On the lead-up to this month’s UFC Fight Night 119, the main narrative has been around headliner Lyoto Machida and his long-awaited return to competition.
Machida (22-7 MMA, 14-7 UFC), who was issued an 18-month suspension by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency after admitting to taking a banned substance ahead of a scheduled UFC on FOX 19 bout, will end a more than two-year layoff when he meets fellow middleweight Derek Brunson (17-5 MMA, 8-3 UFC) on Oct. 28.
The last time the UFC’s former 205-pound champ and onetime middleweight title challenger was seen in action was in June 2015, when a knockout loss to Yoel Romero added to a two-fight skid.
Neither the time away nor the consecutive losses, however, seem to have diminished Machida’s prestige – at least not in Brazil. After all, not only does he get to come back as a headliner, he gets to do it in his native country, at Sao Paulo’s Ibirapuera Gymnasium.
When it comes to such a high-stakes comeback, does being at home make the situation easier – or does it only add more pressure?
“Both,” Machida told MMAjunkie Radio. “There is a lot of pressure, of course, because I’m going to fight in my country. But on the other hand, I have a lot of support. I can feel that through social media and through interviews that I’ve been doing.
“I can feel that I have a lot of support in Brazil. At the same time, a lot of pressure, but I have to handle that, just do my best and just keep my focus on what I have to do there.”
At 39, Machida has seen his share of action throughout a decade-long UFC run that started on an eight-fight winning streak – including a huge title win over Rashad Evans and a historic, closely contested defense over Mauricio Rua. He’s retired a legend in Randy Couture, tried his hand against Jon Jones and challenged for titles three times, in two separate weight divisions.
Amid his lengthy record, the karate-based Machida can point to quite a few wrestlers, as well. And, given the outcomes against the likes of Couture, Ryan Bader, Mark Munoz and Dan Henderson, it’s safe to say he’s not exactly unequipped to deal with the dangers they present.
That will certainly come in handy against the 33-year-old Brunson, who also comes from a wrestling background. But, considering the five first-round knockouts that Brunson carries on his octagon record, Machida is probably wise in not reducing his opponent to a “wrestler” label.
“He’s a complete fighter,” Machida said. “He’s well-rounded. He drops people with hands, too. Of course, his background is in wrestling. But, with the camp that I’ve been doing here, I believe that I can stop his takedowns.
“And my background is in karate, and (as a) standup fighter, so I believe I can stop Derek Brunson and bring this victory to my team and my country.”
That doesn’t mean Machida is sleeping on Brunson’s wrestling. But, other than his experience, the former UFC champion is confident in the work he put in to handle it, with the guidance of wrestling coach Eric Albarracin and even former opponent Munoz.
Other than the fight-specific preparation, which Machida says was mostly conducted at Rafael Cordeiro’s Kings MMA, he’s had quite some time to make tweaks in his game. Which is why “The Dragon” tries not to view his somewhat harsh suspension as entirely bad.
“I used this break to put some different tools, and I incorporated different techniques,” Machida said. “Improved a little bit more, evolved a little more my overall style, My karate and my standup fighting.”
Even for the experienced Machida, the return after such a long gap feels like a beginning of sorts.
“But I know as soon as I step in the octagon, I’ll realize that I already did this before,” Machida said.
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