If “The Dragon” defeats Chris Weidman and wins the UFC middleweight title in the main event of UFC 175 in Las Vegas, the former light heavyweight champion will become just the third fighter in the promotion’s history to win belts in two different weight classes.
But Machida didn’t become one of mixed martial arts’ most unique and respected figures by getting ahead of himself. The pride of Belem, Brazil views his chance at joining one of the sport’s most elite clubs with the same calculated cool he brings into the Octagon.
“I don’t think about that too much,” Machida said through an interpreter. “I don’t think about the result. I think about what I have to do. Focus on the objective and go out there and win that title.”
Machida’s focus isn’t stopping those in his entourage from getting excited over the fight’s historical prospects, however. The other two fighters in the two-title club are Randy Couture (a five-time champ at heavyweight and light heavyweight) and B.J. Penn (welterweight and lightweight) – and Machida has beaten them both, earning a decision over Penn and knocking Couture into retirement.
“Has wins over both of them,” Machida’s manager, Ed Soares, chimes in. “I remember when [Machida] finished Rashad [Evans, to win the UFC light heavyweight title], we went by B.J. and B.J. said ‘You didn’t do that to me!’”
Machida’s zen-like approach to everything from his fights to his career path to his legacy also serves as a metaphor for the way he received his shot at Weidman’s title. Machida has been impressive in winning four of his last five fights (and many feel he deserved the decision in his only loss of the bunch, to Phil Davis) and looked outstanding in both of his fights since dropping down to middleweight.
But it still took a bizarre and well-documented sequence of events involving Vitor Belfort in order to simply be put in position to get the bout.
Machida knows how these things come and go. “I’ve always worked hard and stayed focused,” he said. “I believed that if this is the fight which is presented to me, then its meant to be. Vitor had his reasons why he wasn’t able to take the fight and I got this fight.”
And it is a fight which, on paper at least, seems to play into Machida’s strengths. Machida, who just turned 36, has made many a wrestler regret signing on for a meeting. Mark Munoz, Ryan Bader, Evans, and Couture are among those who couldn’t stifle their urge to shoot in and found themselves staring up at the lights. Others, like Dan Henderson, resisted running headlong into a knockout, but could never get his offense untracked.
To hear Machida tell it, though, it’s no great mystery. “Distance and technique,” is the secret, Machida said. “It frustrates a lot of the wrestlers because they focus a lot of the time to get their hands on him and to try to get close and to try to take them down, but my style and my strategy is to keep my distance, to use my distance well and to attack.”
Of course, Weidman, a standout at Hofstra University, is no ordinary wrestler. This is a guy who never blinked when facing the awesome aura of Anderson Silva’s record title reign. Nor did he lose his composure when Silva taunted him during the fight. Or get bent out of shape when everyone called the first fight a fluke. It’s hard to picture Weidman running Bader-like into a one-punch KO.
Machida knows this, and has studied all the angles.
“Chris Weidman is a tough guy, he’s well rounded,” Machida said. “He’s known for being a wrestler, he’s very good on the ground, he can knock people out standing up. But I’m not too worried about Chris Weidman’s strong points. I’m focused on what I do well and that’s what I’ll focus on when I’m in the Octagon.”
Nor does Machida necessarily feel there is a ton to learn from Weidman’s pair of fights against Silva’s Black House campmate.
“It’s hard to base everything off those fights,” Machida said. “Every fight is a little bit different. There was a lot of controversy, I’m not taking anything away from Chris, but the controversy on how he won the second fight, he got hurt. But nothing away from Chris, I respect Chris Weidman and I’m going to try to get that belt.”
For all his steely focus, Machida is willing to make one nod to the fates. Machida got his winning title shot at Evans back in 2009 because Quinton Jackson had to step aside. And besides, the originally scheduled date for the Weidman-Machida fight, on Memorial Day weekend, was five years to the weekend after the memorable finish of Evans.
“Kind of the same way I got the Rashad fight, I forgot who was injured at the time (Rampage) or something came up that they couldn’t fight in time,” Machida said. “The original date would have been really crazy because it would have been five years and a day different.”