“I’m speaking from the bottom of my heart: I’m very satisfied,” Machida told MMAjunkie. “I’m very happy, truly.”
“Happy” is a word that Machida uses a lot when talking about his new employer. He’s happy he gets to debut against former middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho. He’s happy he gets to do it in the promotion’s first event in Hawaii. He’s happy with his chances of earning a title fight. He’s happy with the prospect of fighting in different divisions.
“That’s cool,” Machida said. “That’s cool. It shows that I’m still interesting, that people want to fight me. And I, more than ever, want to test myself, too.”
So, yes, Machida will tell you in no uncertain terms, he did well in moving to Bellator. But here’s the interesting thing about the human experience: Whether you’re an accountant with a desk job, a college student, or a 6-foot-1 guy who kicks other guys in the face inside a cage for millions to watch, change can be scary.
And after 11 years in the UFC, where he was a champion once and a title challenger multiple times, Machida didn’t just simply wake up one day and decide he was done and that was that.
“It was a very tough decision,” Machida said. “I really like the UFC. I can only say nice things about my old home. I had a good relationship with everyone. Even if it became distant, I had a good relationship with all of them. Even with the Fertittas, they always respected me a lot, so I can’t complain. Because of that, it was a tough decision.
“… It was hard to leave. It was many years fighting in Brazil, all over the world, many fans. People going, ‘Lyoto, I want to see you again in the UFC.’ And then you switch stages and everything. But it’s important. It was a moment of decision and of courage, as well.”
Any initial second thoughts, however, quickly dissipated. Every day, Machida says, he gets further reassurance that he, indeed, did the right thing. And a key aspect in that lies in the aforementioned distance that set in during his UFC stint – and in how Bellator was able to provide just what was missing.
“I’m loving the treatment I’ve been getting from Bellator,” Machida said. “It feels like I’m home. I’m feeling a difference in that sense, because in the UFC, I felt very distant from everything. I wanted to talk, I wanted to ask for something, and I felt very distant. Not at Bellator. I feel close, because I talk directly to Mike Kogan, I talk directly to Scott Coker. So that makes it a lot easier. I’ve been feeling at home and, the way I see it, relationship is everything.”
He added, “There was a concern with my career, too, something I hadn’t had in a while. That was decisive. The UFC was a lot like that at first, that’s how we were treated. Then it grew so much, and we lost a bit of that. When you have that again, you see, ‘Wow, that’s nice.’”
With the communication lines open, Machida said he left the details of his debut pretty much up to Bellator, except that he wanted it to be this year and in the 185-pound division.
The promotion delivered big.
Not only is Machida (24-8 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) getting a middleweight in Carvalho (15-2 MMA, 6-1 BMMA), but he’s getting the promotion’s previous champ before Gegard Mousasi won the title in May. Machida and Carvalho will meet in a DAZN-streamed bout Dec. 15 at Neal S. Blaisdell Center in Honolulu.
Between the stage and his “super talented, super tough” opponent, Machida thinks there “couldn’t be a better debut” for him.
“Rafael is the exact guy for me,” Machida said. “It’s the best possible name right now – especially because Mousasi has a fight with Rory MacDonald (at Bellator 206, on Sept. 29), and that fight will decide who is the new champion. And I will be ready for a future opportunity. Of course, this fight comes first.”
The fact that Carvalho is a former champion, Machida adds, also “puts me way up there” when it comes to Bellator’s middleweight title picture. And, make no mistake, Machida is as title-driven as ever.
“Since I joined Bellator, and I signed my contract, I signed it thinking about that: having the opportunity to fight for the belt and being champion,” Machida said.
It doesn’t hurt that Machida is coming off a two-fight winning streak, capped off by the thunderous knockout of fellow Brazilian Vitor Belfort at UFC 224, and that he holds a unanimous-decision win over Mousasi stemming from a 2014 encounter.
From the start, Bellator President Coker talked about the possibility of seeing Machida in different classes. And he’s even had some suitors: Bellator’s 205-pound champion and heavyweight tournament participant Ryan Bader, for instance, expressed his interest in avenging a knockout loss to Machida from 2012.
On his end, Machida is open to testing himself outside of 185.
“Bellator has this characteristic, of doing these types of fights, and I like these fights,” Machida said. “I think it makes the show better, it makes the event better, and it’s also a great challenge.”
Amid all the unknowns, Machida is certain of one thing: “This is just the beginning.” He feels good. He feels hungry. He believes there are still lots of great things to come and is willing to leave it up to Bellator – and fate – to help figure out what exactly those things will be.
To some, of course, the word “beginning” might seem odd. After all, Machida is 40 and has been going at this for 15 years. But, motivated by his momentum and the perspectives he’s found in his new home, a very happy Machida isn’t afraid to use it.
“I think there will still be a lot of people retiring in front of me, still,” Machida said with a laugh. “My body is young. I can do things. I feel like that in training. The minute I feel like I’m too injured, that I can’t keep up, then I will think about stopping. But, until then, I think there’s still a lot to happen.
“I believe it’s also about how well you take care of yourself – not just your chronological age, but your biological age. How you treat yourself. How you worry about your training. Knowing how to train, how to rest. I’ve been very careful with that, exactly so I could get to where I am. At 40, fighting at a high level, that’s my goal.”
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: For Lyoto Machida, fighting ex-champ Rafael Carvalho in Hawaii is the perfect Bellator debut