Machida."

Aha. Eh?

Evans will win because of superior Strategy: "[T]here isn't a better camp at identifying exploitable weaknesses during a fight than Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn"

Ever heard of the Shotokan Karate Master Yoshizo Machida? And Lyoto's family? Belem, Brazil? Wha?

Evans will win because of his "Striking to wrestle". According to Gross, "Evans is perfectly equipped to put Machida on his back .... Machida isn't overly aggressive. He doesn't fire combinations."


Did Machida swagger when he received the champion's belt (even as Rashad Evans was still being revived)? Nope. All he said was a shout -- "Karate's back!" in an ultimate tribute to his teacher - his dad - and their karate school in Belem.

Is it so hard to understand what Machida brings to the game?

Here's the normally perceptive Kevin Iole from Yahoo Sports: "It’s true that defense wins championship and there may be no better defensive fighter in mixed martial arts than Lyoto Machida." But Machida is neither a defensive fighter (think Floyd "Run after the Money Mayweather Jr.) or offensive fighter (Tank Abbott).

Here's a writer from LA Times, Lance Pugmire, missing the point entirely for example: "Lyoto Machida's fights may lack continual action, but as he proved ... a sudden flurry is his trademark." Uhm, well, no. That's not even a trademark. It's patience, then precision with power. Coming into the fight, many were still saying the bout would be about who will make the first mistake - when the point was really who would be able to force the other to make the mistakes. Pugmire actually wrote "Machida decked Evans with a left kick-left hand combination" and yet he had to end with "He couldn't finish the job then." It's really the analysts like Pugmire who still can't finish the job by just stating the obvious - even in terms of combinations Machida was bringing new elements. Left kick-left hand combination. Previously people assumed all combinations were confined to the hands or a few punches or a kick just before shooting to take down an opponent. Perhaps more people have the answer now?

Here's Gross trying to give his final word -- "If Lyoto really is as good as he was tonight, I don't have any qualms about being a fool that picked against him". Gross is still hedging and he certainly should not have any qualms about calling himself a fool.

Of course, as the blogger "Anaughtybear" wrote though, "For every great fighter, there is someone out there with his number." No one is unbeatable, only truly great fights are unbeatable. Till the next even better fight comes along... But I'm celebrating this one - I waited long enough to see enough common power pillars toppled from the UFC pantheon by a fighter who brings mental discipline to the sport.

With Machida, maybe now the UFC will become truly interesting - maybe it can go back to the art of martial arts. Defend. Attack. Defend. Bait. Trap. Win. It is its own sweet science and thuggery's merely one, tiny, oftentimes distracting, branch of MMA taxonomy.

I'm still all for boxing till the art and science part of MMA becomes mainstream. No other sport has produced "Greatests" such as the all time greatest boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson (the only fighter who really deserves the tag "Sugar"), followed by the likes of Muhammad Ali (greatest beyond boxing) and Ron Lyle, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, Ray Leonard and so on.

For now I'd like to see the mettle of Lyoto in truly preventing anyone from usurping his title, because now everyone's going to go for his belt. The standards are raised.

I extend full congratulations right now to the Machida family. May your reign be long and fruitful. Be proud but, as they teach in karate, also continue to be humble. #

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